Saturday, July 07, 2007

Iroquois influenced the United States Constitution

On June 11, 1776 while the question of independence was being debated, the visiting Iroquois chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a speech was delivered, in which they were addressed as "Brothers" and told of the delegates' wish that the "friendship" between them would "continue as long as the sun shall shine" and the "waters run." The speech also expressed the hope that the new Americans and the Iroquois act "as one people, and have but one heart." After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed "Karanduawn, or the Great Tree." With the Iroquois chiefs inside the halls of Congress on the eve of American Independence, the impact of Iroquois ideas on the founders is unmistakable. History is indebted to Charles Thomson, an adopted Delaware, whose knowledge of and respect for American Indians is reflected in the attention that he gave to this ceremony in the records of the Continental Congress. Artwork by John Kahionhes Fadden. Source

According to the Iroquois constitution, states were first to solve disputes between them on their own. If resolution efforts failed then the national government would take authority, Hill said.

The Iroquois place the creation of their constitution, which was recorded on belts, at between 1000 and 1400 A.D., according to the Smithsonian magazine. The Great Law said the national government should have a commander-in-chief and that person should present a "state of the union" address to the nation, Hill said.

The Iroquois' also said that when a legislator was presenting an issue to the governing chamber, others should be quiet, a practice adopted by Congress that contrasts with protocol in the British parliament, Hill said.

[Benjamen] Franklin, then Pennsylvania's official printer, became familiar with the Iroquois political system by printing minutes of their meetings, according to the magazine.

"He recognized that the Iroquois constitution contained many features absent in other governments at the time," including the concept that "elected officials were never masters but remained servants of their constituencies," the magazine states.

However, the Iroquois constitution differed from the later U.S. document in one important way -- it specifically mentioned women, said Knapp. Many Indian nations were matriarchal with women nominating legislators, she added.


The early natives set some lasting examples for the America we all live in today. Benjamin Franklin ... became so impressed with the Pennsylvania Iroquois' tribal constitution, which he saw when he was hired as the tribe's printer, that the Pennsylvania colony named him to his first diplomatic job, its "Indian Commissioner."

In 1754 Franklin asked a gathering of American colonial delegates—white men—to use the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, adopted in a peaceful merger of six combative tribes, as a model for what would eventually, in 1781, be ratified as the U.S. Articles of Confederation. The Iroquois constitution banned the forced entry of private homes by a tribal government, protected freedom of political and religious expression, and imposed the impeachment of corrupt leaders.

Among the long list of other fascinating Indian unknowns, the fact that Articles I, VI and VII of our Constitution are modeled after the Iroquois charter, is a story not widely perceived. Not until 1987 did the U.S. Senate finally pass a resolution stating that the U.S. Constitution had been modeled on American Indian democracy.


Here is information about the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy

Here is another article about Ben Franklin and the Constitution


Anonymous said...

Thank you for being so descriptive. My political science text does not mention the Iroquois Constitution but my teacher did. Now I know exactly the real origins of our Constitution.

harleyborgais said...

I found the following webpage which provides sufficient evidence to conclude that the actual date of the ratification of the Iroquois Constitution (Iroquois Great Law of Peace) was: August 31, 1142, shortly after a total eclipse of the sun.
Dating the Iroquois Confederacy - by Bruce E. Johansen
...published in Akwesasne Notes New Series, Fall -- October/November/December -- 1995, Volume 1 #3 & 4, pp. 62-63.
Now I can conclude that the first Righteous Constitution (or: 'Law of the Land') ever to exist in Human History, was created by the Iroquois Confederacy's ratification council in 1142 A.D., August 31, shortly after a total eclipse of the sun, when it was adopted by the Senecas (the last of the five nations to ratify it), at a site that is now a football field in Victor, New York.

Anonymous said...

Both houses of Congress official recognized the Haudenosaunee contribution...

In 1987, the United States Congress passed Concurrent Resolution S. 76, formally recognizing the Haudenosaunee contribution to the United States constitutional system…
Congressional Record — Senate Wednesday, September 16, 1987 100th Cong. 1st Sess.133 Cong Rec S 12214 REFERENCE: Vol. 133 No. 140

Concurrent Resolution:
To acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution and to reaffirm the continuing government-to-government relationship between Indian tribes and the United States established in the Constitution.

Whereas, the original framers of the constitution, including most notably, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, are known to have greatly admired the concepts, principles and government practices of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy;

and Whereas, the Confederation of the original thirteen colonies into one Republic was explicitly modeled upon the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself

Now, therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, that:

1) The Congress, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, acknowledges the historical debt which this Republic of the United States of America owes to the Iroquois Confederacy and other Indian Nations for their demonstration of enlightened, democratic principles of government and their example of a free association of independent Indian Nations;

2) The Congress also hereby reaffirms the constitutionally recognized government-to-government relationship with Indian Tribes which has historically been the cornerstone of this nation's official Indian Policy;

3) The Congress specifically acknowledges and reaffirms the trust responsibility and obligation of the United States Government to Indian Tribes, including Alaska Natives, for their preservation, protection and enhancement, including the provision of health, education, social and economic assistance programs as necessary, to assist Tribes to perform their governmental responsibility to provide for the social and economic Well-being of their members and to preserve tribal cultural identity and heritage; and

4) The Congress also acknowledges the need to exercise the utmost good faith in upholding its treaties with the various Tribes, as the Tribes understood them to be, and the duty of a great nation to uphold its legal and moral obligations for the benefit of all its citizens so that they and their posterity may also continue to enjoy the rights they have enshrined in the United States Constitution for time immemorial.

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