Native American Societies and the Evolution of Democracy in America 1600-1800

Stories of origin are always interesting but none so much as your own. For a country created from immigrants, it would be assumed that all information received would be used to create something new. Why? Because everything was new to those individuals who ventured to the New World.

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This review shows Bruce E. Johnson defending his assertions regarding Iroquois contribution to the development of our governing principles. Elisabeth Tooker wishes to remove the important contributions made by the Iroquois people to our founding fathers. The article is a refutation of Elizabeth Tooker’s The United States of Constitution and the Iroquois League in response to Johnson’s Forgotten Founders: Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois, and the Rationale for the American Revolution.

Tooker’s prima fascia arguments are grounded in European superiority ideals and petty word usage. Johnson’s first argument strikes at the core of Tooker’s rationale, the assumption that providing the founding fathers with a model is the same thing as providing them with the model. Johnson continues by showing that the ideology of democracy was not born in America. It was the root for people to come and establish themselves away from what they knew and were comfortable with. The ideals of our democracy grew from this. Therefore, it only makes it feasible that the contact that our founding fathers had will everyone in their circle would be used to create this new polity including the Iroquois. Charles Pinckney (1788) said it best, From the European world no precedents are to be drawn for a people who think they are capable of governing themselves.

Tooker’s supporting arguments come from a slew of historical instances where the whole picture is not evaluated. Taking snippets of history does not give the full reveal. The refutation continues arguing that Tooker’s examples of historical relevance acknowledge some of Johnson’s examples of interaction between founding fathers and the Indian (Iroquois) bodies but they are not the whole picture or not enough to exert influence. Tooker lists evidence in support of Indian contributions to democracy: Benjamin Frankin’s letter to his printing partner in 1751; Canassatego’s advice that the colonists unite at the 1744 Lancaster Treaty Council; the publication of that speech by Benjamin Franklin; and the recitation of it by colonial commissioners meeting with the Iroquois in 1775 at Albany. Each of these misses the idea that the contact between founding fathers and the Indians was present and that those ideas although not the only ones used to create the constitution did contribute through ideology. Tooker’s arguments also fail to acknowledge that it is the interaction of founding fathers with the Indians that sparked the curiosity that led the men to inquire about the Indian polity, which created the neurons that stayed in the men’s minds who would later create our own polity.

Johnson’s refutation of Tooker’s arguments regarding the influence of Iroquois on the creation of the American polity are well established. My own assertion is that Tooker’s arguments were not well founded in the first place leading Johnson to use her own examples to establish a connections. The assertion that influence must be quantified is imprudent. The influence of anything is not up the influencer but to the influence. I credit the founding fathers with the wisdom to hear new ideas and keep them in their repertoire for later use. Even the shortest form of communication can be influential given the connection to any idea.

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