Thea Marshall Has Another Tale from the Northern Neck.
Thea Marshall explores the Influence Thesis, which suggests that the authors of our constitution were greatly influenced by the way the Iroqois Confederacy governed itself.
I recently came across a book with the captivating title, "Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies." Well, I was stunned that he could have any; he, one of the most popular of our founding fathers.
Well, if the truth be told, he had very few, one of whom was a member of that Northern Neck-born band of brothers, the Lee boys. Arthur Lee could not abide Franklin. Some say it was jealousy; they were both diplomats in France at the same time, and Arthur is said to have coveted the praise and admiration that followed Franklin's every footstep.
Franklin is a personal hero of mine, along with Thomas Jefferson, whose father was the first to map the Northern Neck. I recently uncovered, or discovered, a theory that involves them both, at least peripherally. The theory has a name, the "influence thesis," and scholars have been debating, defending and debunking it for quite a while and the heart of it is that, along with John Luck and the ancient Greeks, the Iroquois confederation influenced the drafting of the U.S. constitution.
So, what role do my heroes play? Well, the proponents of this thesis say that Jefferson and Franklin were aware of the sophisticated democratic governance of the Iroquois nation and were much impressed; yet when Jefferson drafted our Declaration of Independence, he included a paragraph painting the Indians as merciless savages.
On the other hand, Ben Franklin tells this story of an incident at the treaty of Lancaster in 1744 when he was Pennsylvania's Indian Commissioner: "The Commissioners from Virgina acquainted the Indians by a speech that there was at Williamsburg a college with a fund for educating Indian youth, and that if the six nations would send down half a dozen of their young lads to that college, the government would take care that they should be well provided for and instructed in all the learning of the white people."
In response, their speaker began by expressing their sense of the deep kindness of the Virginia government in making that offer; however, he says, that 'the experience of it we've had, several of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the Northern provinces. They were instructed in all your sciences, but when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, unable to bear either cold or hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer or kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors or counselors; they were totally good for nothing. Now, if the gentlemen of Virginia would send us a dozen of their sons, we will take great care of their education, instruct them in all we know and make men of them.'
Well, this to me is no small hint of which side of the influence thesis debate Franklin was on.
This is Thea Marshall.