Re: : The Iroquois and the Early Radical Feminists/ LONG

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Tue, 6 Feb 1996 13:46:40 -0500

Thank you for your reasoned comments, and excuse me for not responding
sooner. A few responses:

On Sat, 3 Feb 1996, holly martelle hayter wrote:

> Since I have written a thesis chapter on some of these issues

May we know the title and reference?

>What seems to be the present consensus is unsurity.

Unsurity may be putting a positive spin on it; confusion may be better,
with political agendas (including mine, which at least superficially
coincides with Tooker's) getting in the way of how we analyze the "facts."

> What has been most overlooked is the fact that both the U.S.
> constitutional talks and the women' suffrage movement did not develop in a
> vaccuum. Because there are no written records of the influence of Iroquois
> political organization in the Constitutional documents does not mean there
> was no influence here. It also does not justify the Iroquois as a direct
> model for the Thirteen colonies.

Last line rewite: model for the U.S. Constitution. You are exactly right.
For the latter, we will have to await Wagner's book to see what data she
brings to the discussion. Of the former, the lack of data does not prove
influence one way or another. And that is exactly the problem: there is a
lack of data. And it is puzzling. In my own work with the Comanches, from
1785 through the 1850s--exactly the period of the Constitution through
Morgan--I have found numerous proto-ethnographic descriptions, both
published and unpublished, and both valid and invalid, of how the Comanche
system "worked." The question is: Do we have the same for the
Hodenausaunee. That is, in between Lafitau (1724) and Morgan (1851) are
there any descriptions, or mentions, or anything, in the writings of their
contemporaries (William Johnson, for instance, comes to mind) that they
knew how the League worked?

One of the arguments about Franklin and the 1754 Albany Plan for union is
that it called for a single "Grand Council" with 48 seats unequally
distributed among the colonies; of that number, Johansen and Grinde
(1990:65) note it is "close to the fifty of the Iroquois Grand Council."
Thus the direct question is: did Franklin know from direct contact either
the term "Grand Council," or the number of 50 delegates?

As I noted last weekend, I have been able to identify only two
incidences of direct contact between Franklin and the Iroquois: the 1753
Carlisle conference, and the 1754 Albany conference, the latter of
course, the context of the Albany Plan. At neither is there a direct
mention of how the Iroquois system worked.

Therefore, the indirect question must be: did anyone pre-1754 know that
the Hodenausaunee council, possibly called a "Grand Council," consisted
of 50 (49) seats. That is, could we "prove" that that knowledge was "in
the air" when Franklin began his philosophizing.

<Lots of good stuff snipped about differences between Iroquois and
American gender ideology.>

Here the question is: [what] did the Suffragists write about Iroquoian
gender ideology/gender relations? Your thesis?: How did those perceptions
differ those of from Iroquois women?

> Iroquois women became an symbol not because they, in actuality, possessed
> greater power than Iroquoian men, but because to both American men and women
> they did things that in American society gave men political and social
> power.

Nice point.

> My suggestion regarding the Constitution debate is similar. While
> the Iroquois might not have been "on record" as a model for the
> Constitution, certainly elements of Iroquois political organization could
> have been influencial. All that is needed for social and political change is
> an understanding of or enlightening to an alternative. This does not
> necessitate that the new social/political order be an exact replica, in
> reality, or in print.

As most recently stated by Bruce Johansen, the "Influencist" argument is
that the Founding People (no longer just Fathers) did *NOT* copy the
League, merely that they were "influenced" by it. This is a significant
change. It allows them to continue to argue for influence while
acknowledging that since Franklin's own plan at the Consitutional
convention, a single legislature with "multiple" executives--closer to the
League--was not adopted, that therefore the claim that there is a
relationship between the League and the Constitution.

> Tooker notes a frequently cited passage by Franklin - "it would be a
> very starnge Thing, if six Nations of ignorant Savages should be capable of
> forming a Scheme for such a Union, and be able to execute it in such a
> manner, as that it has subsisted [for] Ages, and appears indissoluble; and
> yet a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen colonies, to
> whom it is more necessary, and must be more advantageous; and who cannot be
> supposed to want an equal Understanding of their Interest"
> (1988:308-9).(From Lambareee 1961- The Papers of Benjamin Franklin).

Note that all this cite says is that Franklin knew that the Six Nations
were in a League, not that he knew how it worked. The quote is actually
only a single paragraph from a five page (as published in Larrabee, Vol 4,
117-121) letter in which Franklin extolls the virtues of Union. There is
nothing else about Indians in the letter. (But in the same letter, he
wrote: "The Observation concerning the Importation of Germans on too great
Numbers into Pennsylvania is, I believe, a very just one. This will in a
few years become a German Colony: Instead of their Learning our Language,
we must learn theirs, or live as in a foreign Country." Franklin, an

> Again Tooker asks - How much did the founding fathers actually know
> about Iroquois political ideasand the Iroquois form of government? Were they
> actually influenced by Iroquois ideas respecting proper forms of governance
> or merely their image of what these ideas were?

This is the point and I wish we could get some movement on it.