Page 3 of 4

III. The Haudenosaunee And The Founding Fathers

      One must step back in time to see the influence that the great Haudenosaunee orators, like Canassatego and Tiyanoga (Hendrick), had on shaping the ideas of democracy developed by many of the founding fathers; especially, the influence that the Haudenosaunee had on Benjamin Franklin. The colonists had many opportunities to be influenced by the Haudenosaunee, and what the colonists saw in the native way of life was a freedom that they only knew in theory:

      [N]ative societies became a counterpoint to the European order, in the view of the transplanted Europeans, including some of the United State's most influential founders, as they became more dissatisfied with the status quo. They found in existing native polities, the values that the seminal European documents of the time celebrated in theoretical abstraction -- life, liberty, happiness, and a model of government by consensus, under natural rights, with relative equality of property. (14)

       Colonists, such as William Johnson, Conrad Weiser, Cadwallader Colden, and Benjamin Franklin not only sat in on the treaty council meetings of the Haudenosaunee, they also participated and became quite knowledgeable in native customs and in the intricacies of the Iroquois Confederacy. (15)  For example, Sir William Johnson, an Englishmen, had a very close relationship with Tiyanoga (Hendrick) a Mohawk Wolf Clan chief. Johnson's relationship with Tiyanoga and other Haudenosaunee was very important, for it kept the Haudenosaunee allies of the English until France was expelled from the continent in 1763. The Haudenosaunee during this period "mixed and mingled freely, sitting in each other's councils, and living each others lives." (15) During this time Franklin wrote, " English Colonial society had trouble maintaining its hold on many men once they had tasted Indian life." (16)

      As a matter of fact Johnson was so accepted, and, the society so commingled with the Haudenosaunee way of life, that he is said to have fathered one hundred Mohawk children. However, some feel the number to be actually eight children, who by Haudenosaunee law, being a matrilineal society, were considered to be Mohawk, for they had clans. Tiyanoga's relationship with Johnson was so influential and beneficial to the alliance with the Haudenosaunee and English; and his heroism, philosophy, military, and political contributions at the Albany Congress was so important, it has been said that Tiyanoga (Hendrick) "should be considered one of the founders of the United States."(17) In the next section, Canassatego's influence will be discussed.

1. Canassatego's Influence On The Founding Fathers

      Canassatego was a chief for the Onondaga Nation. Canassatego was well thought of by many of the English colonists. He was said to have great charisma, a booming voice and to be a master of "logical argument, and adroit negotiation." (18) It was during the 1744 Treaty Council that Canassatego, dismayed by the disorganization of the English colonists, suggested that the colonist unite on a Haudenosaunee model. Canassatego said to the colonial commissioners:

     Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire much strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, do not fall out with one another. (19)

      Canassatego wanted the colonies to form a union so that the Haudenosaunee could deal with the colonies in a more efficient manner. He was concerned with the unscrupulous traders who were taking advantage of the native peoples, and he wanted to stop their illegal taking and encroachment on treaty retained lands. (20) The Haudenosaunee orators were quite fluent in English, but they often pretended not to understand in an attempt to gain insight as to what some of the colonists were really thinking. These are just a few of the many incidents in which the colonists had a chance to be influenced by the great Haudenosaunee orators. In the proceeding section, the Haudenosaunee influence on Benjamin Franklin will be further discussed.

2. Benjamin Franklin

      Benjamin Franklin was very good friends with Conrad Weiser who was adopted by the Mohawks. The Great Law of Peace, the Iroquois Constitution, contains in provisions "Wampums 78 through 82", for adoptions. In order for Weiser to have been adopted by the Mohawk Nation, he must have been greatly respected amongst the Haudenosaunee, for the process of adoption is quite complex and must be approved by the chiefs of the Nation and confirmed in consensus by the people of the nation. Interestingly, the adoption laws of the Great law of Peace allowed for freedom of religion when the Haudenosaunee adopted into the Confederacy another nation.

      Weiser had won the esteem of the Haudenosaunee and not only attended the treaty council meetings, he also was a recorder, for he wrote down each attendee and their accounts. Weiser then provided Franklin with these numerous treaty council accounts, in all, which Franklin then published because the "[i]nterest in treaty accounts was high enough by 1736 for a Philadelphia printer ... to begin publication and distribution of them."(21)  Through the publishing of these treaty accounts and his first- hand participation, Franklin became quite knowledgeable in the Great Law of Peace.

      Not only were Franklin and his cohorts knowledgeable in the tenets of the Great Law of Peace, they also adopted the Great Law of Peace's procedures and protocol. For example, "the Pennsylvania commissioners (including Franklin) presented the assembled Indians with a wampum belt, which portrayed the union between the Iroquois and the colonists."(22) Therefore, Franklin was being consistent with Iroquois custom in offering a wampum (recording) belt to bind their agreement. In the preceding section, the incidents in which the Haudenosaunee have influenced the colonialists has been examined.  The proceeding section will illustrate some of the similarities between the Great Law of Peace and the Constitution of the United States.


14. EXEMPLAR OF LIBERTY, supra note 1 at 2.

15. FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS, supra note 2 at 47.

16. Id. 50

17. Id.

18. EXEMPLAR OF LIBERTY, supra note 1 at 96.

19. FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS, supra note 2 at 48.

20. Id. 61-63. See also INDIAN TREATIES PRINTED BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN 1736-1762 (Carl Van Doren and Julian P. Boyd eds., 1938).

21. EXEMPLAR OF LIBERTY, supra note 1 at 93-94.

22. See INDIAN TREATIES PRINTED BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN 1736-1762 75 (Carl Van Doren and Julian P. Boyd eds., 1938).

23. EXEMPLAR OF LIBERTY, supra note 1 at 97-98.



Back                                                                                  Next Page


last updated 6-23-99