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C H A P T E R     S I X

Self-Evident Truths

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 governments.

-- Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787

Philadelphia became the intellectual nerve center of revolution in the mid-1770s. The Continental Congress convened there. The Declaration of Independence was drafted there, and first posted there, six weeks before the news reached the royal court in London at which it was directed. Philadelphia, the new capital of the new confederacy -- its "Grand Council fire," as Franklin called the city in some of his letters -- was becoming the commercial center of Eastern North America. The city's stately public buildings gave it an air of a capital beyond its years. When the Declaration of Independence was first posted along its streets, the Quaker city was not even a century old. Barely ninety years after the Penn family's surveyors had first marked it out of the wilderness, Philadelphia was surrounded by the mansions of merchants who had helped make it the busiest port on the Atlantic Seaboard, as well as the political and intellectual center of the colonies. The mansions reclined in baronial style along the rivers that converged at the commercial center, looking a little like English estates. Beyond these patches of tamed greenery, Philadelphians looked westward into the maw of a continent of immense size, which was to their eyes at once wild, dark, and threatening, as well as a possible source of riches beyond imagination. Rather suddenly, the men and women who had peopled a few widely scattered English colonies and stitched them together were faced with the task of making a nation, in area larger by far than any in Western Europe.

          Franklin had always lived in the city's center, and never moved to the outskirts, even when his finances allowed. During the debates that welded the colonies into a nation he remained in the three-story brick house on Market Street that he had designed with his wife, Deborah, before the conclusion of the war with France. When the weather was fair, he could walk to Independence Hall. A year after skirmishes at Lexington and Concord turned angry words into armed rebellion, when the delegates to the Continental Congress decided that a rationale for the revolution needed to be put on paper, Franklin was the most likely candidate to write the manifesto. He had just returned from a long and difficult trip to the Ohio country, and had come down with gout. His three score and ten years showing on him, Franklin declined invitations to write the Declaration of Independence. He did join the drafting committee, and eventually became Thomas Jefferson's major editor.

          At the age of thirty-three, however, Jefferson was not at all sure that he was equal to the task of telling the world why the colonies were breaking with Britain. On June 11, 1776, when he was asked by the Continental Congress to serve on a committee that would draft the declaration, Jefferson asked to be excused from the congress so that he could return to Williamsburg where he planned to help write the Virginia Constitution. His request for a leave denied, Jefferson asked John Adams, another member of the drafting committee, to write the document. Adams refused.

          "Why will you not?" Jefferson asked Adams. "You ought to do it."

          "Reasons enough," said Adams.

          "What are your reasons?"

          "First," said Adams, "you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Third: You can write ten times better than I can."

          "Well," replied Jefferson, "If you are decided, I will do as well as I can."

          Adams respected Jefferson's "masterly pen." The young man from Virginia brought with him to the Continental Congress what Adams called "a reputation for literature, science and a happy talent for composition. Writings of his "were remarkable for . . . peculiar felicity of expression," in Adams's opinion. Like many talented writers, Jefferson did not like to compose for committees. He called changes made in his drafts by other delegates to the Continental Congress "depredations."

          While he didn't always welcome changes in his prose, Jefferson easily accepted criticism and corrections from Franklin, who by this time was regarded as an elder statesman in Europe as well as in America. Franklin himself had learned, from long experience, the trials attending composition of "papers to be reviewed by a public body." Jefferson, who was learning the same, willingly submitted his drafts to Franklin and Adams.

          Between 1775 and 1791, when Franklin died, his political life overlapped Jefferson's. He venerated the elderly sage, and expressed his admiration frequently. Following Franklin at the post of United States ambassador to France, Jefferson was often asked: "Is it you, Sir, who replace Dr. Franklin?" Jefferson would reply: "No one can replace him, Sir, I am just his successor."

          "There appeared to me to be more respect and veneration attached to the character of Doctor Franklin than to any other person in the same country, foreign or native. . . . When he left Passy, it seemed as if the village had lost its patriarch," Jefferson recalled. Having admired Franklin so, it was not surprising that where Franklin laid down an intellectual thread, Jefferson often picked it up. Jefferson's writings clearly show that he shared Franklin's respect for Indian thought. Both men represented the Enlightenment frame of mind of which the American Indians seemed a practical example. Both knew firsthand the Indian way of life. Both shared with the Indian the wild, rich land out of which the Indian had grown. It was impossible that that experience should not have become woven into the debates and philosophical musings that gave the nation's founding instruments their distinctive character. In so far as the nation still bears these marks of its birth, we are all "Indians" -- if not in our blood, then in the thinking that to this day shapes many of our political and social assumptions. Jefferson's declaration expressed many of these ideas:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.

The newly united colonies had assumed "among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them," Jefferson wrote. The declaration was being made, he said, because "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

          There were few ideas in the declaration (outside of the long list of wrongs committed by the Crown) that did not owe more than a little to Franklin's and Jefferson's views of American Indian societies. In drawing sanction for independence from the laws of nature, Jefferson was also drawing from the peoples beyond the frontiers of the new nation who lived in what late eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers believed to be a state of nature. The "pursuit of happiness" and the "consent of the governed" were exemplified in Indian polities to which Jefferson (like Franklin) often referred in his writings. The Indian in Jefferson's mind (as in Franklin's) served as a metaphor for liberty.

          Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington January 16, 1787:

The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro' the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, our very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. . . . 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 governments.

          Echoing Franklin's earlier comment, Jefferson looked across the frontier and found societies where social cohesion was provided by consensus instead of by the governmental apparatus used to maintain control in Europe. Among the Indians, wrote Jefferson, "Public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere." The contrast to Europe was obvious: "Under presence of governing, they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe." Returning to America, Jefferson concluded: "Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention." To Jefferson, public opinion among the Indians was an important reason for their lack of oppressive government, as well as the egalitarian distribution of property on which Franklin had earlier remarked. Jefferson believed that without the people looking over the shoulder of their leaders, "You and I, the Congress, judges and governors shall all become wolves." The "general prey of the rich on the poor" could be prevented by a vigilant public.

          Jefferson believed that freedom to exercise restraint on their leaders, and an egalitarian distribution of property secured for Indians in general a greater degree of happiness than that to be found among the superintended sheep at the bottom of European class structures. Jefferson thought a great deal of "happiness," a word which in the eighteenth century carried connotations of a sense of personal and societal security and well-being that it has since lost. Jefferson thought enough of happiness to make its pursuit a natural right, along with life and liberty. In so doing, he dropped "property," the third member of the natural rights trilogy generally used by followers of John Locke.

          Jefferson's writings made it evident that he, like Franklin, saw accumulation of property beyond that needed to satisfy one's natural requirements as an impediment to liberty. To place "property" in the same trilogy with life and liberty, against the backdrop of Jefferson's views regarding the social nature of property, would have been a contradiction, Jefferson composed some of his most trenchant rhetoric in opposition to the erection of a European-like aristocracy on American soil. To Jefferson, the pursuit of happiness appears to have involved neither the accumulation of property beyond basic need, nor the sheer pursuit of mirth. It meant freedom from tyranny, and from want, things not much in abundance in the Europe from which many of Jefferson's countrymen had so recently fled. Jefferson's writings often characterized Europe as a place from which to escape -- a corrupt place, where wolves consumed sheep regularly, and any uncalled for bleating by the sheep was answered with a firm blow to the head.

          Using the example of the man who left his estate to return to the simplicity of nature, carrying only his rifle and matchcoat with him, Franklin indicated that the accumulation of property brought perils as well as benefits. Franklin argued that the state's power should not be used to skew the distribution of wealth, using Indian society, where "hunting is free for all," as an exemplar:

Private property . . . is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing, its contributors therefore to the public Exingencies are not to be considered a Benefit on the Public, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honor and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or as payment for a just Debt.

"The important ends of Civil Society, and the personal Securities of Life and Liberty, these remain the same in every Member of the Society," Franklin continued. He concluded: "The poorest continues to have an equal Claim to them with the most opulent, whatever Difference Time, Chance or Industry may occasion in their Circumstances."

          Franklin used examples from Indian societies rather explicitly to illustrate his conception of property and its role in society:

All property, indeed, except the savage's temporary cabin, his bow, his matchcoat and other little Acquisitions absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the creature of public Convention. Hence, the public has the rights of regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the quantity and uses of it. All the property that is necessary to a man is his natural Right, which none may justly deprive him of, but all Property superfluous to such Purposes is the property of the Public who, by their Laws have created it and who may, by other Laws dispose of it.

          Franklin, a believer in simplicity and "happy mediocrity," thought that an overabundance of possessions inhibited freedom because social regulation was required to keep track of what belonged to whom, and to keep greed from developing into antisocial conflict. He also opposed the use of public office for private profit. If officials were to serve the people rather than exploit them, they should not be compensated for their public service, Franklin stated during debate on the Constitution. "It may be imagined by some that this is a Utopian idea, and that we can never find Men to serve in the Executive Department without paying them well for their Services. I conceive this to be a mistake," Franklin said. On August 10, 1787, also during debate on the Constitution, Franklin opposed property qualifications for election to Congress. So fervent was his opposition to the use of public office for private gain that Franklin wrote in a codacil to his will, "In a democratical state there ought to be no offices of profit."

          As well as using Indians as exemplars of their concepts of property, Franklin and other Colonial leaders usually held a rather high intellectual regard for the Indians' own property rights. Without adequate military force, however, they were unable to check the continuing movement of Euro-Americans onto land that had not been ceded by the various Indian nations. In his Administration of the Colonies, a text widely used for instruction of Colonial officials during the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Pownall argued that neither the Pope, nor any other European sovereign, had a right to give away Indian land without their consent.

          "The lands [of America] did not belong to the Crown, but to the Indians, of whom the Colonists either purchased them at their own Expence, or conquered them without Assistance from Britain," Franklin wrote in the margin of an anonymous pamphlet, "The True Constitutional Means for Putting an End to the Disputes Between London and the American Colonies," published in London during 1769. Franklin was replying to an assertion in the brochure that the colonists occupied America "by the bounty of the Crown." A year later, Franklin made a similar point, writing in the margin of Wheelock's Reflections, Moral and Political, on Great Britain and Her Colonies: "The British Nation has no original Property in the Country of America. It was purchas'd by the first Colonists of the Natives, the only Owners. The Colonies [are] not created by Britain, but by the colonists themselves."

          By supporting the Indians' claim of original title, Franklin and other advocates of independence undercut Britain's claim to the colonies. A popular argument at the time was that if Britain had a right to assert a claim to America under European law because English people settled there, then Germany had a right to claim England because the Angles and Saxons, Germanic peoples, colonized the British territory. To Franklin, the colonies belonged to the colonists, and what the colonists had not bought from the Indians (or, in some cases, seized in war) belonged to the native peoples.[1]

          In Franklin's mind, there appeared to be no contradiction between orderly expansion of settlement and support of Indian needs for a homeland and sustenance. Looking westward into what he believed to be a boundless forest, Franklin assumed that the Indians would always have land enough to live as they wished. He thought that the continent was so vast that Europeans would not settle the breadth of it for a thousand years. Although both were scientists, technological innovators and politicians, neither Franklin nor Jefferson saw the technological changes or the increase in European immigration that would sweep across the continent in less than a century.

          While he didn't forsee the speed of expansion, Franklin was troubled by the greed that he did see emerging in America, a huge and rich table laden with riches, seemingly for the taking. "A rich rogue is like a fat hog, who never does good 'til he's dead as a log," he wrote in Poor Richard for 1733. In the same edition, he also wrote: "The poor have little, beggars none; the rich too much, enough, not one."

          Like Franklin, Jefferson defined property not as a natural right, but as a civil right, bestowed by society and removable by it. To Jefferson and Franklin natural rights were endowed (as the declaration put it) by the Creator, not by kings or queens or legislators or governors. Civil rights were decreed or legislated. As Jefferson wrote to William Short, property is a creature of society:

While it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from Nature at all . . . it is considered by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no one has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land . . . [which] . . . is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes that occupation, the property goes with it. Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society.

          Societies that gave undue emphasis to protection of property could infringe on the peoples' rights of life, liberty, and happiness. According to Jefferson: "Whenever there is, in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so extended as to violate natural right." At the opposite end of Jefferson's intellectual spectrum stood the Indian societies of eastern North America that, in spite of minimal government that impressed Jefferson, had different laws or customs encouraging the accumulation of material wealth. Jefferson, although he retained a vague admiration for this form of "primitive communism" until late in his life, acknowledged that such a structure could not be laid atop a European, or a European-descended, society: "Indian society may be best, but it is not possible for large numbers of people."

          While some aspects of Indian society were admirable but impractical, Jefferson found many aspects of European cultures deplorable but likely to be emulated in America if the people and their leaders did not take care to resist them. Jefferson acknowledged late in his life that "a right of property is founded in our natural wants," but he remained, to his death, adamantly opposed to concentration of wealth. The European aristocracy, based as it was on inherited wealth, was called "artificial" by Jefferson. "Provisions . . . to prevent its ascendancy should be taken in America," he wrote. Jefferson was not opposed to what he called "natural aristocracy," based on merit rather than inherited wealth; but against the artificial aristocracy he could sharpen his pen in a manner reserved for few other subjects: "Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendancy of the people," Jefferson wrote to Samuel Kercheval July 12, 1812. One turn of Jefferson's pen characterized European society as one of riders and horses, another as wolves and sheep, still another as hammer and anvil. There was to be more to Jefferson's American amalgam than a pale imitation of Europe.

          From Paris during 1785, Jefferson wrote: "You are perhaps curious to know how this new scene has struck a savage from the mountains of America."[2] The words recalled characterizations of Franklin by Europeans as the philosopher as savage. Both men, confronting the world from which their ancestors had come, fully realized how much America and its native inhabitants had changed them. Jefferson's reception of the Old World was not warm:

I find the general state of humanity here most deplorable. The truth of Voltaire's observation, offers itself perpetually, that every man here must be either the hammer or the anvil. It is a true picture of that country to which they say we shall pass hereafter, and where we are to see God and his angels in splendor, and crowds of the damned trampled under their feet. While the great mass of the people are thus suffering under physical and moral oppression . . . compare it with that degree of happiness which is enjoyed in America, by every class of people.

Europe had a few compensations, such as a lack of public drunkenness, and fine architecture, painting, and music, wrote Jefferson. All this, however, did not reduce class differences, nor spread the happiness of which Jefferson was so enamored.

          As he had removed references to property from his critique of a French bill of rights, Jefferson offered other suggestions for reducing the disparity between classes that he saw there. One such suggestion was a very steep schedule of progressive taxation.

          Back in America, the revolution had helped to absolve the new country of what emerging aristocracy it had. Many of them moved to Canada. About a year after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote to Franklin:

The people seem to have laid aside the monarchial, and taken up the republican government, with as much ease as would have attended their throwing off of an old, and putting on a new suit of clothes. Not a single throe has attended this important transformation. A half-dozen aristocratical gentlemen, agonizing under the loss of preeminence, have sometimes ventured their sarcasms on our political metamorphosis. They have been thought fitter objects of pity, than of punishment.

          America, fusing the native peoples' state of nature and Europe's monarchial state into a unique, agrarian civilization, evolved its own institutions, and its own interests, distinct from either the Indian or the European. Late in his life, Jefferson wrote to President James Monroe that "America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe, and peculiarly her own."

          Statements of Jefferson's such as that in his letter to Monroe and others like it were much later to be called into service by expansionists eager to justify their hunger for land and the lengths to which it drove them. In Jefferson's lifetime, however, they expressed the perceptions of a developing national identity vis-à-vis Europe. European scholarship, according to Jefferson, had produced no books that could be used as comprehensive guides to the kind of civil government he sought to erect in America: "There does not exist a good elementary work on the organization of society into civil government; I mean a work which presents one good and comprehensive view of the system of principles on which such an organization should be founded, according to the rights of nature." The same idea had been expressed in slightly different words many years earlier by Franklin.

          Most of all, Jefferson loathed monarchy, the state that laid heavily across the backs of the people. As late as 1800, a quarter century after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was given to such statements as: "We have wonderful rumors here. One that the king of England is dead!" Comparing the oppression of the monarchial states he found in Europe with the way American Indians maintained social cohesion in their societies, Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia: "Insomuch as it were made a question of whether no law, as among the savage Americans, or too much law, as among the civilized Europeans, submits man to the greater evil, one who has seen both conditions of existence would pronounce it to be the last; and that the sheep are happier of themselves, than under the care of the wolves."

          Both Franklin and Jefferson believed that power provided temptations to corruption (to which European leaders had long ago succumbed) and that to keep the same thing from happening in America required mechanisms by which the people kept watch on their leaders to make sure that they remained servants, and did not yield to a natural inclination to become hammer to the popular anvil. Public opinion became central to the maintenance of liberty -- a notion contrary to European governance of their day, but very similar to the Iroquois confederacy, where the war chiefs sat in the Grand Council with the express purpose of reporting back to the people on the behavior of their leaders.

          Jefferson described the role of public opinion in American Indian society in Notes on Virginia. His description was remarkably similar to Franklin's. The native Americans, Jefferson wrote, had not

Submitted themselves to any laws, any coercive power and shadow of government. The only controls are their manners, and the moral sense of right and wrong. . . . An offence against these is punished by contempt, by exclusion from society, or, where the cause is serious, as that of murder, by the individuals whom it concerns.

"Imperfect as this species of coercion may seem, crimes are very rare among them," Jefferson continued. Recapitulating Colden's remarks, as well as Franklin's, Jefferson developed his thought: "The principles of their society forbidding all compulsion, they are led by duty and to enterprise by personal influence and persuasion." Sharing with other founders of America the Enlightenment assumption that Indian societies (at least those as yet uncorrupted by Europeans) approximated a state of nature, Jefferson questioned the theory advanced by supporters of monarchy that government originated in a patriarchial, monarchial form. Having studied Indian societies, such as the Iroquois, which were matrilineal and democratic, Jefferson speculated that:

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. In their hypothesis of the origin of government, they suppose it to have commenced in the patriarchial or monarchial 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.

          Public opinion, freedom of action and expression, and the consent of the governed played an important role in Jefferson's perception of Indian societies. The guideline that Jefferson drew from the Indian example (and which he earnestly promoted in the First Amendment) allowed freedom until it violated another's rights: "Every man, with them, is perfectly free to follow his own inclinations. But if, in doing this, he violates the rights of another, if the case be slight, he is punished by the disesteem of society or, as we say, public opinion; if serious, he is tomahawked as a serious enemy." Indian leaders relied on public opinion to maintain their authority: "Their leaders influence them by their character alone; they follow, or not, as they please him whose character for wisdom or war they have the highest opinion."

          While public opinion was useful in keeping elected leaders from assuming the role of wolves over sheep, public opinion also was recognized by Jefferson as a safety valve. To repress it would invite armed revolution by a public alienated from its leaders. Jefferson could hardly deny a public insistent on overthrowing its leaders. Their right to do so was expressed in his Declaration of Independence. Writing to W. S. Smith November 17, 1787, Jefferson refuted assertions of some Europeans that America was suffering from anarchy:

What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. . . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Displaying a rationality that had yet to be tested by tyrants' manipulation of public opinion, Jefferson wrote in 1801; "It is rare that the public sentiment decides immorally or unwisely and the individual who disagrees with it ought to examine well his own opinion." At least until he became President, and found the wrath of opinion directed at him from time to time, Jefferson expressed almost a naive faith in the wisdom of public opinion. Jefferson believed that states should be small in size to allow public opinion to function most efficiently. Leaders ought to be subject to impeachment; the entire governmental system could be impeached by force of arms if the people thought fit to do so. Public opinion could be called upon, in the Indians' fashion, to raise an army.

          Like that of the Iroquois, Jefferson's concept of popular consent allowed for impeachment of officials who offended the principles of law; also similar to the Indian conception, Jefferson spoke and wrote frequently that the least government was the best. Jefferson objected when boundaries for new states were drawn so as to make them several times larger than some of the original colonies:

This is reversing the natural order of things. A tractable people may be governed in large bodies but, in proportion as they depart from this character, the extent of their government must be less. We see into what small divisions the Indians are obliged to reduce their societies.

Jefferson's writings indicate that he did not expect, nor encourage, Americans to be tractable people. Least of all did he expect them to submit to involuntary conscription for unjustified wars. Freedom from such was the natural order of things. Franklin showed a similar inclination in Poor Richard for 1734: "If you ride a horse, sit close and tight. If you ride a man, sit easy and light."

          Franklin, Jefferson, and others in their time who combined politics and natural history intensively studied the history and prehistory of northwestern Europe as it had been before the coming of the Romans. Like the Celts and other tribal people of Germany and the British Isles who had lived, according to Jefferson, in societies that functioned much like the Indian polities he had observed in his own time: "The Anglo-Saxons had lived under customs and unwritten laws based upon the natural rights of man. . . ." The monarchy was imposed on top of this natural order, Jefferson argued. In so doing, according to Chinard, Jefferson "went much farther than any of the English political thinkers in his revindication of Saxon liberties." To Charles Sanford (The Quest for Paradise, 1961), America and its inhabitants represented to many Europeans a recapitulation of the Garden of Eden; to Henry Steele Commager, the Enlightenment mind assumed that "only man in a state of nature was happy. Man before the Fall." To English whigs, as well as to Franklin and Jefferson, government by the people was the wave of the past, as well as the future. Augmented by observation of Indian peoples who lived with a greater degree of happiness than peoples in Europe, this belief gave powerful force to the argument that the American Revolution was reclaiming rights that Americans, Englishmen, and all other peoples enjoyed by fiat of nature, as displayed by their ancestory -- American Indian and European.

          English radicals and American patriots traded these ideas freely across the Atlantic during the revolutionary years. One example of this intellectual trade was Tom Paine, who came to America at Franklin's invitation and within three years of his arrival was sitting around a council fire with the Iroquois, learning to speak their language and enjoying himself very much. Paine attended a treaty council at Easton during 1777, in order to negotiate the Iroquois' alliance, or at least neutrality, in the Revolutionary War. According to Samuel Edwards, a biographer of Paine, he was "fascinated by them." Paine quickly learned enough of the Iroquois' language so that he no longer needed to speak through an interpreter.

          It was not long before Paine, like Jefferson and Franklin, was contrasting the Indians' notions of property with those of the Europe from which he had come. Paine not only demoted property from the roster of natural rights and made of it a mere device of civil society, but also recognized benefits in the Indians' communal traditions:

To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and streets of Europe.

Poverty, wrote Paine 1795, "is a thing created by what is called civilization." "Civilization, or that which is so called, has operated in two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would ever have been the lot of either in a natural state," Paine concluded. Despite the appeal of a society without poverty, Paine believed it impossible "to go from the civilized to the natural state."

          The rationale for revolution that was formulated in Philadelphia during those humid summer days of 1776 threw down an impressive intellectual gauntlet at the feet of Europe's monarchies, especially the British Crown. Franklin, Jefferson, and the others who drafted the Declaration of Independence were saying that they were every inch the equal of the monarchs who would superintend them, and that the sheep of the world had a natural right to smite the wolves, a natural right guaranteed by nature, by the precedent of their ancestors, and by the abundant and pervasive example of America's native inhabitants. The United States' founders may have read about Greece, or the Roman Republic, the cantons of the Alps, or the reputed democracy of the tribal Celts, but in the Iroquois and other Indian confederacies they saw, with their own eyes, the self-evidence of what they regarded to be irrefutable truths.

          Wars are not won soley by eloquence and argument, however. Once he had recovered from the gout, Franklin recalled his talents at organizing militias and threw himself into the practical side of organizing an armed struggle for independence. He marshaled brigades that went house to house with appeals for pots, pans, and curtain weights, among other things, which would be melted down to provide the revolutionary army with ammunition. The colonists set to work raising a volunteer army in the Indian manner (much as Franklin had organized his Philadelphia militia almost three decades earlier), using Indian battle tactics so well suited to the forests of eastern North America. George Washington had studied guerrilla warfare during the war with France, and when the British sent soldiers over the ocean ready for set-piece wars on flat pastures manicured like billiard tables, their commanders wailed that Washington's army was just not being fair -- shooting from behind trees, dispersing and returning to civilian occupations when opportunity or need called. A British Army report to the House of Commons exclaimed, in exasperation, "The Americans won't stand and fight!"

          Having failed to adapt to a new style of war in a new land, the British never exactly lost the war, but like another world power that sent its armies across an ocean two centuries later, they decided they could not win a war without fronts, without distinction between soldiers and civilians. America would have its independence.

          Meeting in Paris to settle accounts during 1783, the diplomats who redrew the maps sliced the Iroquois Confederacy in half, throwing a piece to the United States, and another to British Canada. The heirs to some of the Great Law of Peace's most precious principles ignored the Iroquois' protestations that they, too, were sovereign nations, deserving independence and self-determination. A century of learning was coming to a close. A century and more of forgetting -- of calling history into service to rationalize conquest -- was beginning.

  1. While Franklin used Indians' concepts of property to illustrate his own, and while he frequently supported Indians' rights against those of illegal squatters, Franklin was also involved in the land business. In Franklin's mind, it was the illegal taking of land that was objectionable. Legal usurpation, by treaty or even sometimes by military conquest, did not offend his sense of justice. In 1754, the same year that Franklin lobbied the Iroquois' cause by advocating a union of the colonies, he also drew up a plan for settling the Ohio country, which was at that time occupied by Indian allies of the Iroquois (Labaree and Willcox, Franklin Papers, 5:456). Peace between the English and the Iroquois was good for more than alliance against the French; it also made land speculation easier and much less dangerous, as long as the land was acquired with some form of payment and Indian consent. In 1768, Sir William Johnson, Franklin's son William and other Colonial officials who had close ties to the Iroquois, such as George Croghan, worked intensively for Anglo-Iroquois amity at the Fort Stanwix treaty conference. All of them were negotiating large land purchases. Franklin at the time was lobbying for the purchases in England, where he worked as a Colonial agent with the Crown (Ibid, 10:38-39; James Sullivan, et al., The Papers of Sir William Johnson, 14 vols. (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1921-1965), 6:129). According to Clarence W. Alvord, Indian war threats were sometimes invented or blown out of proportion during this period in order to get the Crown's attention directed toward peacekeeping, which would make land purchases easier (Alvord, The Mississippi Valley in British Politics (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1917), pp. 345-358). Franklin was involved in other land business as well, especially plans to settle the Ohio country (Labaree and Willcox, Franklin Papers, 17:135-136).

  2. H. A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York: John C. Riker, 1854), Vol. 1, p. 444.

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