Re: Contributions of the Iroquois, 13 - Conclusion:VERY LONG!!! ,

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Fri, 26 Jul 1996 08:14:14 -0500

Hi Karl: Sorry I haven't replied sooner, but I have just spent two lovely
weekends in Oklahoma. Pawnee Homecoming, the 50th Annual -- they used some
of our photos of Pawnee WWI vets on the cover of the program book, and we
are working on a version of our Pawnee Images exhibit for their community
museum. It was ok, only 117 degrees in the shade. Comanche Homecoming,
also the 50th, was better, only 103; good Gourd Dancing though. Gave
copies of my book to my principal consultants and their families, and to
the Tribal Chairman for the cultural center. I am also working with a
Comanche family to publish a book their grandfather wrote on Comanche

On Wed, 3 Jul 1996, karl h schwerin wrote:

>In reviewing the literature sent out over the past few days,
>there really doesn't seem to be anything that show a direct
>connection between the Iroquois Confederacy, The Constitution of
>the Five Nations, and the U.S. Constitution, or the division of
>powers among the three branches of the government.

This is, of course, what I have been saying all along.

>What is clear, is that the Iroquois played a central role in
>urging the colonists to form a Confederation similar to their

I would restate this as
... One Iroquois man, the Onondaga man Canasatego, at least once,
in 1744, urged the colonists to form a Confederation similar
to their own...

However, this should not be read as historically unique or unprecedented.
Gordon S. Wood ("The Creation of the American Republic") recently wrote
to me,

The English colonists did not need the Indians to tell them
about Federalism or self-government. The New England Confederation
was organized as early as 1643.

>These principles included the
>general equality of citizens, attitudes about property, the
>practise of democracy, and the central importance of public
>opinion as a general check on authority and abuse of power
>(whether public or private). The bottom line being that elected
>officials are answerable to the citizenry that elected them.

The problem here is that if Jefferson, Franklin, et al, derived these ideas
from the Iroquois [problematic, see below], those ideas should be
applicable to the Iroquois. Moreover, as stated, those attributes are
exceedingly generalized and thereby problematic as applied to the
Iroquois. (Define Iroquois 'citizens', 'elections', etc.)

>Beyond that, there were numerous principles of politics and
>society employed by the Iroquois that deeply influenced the
>thinking of men like Franklin and Jefferson and which were
>incorporated, in spirit at least, in the founding documents of
>the United States, such as the Declaration of Independence and
>the Articles of Confederation.

Your ability to generalize from limited data surpasses my own. :-)

I think the operative phrase here is "in spirit at least." But it is a
"very least" bit.

It should first be noted that Johansen's mode of argumentation in his
dissertation, "Franklin, Jefferson and American Indians: A study in Cross
Cultural Comminication of Ideas," published as "Forgotten Founders," was
to present a very broad sketch of the League (he used the word clan' in
only one paragraph, and did not even mention that they were matrilineal
and that residence was matrilocal] -- emphasizing those elements which
had apparent parallels in Franklin and Jefferson -- and then state that
since the Haudenausaunee had them first, then the influence must have
come from that direction. It is a very selective form of historiography.

But it is extremely difficult to demonstrate that either Franklin or
Jefferson directly expressed any "principle of politics or society" in
the context of an Indian source. In trying to answer the question, What
did they know and when did they know it, and using the citations offered
in Johansen, and searching the indexes to both Franklin's and Jefferson's
papers [which I urge all concerned readers to do: check my sources as
well as Johansen's] under both "Indians" and "Iroquois," I could find
only seven examples of positive statements of knowledge.

For Franklin those consist of the oft-quoted paragraph beginning "It would
be a strange thing if Six Nations ..." [from the same letter which
included the paragraph decrying the increasing Germanization of
Pennsylvania], his "Remarks on the Savages of America," and a parody of a
captivity narrative. But the basic problem with Franklin is that -- as
Johansen noted -- he often used Indians as a foil for criticism of
European culture, and his comments are so general that it is often
impossible to determine of they are based on real observations or are

I do not think the fact that Franklin printed the treaties and councils to
be of much value in arguing influence: he never mentioned them, their
provisions, or the speeches in any other contexts, and the speeches and
incidents he does mention (Canasatego's commentary on the "good news" in
Albany and the incident of the Swedish preacher) are apparently unattested

Johansen makes a great deal out of Franklin's correspondence with
Cadwallader Colden, New York official and author of "The History of the
Five Indian Nations depending on the province of New-York in America" (the
best informed man in the New World on the affairs of the British-American
colonies'). Indeed, Johansen writes (Diss. p 84), "shortly after reading
Colden's work, Franklin began his own fervent campaign for a federal union
of the British colonies..." The clear implication is that Franklin was
influenced by the information in Colden. But that book is a military and
diplomatic history; such sociopolitical data as it contains is entirely in
the preface; in the 1958 reprinting of the 1747 edition, all of two and
one half pages are devoted to a brief sketch of the Iroquois socio-
political system. The relevant paragraphs are:

Each Nation is an absolute Republick by its self, govern'd in all
Publick Affairs of War and Peace by the Sachems or Old Men, whose
authority and Power is gained by and consists wholly in the Opinion the
rest ofthe Nation have of their Wisdom and Integrity. They never execute
their Resolutions by Compulsion or Forse upon any of their People.
Honour and Esteem are their Principal Rewards, as Shame & being Despised
are their punishments. They have certain Customs which they observe in
their Publick Affairs with other nations...

Their Generals and Captains obtain their Authority likewise by the
general Opinion of their Courage and Conduct, and loose it by a failure
in those virtues.

Their great Men, both Sachems and Captains, are generally poorer than
the common people, for they affect to give away and distribute all the
presents or plunder they get in their Treaties or War, so as to leave
nothing for themselves, If they should once be suspected of selfishness,
they would grow mean in the opinion of their countrymen, and would
consequently loose their authority.

Their Affairs of Great Consequence, which concern all the Nations, are
Transacted in a General Meeting of the Sachems of every Nations, These
conventions are generally held at Onnondaga, which is nearly the Center
of all the Five Nations.


I am fond to think, that the present state of the Indian Nations shows
the most Ancient and Original Condition of almost every Nation,; so I
believe, here we may with more certainty see the Original Form of all
government, than in the most curous Speculations of the Learned; and
that the Patriarchal, and other Schemes in Politicks are no better than
Hypotheses in Philosophy, as as prejudicial to real knowledge...]

Although not an invalid ethnographic description as far as it goes, its
very generality -- what it leaves out, i.e. those "certain customs" with
which we are interested -- give no help in answering the question how much
did they know. At the same time, in placing the source of "authority" in,
public opinion, courage, and in the redistribution of Euroamerican
diplomatic gifts and of war booty, Colden's description is suggestive of a
political-economic system in the mid-range between big-men and chiefdoms.
It is a pragmatic dimension to Iroquois sachemship that is
apparently unattested elsewhere in the Iroquois literature.

I could find only four relevant -- and parallel-- passages in Jefferson's
papers. The first is in his 1785 "Notes in Virginia:"

Very possibly there may have been anciently 3 different stocks,
each multiplying in a long course of time, had separated into
so many little societies. This practice results from the
circumstance of having never submitted themselves to any laws,
any coercive power, any shadow of government. Their only
controls are their manners, and that moral sense of right
and wrong, which, like the sense of tasting and feeling, every
man makes part of his nature. An offense against these is
punished by contempt, by exclusion from society, or where
the case is serious, as that of murder, by the individuals
whom it concerns. ... it will be said that great societies
cannot exist without government. The savages therefore break
them into small ones.

An interesting invocation of a segmentation process of cultural
differentiation, but not directly related to the Iroquois.

In three letters, Jefferson continued the motif of the absence of laws
amongst 'our Indians'. In a January 16, 1787 letter to Edward Carrington,
Jefferson commented:

I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live
without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely
greater degree of happiness than those who live under European

Two weeks later, in a January 30 letter to James Madison, he commented,

Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable,
first, without government, as among our Indians...

Finally, in an 1816 letter to Francis Gilmer, he commented,

There is an error into which most of the speculators on
government have fallen, and which the well-known state of
society of our Indians ought, before now, to have corrected.
On their hypothesis of the origin of government, they suppose
it to have commenced in the patriarchical or monarchical form.
Our Indians are evidently in that state of nature which has
passed the association of a single family, and not yet submitted
to authority of positive laws, or any acknowledged magistrate.

While interesting commentaries on pre-anthropological evolutionism, and
presaging the various debates of Maine, McLennan, etc., there is nothing
which evidences a specific knowledge of Indian or Iroquois sociopolitical

>From my search, those are apparently the full extent of Franklin's and
Jefferson's positive written statements on Indian sociopolitical structure
or organization. Therefore, the conclusion must be, to quote William
Brandon, "the effect of the Indian world on the changing American souls
[is] most easily seen in the influence of the image of the American Indian
on European notions of liberty." But it is significant, as Elizabeth
Tooker has pointed out, that Johansen (Diss. p24; Forgotten Founders, p16)
misquotes Brandon, leaving out the word *image*, turning the influence
from one of image to one of fact.

But Johansen more than makes up for that in all of his later papers, none
of which deal with the 'fact' of influence, but rather with the 'idea' of
influence. Indeed, in his most recent article, "Debating the Origins of
Democracy: Overview of an Annotated Bibliography," (American Indian
Culture and Research Journal 20(2):155-172), Johanson "watches the idea
expand in popular consciousness, as a grand cacophony of diverse
voices..." That cacophony includes not only PC and anti-PC, "feel-good
history" and anti-"feel good history," expanding now into rap music, and
the Council of Europe. [Indeed, the "influence" thread has even mutated
away from being a model for federalism, into a model for decentralism: in
1992, Buffy Sainte-Marie said "The Iroquois Confederacy used the kind of
decentralized decision-making that modern 'network' organizations use

That is, Johansen chronicles the spread of a folk motif, a myth, a
charter for behavior, interpreted and reinterpreted according to the
immediate political purposes of its tellers, not the merits of an historical
fact. Johanson's last paragraph sums it up:

Despite its charicature as a horror story of political correctness and
the jarring nature of some of the debate over the issue, the idea that
Native American confederacies practiced an important early form of
democracy has become established in general discourse. "History" is made
in many ways, by many people; the spread of the idea that Native
American confederacies (especially the Haudenausaunee Confederacy)
helped shape the intellectual development of democracy in the United
States and Europe is an example of how our notions of history have been
changing with the infusion of multicultural voices.

Given that statement, it is perhaps no wonder that the far right has
questioned the seriousness of "post-modernism" and "multiculturalism"
when we substitute the "idea," the assertion, that there was influence
for research which asks for documentation on what that influence
might have been.