Iroquois/Egalitarian/Franklin; long

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Thu, 1 Feb 1996 13:57:13 -0500

I have just found a good reference:

Tooker, Elizabeth
1984 Women in Iroquois Society. In Extending the Rafters.
Interdisciplinary Approaches to Iroquian Studies. State University of New

Perhaps the best sentence to quote is this:
"The problems that Iroquois women and men had to confront were not those
of contemporary western society. They only appear to be when the
underlying principles of Iroquois sociopolitical organization are ignored,
and the separate elements that make it up are pulled from their context
and reinterpreted in familiar - to us - ways, with the result that
matters of little consequence to the Iroquois are presumed to be of
grerat importance and matters of crucial significance to them are
overlooked." (121)


On Thu, 1 Feb 1996, Elissa D. Beach wrote:

> Last semester two of the subjects I studied with great interest were
> Native American Culture and Benjamin Franklin
> The focus of my Benjamin Franklin study was broad and in the format of a
> presentation, I will try to visit the library and come up with something
> from his Autobiography on the subject.

You won't find anything. I have spent the morning reading it, and the 31
volume Papers of Benjamin Franklin, looking for any evidence. There is
very little.

>Until then:
> Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford. Fawcett Columbine, New York 1988.
> Chapter 8 The Founding Indian Fathers Page 136 I quote
> "Benjamin Franklin first became acquainted with the operation of Indian
> political organization in his capacity as official printer for the colony
> of Pennsylvania. His job included publication of the records and speeches
> of the various Indian assemblies and treaty negotiations, but following
> his instinctive curiosity, he broadened this into a study of Indian
> culture and institutions. Because of his expertise and interest in Indian
> matters, the colonial government of Pennsylvania offered him his first
> diplomatic assignment as their Indian commissioner. He held this post
> during the 1750's and became intimately familiar with the intricacies of
> Indian political culture and in particular with the League of the
> Iroquois. After this taste of Indian diplomacy, Franklin became a
> lifelong champion of the Indian political structure and advocated its use
> by the Americans...

Based on my reading of the "Papers," I find it difficult to see how
Weatherford, and other Franklin biographers, came up with this summation.
Yes Franklin was government printer, printing the Treaties. But the only
direct mentions I can find in Volumes 4-8, covering 1750-60, that he
actually met Indians were at the September 1753 council at Carlisle (the
above referenced "Indian commissioner" in which Franklin was one of three
delegates--in which he participated in a Condolence Ceremony--and the 1754
Council at Albany.

Furthermore, I find no mention, specific or general, that he even knew how
the League worked. At best is his acknowledgement of receipt of Colden's
1747 History of the Six Nations, and his 1751 comment "It would be a very
strange thing..." That is, Franklin may have, as Carl Van Doren
characterized it, "looked upon the Indians always with the humane
curiosity, and natural respect which he felt for any people whose way of
life was different from his own. He admired the Iroquois confederation,
and plainly had it in mind in his earliest discussion of the need of union
among the colonies [the above "strange thing..." reference]..."

However, did question remains, was it knowledge or empathy which guided
his political thinking, was that knowledge or empathy based on personal
contact or on contact with others who did have knowledge? Since the
former does not seem likely, then we should look to those whith whom he
did have contact, Conrad Weiser, official interpreter for Pennsylvania,
and William Johnson, British superintendent of northern Indian Affairs.
That is the next step.

[BTW,, I just found this pithy quote from Bruce Johansen abd Don Grinde,
chief proponents of the "Influence School":
"No the founders did not copy the Iroquois, anymore than they copied the
Greeks, Romans, the Magan Carta, or the Swiss cantons. They wove an
intellectual blanket out of history as they knew it, including their
perceptions of the native confederacies with which they lived day to
day." (The Debate Regarding Native American Precedents for Democracy,
American Indian Culture and Research Journal 1990:61-79).

Once again, the question is what did the founders *know* about the Iroquois?