Native American Political Systems
and the Evolution of Democracy:
An Annotated Bibliography
Bruce E. Johansen
Professor of Communication and
Native American Studies
University of Nebraska at Omaha
1989Books, Scholarly, and Specialty Journals
(*) __________. "Applauding Our Constitution: Hands-on Creative Lessons." Winston-Salem, N.C.: Center for Research and Development in Law-related Education, 1989.
This is a handbook of 28 lesson plans for teachers focussed on the U.S. Constitution. One of the lesson plans is titled: "The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and the U.S. Constitution..."__________. "Williamsburg Conference[:] Anthropologists Challenge Confederacy." Akwesasne Notes 21:2 (Spring, 1989), p. 18.
Report on the 1988 annual meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory at Williamsburg, VA. The conference included a panel, "The Enduring Iroquois," at which Elisabeth Tooker presented a paper based on her 1988 article in Ethnohistory [below]. Grinde was listed as a discussant for this panel on the conference's preliminary program, but was deleted after conference organizer James Axtell said he could not find Grinde (who was doing research in the Washington, D.C. area) to confirm. [Files contain a copy of the 1988 ASE preliminary program listing Grinde, and the final program without him.] This report says that William N. Fenton "argued that no one in the British colonies in North America understood the Iroquois Confederacy....'Not until [Lewis] Henry Morgan did we understand the Confederacy,'" Fenton is quoted as saying.(*) Ball, Milner S. "Legal Storytelling: Stories of Origin and Constitutional Possibilities." Michigan Law Review 87 (August, 1989), p. 2280.
Tooker is reported to have discussed Grinde's Iroquois and the Founding of the American Nation  and Johansen's Forgotten Founders . She said that Grinde's book contained only three primary references, and that Johansen's was "of poor quality." "No serious scholar believes that the Iroquois influenced the U.S. government," Tooker said. "Only the bicentennial of the Constitution has brought attention to this." The second half of the report details ways in which "Iroquois experts" who discount native influence on democracy also oppose the Haudenosaunee curriculum guide, as well as return to the Iroquois of wampum belts held by New York State. William Starna's testimony in favor of gambling interests at Tuscarora is also detailed. [Files contain an exchange of letters between Grinde and Axtell about Grinde's "delisting" on the 1988 conference program, along with Axtell's invitation to Grinde to organize a panel at the next year's ASE convention. The panel was organized and held in November, 1989 at Chicago. Grinde, Johansen, Tooker, and Sally Roesch Wagner appeared on the panel, with Fenton, Starna, and other critics of the "influence" thesis in the audience. This discussion is summarized in Johansen and Grinde, "Recent Historiography" .
Ball, Caldwell Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, writes in footnote #85 that American Indian tribes existed as legal entities "long before the state and federal governments were formed." He notes "persuasive evidence that American democracy began between 350 and 500 years before the American Revolution with the Iroquois Law of the Great Peace." Ball uses this fact to support his assertion that "...Tribes, unlike local governments, have inherent authority to govern; they need not rely on outside legislative power to give them authority to act." He cites Bagley and Ruckman .(*) Bruchac, Joseph, ed. New Voices From the Longhouse. Greenfield Center, N.Y.: Greenfield Review Press, 1989.
In this collection of recent writing by Iroquois, Ray Fadden says (on p. 103): "White leaders watched the operation of the Iroquois government and learned union and democracy from it. Historians are now beginning to admit what they must have known long ago: that the government of the United States is...patterned...after the government of the Longhouse..." John Mohawk, in his "Origins of Iroquois Political Thought," (pp. 218-229), writes that "Europeans...learned to think in egalitarian terms [after contact with Native Americans]....They began to adopt the Indian custom of democratic social ideals."Burton, Bruce A. "Squanto's Legacy: the Origin of the Town Meeting." Northeast Indian Quarterly 6:4(Winter, 1989), pp. 4-9.
Burton extends the "influence thesis" to early contacts between Europeans and Native Americans in New England, with particular attention to the origins of the traditional New England "town meeting" form of governance.Clay, Jason W. "Radios in the Rainforest..." Technology Review, October, 1989, p. 52.
This 2,800-word article describes ways in which aboriginal peoples around the world are using the tools of modern technology to enhance traditional cultures. Clay, an anthropologist, is director of research and publications at Cultural Survival; Technology Review is published at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The author says that "great advances in civilization have come not from the elimination of groups, but from interaction between cultures." As examples, he offers the fact that "Base 10" arithmetic spread from the Middle East to Europe, and "the organization of the League of the Iroquois had a profound effect on the forming of the U.S. Constitution, which is arguably one of the most influential documents ever written."Clifton, James A. Being and Becoming Indian: Biographical Studies of North American Frontiers. Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1989.
This book of essays by different authors, similar in format to Clifton's The Invented Indian  [reviewed by Vine Deloria, Jr., 1992] addresses the "influence thesis" in Chapter 1, "Alternate Identities and Cultural Frontiers," by Professor Clifton. On page 2, he refers to the U.S. Senate resolution enunciating Iroquois contributions to American government as a "bizarre revision of history," in response to "a skillful pressure campaign by the national Indian-rights lobby." Clifton then goes on to say that another "politically useful fable" is the environmental nature of Chief Seat'tl's [whom Clifton anglicizes as "Seattle"] farewell speech. Those awesomely influential Iroquois have been at it again, feeding a gullible public lies about history, according to Clifton. As for his version of reality, if Native Americans want to claim historical credit for something, there's always scalping.Garon, Ross. "Pow Wow! Native American Indians' Contributions to Society." Scholastic Update, May 26, 1989, p. 4.
This piece surveys material and intellectual contributions of American Indians to American society generally. The Iroquois Confederacy is described briefly, as well as the effect it had on Benjamin Franklin from the Albany Plan to the Constitutional Convention.Hieronimus, Robert. America's Secret Destiny: Spiritual Vision and the Founding of a Nation. Rochester, Vt.: Destiny Books, 1989.
This "new-age" history brings the Iroquois contribution into its ambit in its first chapter (pp. 5-13). It notes Cannassatego's 1744 speech and Franklin's popularization of it, from Forgotten Founders [1982, 1987].Grinde, Donald A., Jr. "Iroquoian Political Concept and the Genesis of American Government: Further Research and Contentions." Northeast Indian Quarterly 6:4(Winter, 1989)., pp. 10-21.
Excerpts from Grinde and Johansen, Exemplar of Liberty  as a work in progress.Johansen. "William James Sidis' Tribes and States: An Unpublished Exploration of Native American Contributions to Democracy." Northeast Indian Quarterly Spring/Summer 1989, pp. 16-20.
In 1914, the child prodigy William James Sidis became he youngest person (at age 16) to graduate from Harvard. Much later press coverage of Sidis' life stresses the theme that he failed to fulfill his childhood promise. Sidis loathed publicity, and kept secret the fact that he was writing an 800-page history of the United States through the eyes of its original inhabitants. The second half of this unpublished manuscript has been lost, but the first half survives. Done without standard scholarly annotation, Sidis' history describes native forms of governance at length, and argues that the natives of New England (in particular the Penacook Confederacy) were more democratic than the Iroquois, whom Sidis describes as oligarchic.Johansen. "Debate: Indians & Democracy." Akwesasne Notes 21:2 (Spring, 1989), pp. 19-20, 23.
An early version of the commentary on the debate later published by Johansen and Grinde in the American Indian Culture & Research Journal .Marcus, Robert D. and David Burner. America Firsthand: Readings in American History. Volume 1: From Settlement to Reconstruction. New York: St, Martin's Press, 1989.
This book of historical readings includes one from Elias Johnson, a Tuscarora sachem. The preface to Johnson's statement (on page 9) considers that "When the first European settlers reached North America, they encountered people who themselves had complex values and traditions." The authors cite the Iroquois Confederacy as an example, and go on to say that it was able to create an effective confederacy without sacrificing tribal autonomy. "The American republic would wrestle with a similar problem, as Benjamin Franklin foresaw. Franklin, in fact, was so impressed with the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy that he recommended its government as a model for the colonies to join separate sovereign states into a powerful union."(*) McClard, Megan and George Ypsilantis. Hiawatha and the Iroquois League. Alvin Josephy's Biography Series of American Indians. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press/Simon & Schuster, 1989.
This book for young people outlines the life of Hiawatha (Aionwanta), co-founder of the League of the Haudenosaunee with the Peacemaker. The authors also outline the history of the League and its effects on subsequent history, including the United States federal system and the writings of Marx and Engels. On p. xii, the authors write that "many perceptive white people thought it [the Iroquois League] was more democratic and representative of its people than any government then existing in Europe. In fact, there are those who believe that the League made a deep impression on Benjamin Franklin and other founders of America's constitutional form of government." This theme arises again on pp. 120 and 121; the Iroquois' impact of Marx and Engels, through Lewis Henry Morgan's writings, is developed on pp. 116 and 118.(*) O'Brien, Sharon. American Indian Tribal Governments. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
On page 50 of this legal textbook, O'Brien (having outlined the structure and operations of the Iroquois League on pp. 18-20) writes that "Benjamin Franklin had modelled the new country's structure [in the Articles of Confederation] on that of the Iroquois League." She points out that the loose confederacy that had served the Iroquois so well "was ineffective for the United States." On page 46, O'Brien also quotes Canasatego at the Lancaster Treaty Council (1744), and Benjamin Franklin's letter to James Parker (1751) on colonial emulation of the Iroquois union. O'Brien lists Grinde, Iroquois and the Founding of the American Nation (1977) in her bibliography (p. 324).(*) Resnik, Judith. "Dependent Sovereigns: Indian Tribes, States, and the Federal Courts." University of Chicago Law Review 56 (Spring, 1989), p. 671.
Resnik, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, argues Indians' right and ability to govern themselves, observing that "Indian tribes, such as the Iroquois Confederacy, had a structure of government that predated and may have influenced the drafting of the United States Constitution." In footnote 215, she cites Johansen, Forgotten Founders [1982, 1987.]Seaborne, Adrian and David Evans. Canada and its Pacific Neighbours. Edmonton, Alberta: Weigl Educational Publishers Ltd., 1989.
In this social-studies textbook for middle-school students, the Great Law of Peace and the U.S. Constitution are compared in a box on page 154. The text quotes Cannassatego's speech on July 4, 1744. On page 161, the Iroquois League is listed as one of five "Major World Peacekeeping Organizations and Agreements," with Pax Romana, the Geneva Convention, the League of Nations, and the United Nations. On page 173, the authors quote from the Great Law of Peace and the Constitution of the United Nations to show similarity. The book cites Forgotten Founders.Stineback, David. Review of Forgotten Founders [1982, 1987] in American Indian Quarterly (spring, 1989), pp. 192-194.
Although this is a book "I wish I could praise....It reads like the dissertation it once was," and too little attention is paid to Indian cultures and religious practices. "This does not mean that Johansen is wrong when he argues that 'the Enlightenment mind absorbed Indian tradition and myth,' or that Franklin in particular was extremely impressed by Iroquoian politics." (p. 193). The book is "an adequate beginning," Stineback concludes, but it lacks necessary background and systematic annotation.Venables, Robert W. "The Founding Fathers: Choosing to be the Romans." Northeast Indian Quarterly 6:4(Winter, 1989), pp. 30-55.
"Nearly two thousand years earlier, Roman legions had rolled over the tribal peoples of Northern Europe. In those Roman wars of conquest, the Founding Fathers' Northern European ancestors had played the role of Indians. This time, the Founding Fathers were determined to be the Romans." (p. 31) Venables asserts that the Founders borrowed from the Iroquois, et. al., out of their own self-interest in creating an empire. Land speculation by some of the Founders is detailed.Wagner, Sally Roesch. "The Root of Oppression is the Loss of Memory: The Iroquois and the Early Feminist Vision." Akwesasne Notes 21:1(Late winter, 1989), p. 11.
Wagner traces some of the ideology of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Susan B. Anthony, et. al., to their associations with Iroquois women during the mid-and-late nineteenth century. Wagner's work was a key source for Chapter 11 ("Persistence of an Idea") in Exemplar of Liberty.
Newspapers and Magazines
__________. "How the Indians Solve Their Problems." USA Today, February 9, 1989, p. 8-A.
"Contrary to most movies and television, Indians have a proud history, not all primitive savagery. We borrowed from the Iroquois Confederation for our own Constitution. Today we can learn from the traditional Indian reverence for the land. We need to help preserve Indian culture."(*) Ames. Lynne. "Interfaith Chapter Marks its 30th Year." New York Times [Westchester Weekly Desk], p. 12-WC, May 7, 1989.
This is an interview with Margaret Gilmore, executive director of the New York Region's National Conference of Christians and Jews, who founded the group's Westchester Chapter 30 years ago. The group has been running a series of seminars on multicultural subjects. In the fall, the seminars will take up American Indian history, including Iroquois influence on democracy. "People learn things they may not have known," William Jordan, director of the program, is quoted as saying. "Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin sat down with the Iroquois chiefs and modelled much of this country's new government on the Iroquois government."Bauer, Peter. "Adirondack Life Awards: Historic Preservation," Adirondack Life, Feb., 1989, pp. 60-62.
Award to Ray Fadden, for his replicated Iroquois story belts depicting life in the Iroquois Confederacy, "which has survived six centuries, despite brutal subjugation, to influence the thought and evolution of democracy....Only recently have these influences received critical examination from American scholars, who now recognize that the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy, with its elected representatives from each tribe to a high council, has shaped the U.S. Constitution as much as, if not more than, the writings of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes or the statutes of English common law."Beck, Barbara. "Tribal Pursuits: A Thanksgiving Tribute to Native Americans." Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 24, 1989, p. 86.
"Some recent Native American literature tells us that Benjamin Franklin so admired the confederation of Indians in the Northeast that he used it as a model for the Constitution....Many colonists admired the Indians' respect for natural rights and their ideas of government....On May 1, 1779, the Continental Army celebrated St. Tammany's Day." A description of St. Tammany's native origins follows.Brown, Bruce. "A Native American Sampler." Washington Post Book World, May 17, 1989, p. 6.
A review of four books, one of them Weatherford's Indian Givers, cites Forgotten Founders as a source for Weatherford's argument on political influence.Cox, Patrick. "Banning Peyote Use Would be Injustice." USA Today, November 10, 1989, p. 14-A.
In light of laws that ban use of drugs (such as peyote) in Native American religious rituals, Cox asserts that "It is ironic that the Articles of Confederation, the foundation of our Constitution, was based explicitly on the rules of the Iroquois Confederation. It is more ironic that so few people know it."Drummond, Tammerlin. "Inauguration is Time of Opportunity...Native American Writes Poetically of U.S. Emblem." St. Petersburg Times, January 20, 1989, p. 1.
This is an interview with Gabriel Horn, co-author of a new book, The American Eagle, which was being considered by the Bush administration as a "gift of state," to be presented to visiting dignitaries. Horn, who writes under the name White Deer of Autumn (which his parents gave him at birth), says of the American Eagle: "Few people know that the Eagle Symbol of the United States of America...was originally the symbol of the Ho-de-no-saunee, or Iroquois....[The United States] also borrowed ideas of democracy from the People of the Longhouse."(*) Folkdal, Kirsten. "Democracy in U. S. Affected by Iroquois, Says Speaker." The California Aggie, December 4, 1989, p. 3.
This is a report on a joint lecture by Donald A. Grinde, Jr. and Sally Roesch Wagner, who "presented their new research and challenged the concept that the United States imported its governmental system and women's rights tradition from Europe," before an audience of about 100. Grinde's speech was drawn from material that was later published in Exemplar of Liberty . Wagner detailed how women activists at the 1848 Seneca Falls conference had earlier associated with Iroquois clan mothers and observed their pivotal role in Iroquois political society.Flynn, Johnny P. "Pass the Turkey...and the Medicine, the Laws..." Los Angeles Times [op-ed pages], November 23, 1989, p. B-11.
Flynn, a doctoral candidate in Native American religions at the University of California/Santa Barbara, gives a Thanksgiving outline of Indian contributions to general American life. "Both the French and American revolutions were advanced, in part, because colonists had seen, in Indian forms of government, how the democratic structure functioned when people elected leaders who debated issues in public forums. But scholars here and abroad still resist the conclusion that the Iroquois Great Law of Peace somehow contributed to the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the bicameral legislature and the separation of powers." Flynn adds, however, that "Frederich Engels wrote in 1879 that the Communist Manifesto 'would have been far different' had he and Karl Marx known what they later learned about Indian forms of government."Goodman, Howard, "An Age-old Ceremony of Peace for the Planet," Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1989, pp. B-1, B-2.
Report on a conference entitled "Forgotten Legacy: Native American Concepts and the Formation of United States Government," organized in Philadelphia by Toni Truesdale, the United Indians of the Delaware Valley, et al. Files contain a program of the conference. Grinde and Johansen appeared on a panel at this conference, which Tooker attended. Grinde's report of the debate which ensued is in the files [Grinde to Johansen, May 18, 1989.] The debate is also described in Johansen and Grinde, "Recent Historiography," .Grenard, Steve. "Surprise! We Got Our Constitution From An Indian Tribe." National Enquirer, January 17, 1989, p. 36.
The largest popular audience for the "influence thesis" to date was provided by one of the less-raunchy tabloid weeklies. Surprisingly, considering the source (and its editors' overstated headline), the factual material in this article is generally accurate, even though Grenard's analysis is exaggerated in typical Enquirer style.Hall, C. Ray. "Q and A Test, U.S. Constitution." Louisville Courier-Journal, September 17, 1989, p. 10-M[Magazine].
This long (4,975-word) piece on constitutional trivia observes that John Rutledge based the preamble of the document ("We the People...) on phrasing that had come to him from the Iroquois.Hilderbrand, John. "Anti-minority Bias Seen in State Education Guides." Newsday, July 29, 1989, p. 7.
This is a report on the release of "A Curriculum of Inclusion" by New York State education officials. "The report also concluded that minorities' cultural contributions had been consistently downgraded. It cited the failure of history textbooks to describe the role of black soldiers who fought on both sides in the American Revolution. Also mentioned was the scant attention paid to the Iroquois Indians, whose system of government was said to have contributed significantly to New York State's constitution." [Perhaps he means "U.S. Constitution."]Johansen. "Indian Culture Played Part in Founding of Democracy." Omaha World-Herald, Dec. 31, 1989, p. 21-A.
This op-ed column is a reply to George Will's first swipe at the New York Curriculum of Inclusion, from which his 1991 column [see Johansen, 1991 and Will, 1991] may have been borrowed. "In his rush to embrace European culture, Will forgets that the founders of the United States didn't go to all the trouble of rebelling against England solely to replicate European models here." The text of the column was synthesized from an early draft of Exemplar of Liberty .Mathewson, Judy. [Untitled; dispatch of States News Service] October 3, 1989; found in LEXIS.
Anthony Lee, a senior at George W. Fowler High School, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families and the Budget Committee Task Force on Human Resources. Lee, son of a Mohawk father, told the members of the two committees: "Do you know that Native Americans have played a major role in forming our present government? Did you know that the government succeeded in forming our Constitution by replicating the Iroquois Confederacy? You probably have never heard of these facts, and this is why I strongly believe that more Native American history should be taught." This hearing was convened to call attention to the first National Children's Day on October 8, 1989.Reid, T.R. "A Century After the Indian Wars, Clash Over Sovereignty Persists." Washington Post, March 5, 1989, p. A-1.
Reporting from Rocky Boy, Montana, Reid describes how a U.S. official was charged by the Chippewa-Cree after he had impounded their horses, a test of sovereignty. Reid reflects on Indian political systems more generally, as well, observing that "Benjamin Franklin later observed that the Iroquois Confederacy influenced Madison's design for federalism."Weatherford, Jack. "Indians and the 4th [of July]." Baltimore Evening Sun, July 3, 1989.
This opinion column summarizes the impact of native thought and practice on American political ideas, from Indian Givers.Weiner, Mark. "Onondagas Again Hold Wampum Belts." Sunday [Syracuse] Herald-American and Post-Standard, October 22, 1989, p. A-1.
This report on the return of wampum belts to the Iroquois by the State of New York quotes Oren Lyons: "You're looking at the democratic foundation of perhaps the world." Later in the article, author Mark Weiner states that the Hiawatha Belt can be traced to the origins of the Iroquois Confederacy, whose great law is considered by many to have directly influenced the U.S. Constitution." John Fadden reports that Gail Schaeefer, New York Secretary of State, raised the issue of Iroquois influence on democracy in her speech at this event.
- Personal correspondence, Grinde to Deloria, October 25, 1989, describing Grinde's appearance at the annual conference on Iroquois Studies near Albany in the fall of 1989. During this conference, Grinde spent nearly four hours supporting the "influence thesis" in front of an audience that included most of the idea's harshest critics, the group that Deloria  refers to as the "old-boys network of Iroquois studies." Grinde said that William Fenton, "dean" of the group, told him that "it was the best-presented paper at the conference ever." Files contain transcripts of interviews done after that session by Catherine Stifter, a San Francisco radio producer, in which she questions Grinde and the ideas' major antagonists extensively. These interviews are described in Johansen and Grinde, "Recent Historiography," . An audio tape of programs developed on the this issue by Stifter is available.
- Program, discussion on Forgotten Founders by Johansen, First Unitarian Church of Omaha, March 5, 1989.
- Flier, "The Iroquois Roots of American Democracy and Early Feminism," presentation at the University of California -- Davis, by Sally Roesch Wagner and Grinde, November 30, 1989.
- (*) Lecture Outline, Sally Roesch Wagner, "From the Iroquois to Oz: The Other American Dream," prepared for presentation at Fullerton (Nebraska) High School, April 17, 1989, sponsored by the Nebraska Committee for the Humanities. Wagner discussed the utopian society envisioned by L. Frank Baum in his Oz books and asserts that Matilda Joslyn Gage, his mother-in-law, who told him of Iroquois society and rituals. Some of the imagery in the Oz fantasy is said to resemble Iroquois myth and ceremonial symbols, such as False Faces.
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