Contributions of the Iroquois, 11

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Tue, 2 Jul 1996 15:12:07 -0600

"Franklin's writings on American Indains were remarkably free of
ethnocentrism, although he often used words such as 'savages,' which
carry more prejudicial connotations in the twentieth century than in his
time. Franklin's cultural relativism was perhaps one of the purest
expressions of Enlightenment assumptions that stressed racial equality
and the universality of moral sense among peoples. Systematic racism was
not called into service until a rapidly expanding frontier demanded that
enemies be dehumanized during the rapid...westward movement of the
nineteenth century. Franklin's respect for cultural diversity did not
reappear widely as an assumption in Euro-American thought until Franz
Boas and others revived it around the end of the nineteenth century.
Franklin's writings on Indians express the fascination of the
Enlightenment with nature, the natural origins of man and society, and
natural (or human) rights. They are likewise imbued with a search (which
amounted at times almost to a ransacking of the past) for alternatives to
monarchy as a form of government, and to orthodox state-recognized
churches as a form of worship.

"Franklin's sense of cultural relativism often led him to see events from
an Indian perspective, as when he advocated Colonial union and regulation
of the Indian trade at the behest of the Iroquois. His relativism was
expressed clearly in the opening lines of an essay, 'Remarks Concerning
the Savages of North America,' which may have been written as early as
the 1750s (following Franklin's first extensive personal contact with
Indians) but was not published until 1784.
"Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours,
which we think the Perfection of Civility; they think the same
of theirs....Perhaps, if we could examine the Manners of different
Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude, as to
be without any Rules of Politeness; nor any so polite, as not to
have some Remains of Rudeness."
(Johansen 1982:84-85)

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

There are people who will help you get your basket
on your head because they want to see what is in it.
-- African proverb