Since 1992, I have kept a bibliography of commentary on assertions that the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and other Native American confederacies helped shape ideas of democracy in the early United States. By 1995, the bibliography had reached roughly 455 items from more than 120 books, as well as newspaper articles and book reviews numbering in the hundreds, academic journals, films, speeches, documentaries, and other sources. The bibliography was assembled with the help of friends, as well as searches of libraries and book stores, and personal involvement in various skirmishes of the debate. The number of references exploded during 1995 because I began to search several electronic databases.
Before I explored these databases, I had been acquainted with the spread of the idea on a more personal level, especially through debates in academia that have been chronicled with Donald A. Grinde, Jr. in Akwe:kon Journal (now Native Americas) and the American Indian Culture & Research Journal (1993.014, 1990.002). Now, I was watching the idea take on an animus of its own, detached from its scholarly moorings. As the debate expanded in popular consciousness, a grand cacophony of diverse voices debated the type of history with which we will enter a new millennium on the Christian calendar.
I watched as the idea became part of the written record in several academic fields, as well as in many journals of popular discourse. Everyone -- from Tom Hayden (1994.012) to Patrick Buchanan (1992.037, 1992.056) and Rush Limbaugh (1992.019) -- seemed to have taken a stand on what had become a very hotly contested issue. These ideas became a horror story of political correctness to many conservative commentators, while they also played a role in Canadian debates over a new constitution. I found Iroquois ideas of democracy being applied to contemporary problems by a wide range of thinking people, from historians, to lawyers and judges, to political scientists, artists, musicians, and engineers.
I compiled my bibliography with a sense of awe, having taken up the idea as a newspaper reporter in Seattle twenty years ago at the behest of a Native American student, Sally Fixico, at the Evergreen State College in Olympia. With research help from Phil Lucas, a Choctaw film maker, I undertook a Ph.D. dissertation detailing how Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had perceived Native American societies, particularly at the political system of the Iroquois, who call themselves Haudenosaunee, or "The People of the Longhouse." The dissertation became Forgotten Founders (1975.013, 1987.004). As I wrote the dissertation, I found similar work (1975.010) by Donald A. Grinde, Jr., a Yamasee and historian. We met during several mutual speaking engagements in the late 1980s, and co-authored Exemplar of Liberty (1991.004).
The ideas in our books engendered a fair amount of controversy in academia, and in the popular press. By 1992, I took a long look at a growing stack of documentary evidence in my office, and decided that the time had come to compile a bibliography. As a student of communication (my primary teaching field), I was fascinated by the spread of the idea, and how so many different people could take so many varying points of view all at once. While the books that Grinde and I have published on this subject trace the ways in which American Indian confederacies helped to shape democratic thought into the nineteenth century, this bibliography is meant to trace the debate over this issue into our own time. A raucous debate grew up around the idea after 1987, as Cornell University's American Indian Program held its watershed conference on the issue. Debate over the issue also was boosted that year by commemorations of the U.S. Constitution's bicentennial. In 1992, the debate was heightened by remembrances of Columbus' first voyages. At the same time, the issue of Iroquois influence on democracy was becoming an issue of argument in debates over multiculturalism and "political correctness."
Even as the debate exploded after 1987, I found a number of older references. President John F. Kennedy advocated Iroquois influence on Benjamin Franklin in a book published during 1961 (Brandon, 1900.004, 1900.005); Charles Eastman, the Lakota Sioux author, made the case for Native American shaping of democratic thought in 1919 (1900.025). Anthropologist Clark Wissler raised the idea in 1940 (1900.021). Historian Julian Boyd (who edited Jefferson's papers) made a case for it in 1942 (1900.003). Paul A.W. Wallace, an English professor and long-time student of the Iroquois, contended in 1945 that the United Nations was based in part on an Iroquois model (1900.020). Mohawk educator and activist Tehanetorens (Ray Fadden) advanced the idea about 1950 (1900.017, 1900.025). In 1952, Felix Cohen, author of the Handbook of Indian Law, made an evocative case that American Indian notions of liberty fired the national imagination (1900.006). Author Alvin Josephy raised the issue in 1958 (1900.010), and literary journalist Edmund Wilson treated it briefly in his 1960 title Apologies to the Iroquois (1900.021).
Before the "influence" idea became widely popular, it was part of the script for "Night of the First Americans" (1975.026), a stage play which was performed March 4, 1982 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. The script was written by Phil Lucas and included performances by a number of well-known Indian and non-Indian actors and artists, such as Lorne Greene, Will Sampson, Jonathan Winters, Vincent Price, Paul Ortega, Ironeyes Cody, Martin Sheen, Dennis Weaver, Loretta Lynn, Dick Cavett, Hoyt Axton, Will Rogers, Jr., Kevin Locke, and Wayne Newton. The performance contained a substantial segment outlining the Iroquois role in the formulation of U.S. democracy.
The idea of Iroquois influence on the development of democracy has drawn a large number of conservative critics who have turned the idea into a purported horror story of multiculturalism and "political correctness." Many of these critics reduce the assertion to a shorthand (for example, by denying that the founders "copied the Constitution" from the Iroquois), with little reference to the fact that the issue has engaged a debate which has produced a considerable literature. Rather, these critics breeze in and out of the subject as if it were cocktail-party conversation.
In his Forbes column "Keeping Up," for example, Daniel Seligman (1993.057) took aim at "political correctness," which he described as "a movement driven by truly totalitarian impulses, [which] is embodied in thought police who endlessly endeavor to suppress data. . . ." Seligman then hauls out the issue of Iroquois influence on the Constitution as his primary exhibit of "politically correct" thought, which he linked to a general decline in American educational levels as reflected in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores. He called assertions of influence "fatuous." Seligman quoted Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Disuniting of America (1992.024), a short polemic turned out quickly by a liberal historian whom conservative reviewers embraced fervently. In The Disuniting of America, Schlesinger took issue with "history for self-esteem," or "feel-good history," by which, he said, self-interested minority groups seek to express their points of view in school curricula. This point of view was not invented by Schlesinger. Several conservative commentators had used it before him. For example, George Will (1991.038, 1993.061), made Iroquois influence an example of "feel-good history" in his syndicated columns in Newsweek and hundreds of newspapers. At one point, he called it "fiction."
In its most extreme form, this political-correctness horror story is sometimes held responsible for just about every uncivilized evil to befall Europe since the barbarians took down the Roman Empire. Dead European White Males (DEWMs) roll in their graves at the sound of the "influence" issue, according to some English commentators (1991.017, 1992.041, 1993.042). Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley Reese (1994.047) wrote that ideas such as Iroquois influence on democracy lay a claim on gullible Americans because they don't know their own history. His version of history is simple: "All the institutions of American government are derived from our European culture. None comes from Africa or Asia or American Indians. . . . The superbly educated authors of the American Revolution had nothing to learn from a primitive tribal alliance." [emphasis added] Since their perceptual framework admits to no hint of non-European influence on the evolution of democracy, Reese and others tend to believe the whole school of thought has been fabricated for political reasons. In Forbes magazine, Dinesh D'Souza, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, targeted "a new barbarism -- dogmatic, intolerant, and oppressive" that he asserted had "descended on America's institutions of higher learning . . . a neo-Marxist ideology promoted in the name of multiculturalism" (1991.018). An example of such thinking, wrote D'Souza, was the idea "that the Iroquois Indians in America had a representative democracy which served as a model for the American system." D'Souza's uninformed bombast imitated earlier comments by Richard Grenier, columnist for the Washington Times (1990.013, 1990.014, 1991.020), and John Leo, commentator for U.S. News & World Report (1990.020, 1994.042).
The "influence" idea has worked into discourse in a number of academic fields, among them Native American Studies, American History, Anthropology, Law, Education, and Political Science. R. David Edmunds, in "Native Americans, New Voices: American Indian History, 1895-1995," surveys developments in American history relating to Native Americans during the century since the American Historical Review began publishing in 1895. Edmunds commented that "Recently, claims by some Native American historians that the Constitution of the United States was modelled after the Iroquois Confederacy have attracted the public's attention and engendered considerable controversy" (1995.007).
James A. Joseph, in Remaking America: How the Benevolent Traditions of Many Cultures are Transforming Our National Life  begins the first page of his first chapter by quoting from Exemplar of Liberty : "The native peoples lived in confederations so subtle, so nearly invisible, as to be an attractive alternative to monarchy's overbearing hand" (1995.014). The author then writes, "The advanced democratic practices of the Iroquois, for example, fitted very well with the abstract principles of democracy already forming in the minds of the European settlers." Joseph also cites Karl Marx on Iroquois governance, as well as Benjamin Franklin and Tom Paine. Joseph was president and chief executive officer of the Council on Foundations, an umbrella group for U.S. charitable foundations, when he wrote this book. In July, 1995, Joseph was nominated as ambassador to South Africa by President Clinton.
The "influence" thesis has been incorporated to some degree in the general study of American colonial history. An example is provided by Arthur Quinn's New World: An Epic of Colonial America From the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec (1994.020). Quinn is a professor of rhetoric at the University of California. In this book, he outlines the founding legend of the Iroquois Confederacy and argues that it helped shape the United States. He presents events involving Benjamin Franklin and the Iroquois in some detail, beginning with the Iroquois leader Cannassatego's advice that the colonists unite on an Iroquois model at the Lancaster Treaty Council in 1744. Within the scholarly literature of law, Renee Jacobs (1991.006) reviewed the Iroquois Great Law of Peace in relation to "how the founding fathers ignored the clan mothers." She made a case that as the founders adapted some aspects of Iroquois law, they were nearly totally blind to the equity of the sexes that was woven into Haudenosaunee fundamental law and political life. Author Paula Gunn Allen has addressed similar themes (1988.001). Feminist historian Sally Roesch Wagner has explored the influences of Iroquois society on the philosophies of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage (1988.011, 1989.014, 1992.028, 1995.020).
The literature of the debate also contains numerous references to opposition to the "influence" idea by Temple Anthropology Professor Elisabeth Tooker (1988.010, 1990.007), as well as State University of New York anthropologist William Starna (1990.025, 1991.035). The core of the ethnohistorical establishment has been opposed to the idea in visible opposition to traditional Haudenosaunee leaders such as Oren Lyons (1992.019, 1992.020, 1992.070, 1994.043). Tooker and other opponents of the idea, such as Francis Jennings of the Newberry Library (1993.013) and former president of the American Society for Ethnohistory James Axtell (1992.003) have been joined in pointed debate on this issue by Native American scholars such as Vine Deloria, Jr. (1992.010) and Ward Churchill (1992.008), as well as History Professor Wilbur Jacobs (1993.011, 1993.012, 1994.014). Macalester College Anthropology Professor Jack Weatherford's Indian Givers (1988.012) advocates the "influence" idea and borrows heavily from work by Grinde, Johansen, and others. In the field of ecological activism, Jerry Mander enthusiastically endorses the idea in his In The Absence of the Sacred (1991.011).
One illustration of the idea's disciplinary flexibility was its use by John Lienhard, a professor of engineering at the University of Houston, who is known as the host of the eclectic National Public Radio program "The Engines of our Ingenuity." The program aired its 1,000th broadcast during 1995. Lienhard mastered a stutter to broadcast his program, which includes a wide range of subject matter. He broadcasts over 30 National Public Radio affiliates in the United States. An article in the Houston Chronicle listed a number of segment titles. "Another dealt with what the U.S. Constitution owes to the political system of the Iroquois nation. . . . The transcript of [this segment] is the most requested Lienhard episode to date" (1995.021).
The "influence" thesis has been taken up in some unusual places. In the magazine Sassy, which is intended mainly for teenaged girls, author Mary Kaye (1992.048) tucked a reference to Native American democracy among articles with titles like "Axl Rose: Clothes Horse" and "Beauty Tips for Procrastinators." The article was headlined (on the magazine's cover) "Why Our Screwed-up Planet Needs Native Americans." The issue has played a bit part on the rap-music stage (1995.024, 1993.045). Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, who has been engaged in efforts to educate Native American young people, has publicized a belief that American Indians practiced consensus building a long time before the idea became popular in other cultures (1992.063, 1994.047). Oneida singer Joanne Shenandoah mentioned the idea as she opened the three-day 1994 Woodstock music festival, a reprise of a similar event in 1969, with a Haudenosaunee delegation before about 250,000 people (1994.029).
Native American democratic traditions have played a role in Canada's contemporary debate over what form of federalism will serve its peoples best in the future. Iroquois who live in Canada have reminded federal authorities there that they are capable of self-government, having practiced their own system under the Great Law of Peace for several centuries before Europeans arrived. On June 12, 1992, Joe Clark, President of the Privy Council and Minister Responsible for Constitutional Affairs, told the annual meeting of the Canadian Manufacturer's Association that Native Canadians have the right and responsibility to govern themselves, pointing to the Iroquois: "Aboriginal self-government . . . was here when Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin looked to the Iroquois Confederacy when they were designing the American Constitution" (1992.009, 1992.071). A 1993 report by Canada's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Partners in Confederation: Aboriginal Peoples, Self-Government, and the Constitution (1993.024), considered alternatives to Canada's present confederation, and Native American peoples' roles in Canadian governance. Iroquois models of government are presented. The report argues that the Canadian confederation has come to resemble the Iroquois League over time, moving gradually away from exclusive reliance on its British origins.
American Indian (especially Iroquois) democratic precedents have been used in the United States to support political decentralization as a way to dissemble the "special-interest state." Tom Hayden, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s and a California state senator in the 1990s, called for a decentralization on "a Jeffersonian, or Quaker, or Iroquois" model in an economy based on an eco-system balanced for generations to come (1994.012). Martin W. Lewis debunked the Iroquois' example as a model for decentralization in his Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism (1992.018). Lewis, an assistant professor of geography at George Washington University, argued that participatory democracy may not eliminate social repression. Instead he believes it perpetuates "a tyranny of long-winded individuals [who are] immune to boredom." Lewis found the Iroquois to be "a particularly ill-considered exemplar. Admiring the Iroquois political system of that era for its democracy is akin to praising Nazi Germany for its enlightened forestry. The Five Nations not only engaged in a highly successful campaign of ethnocide against their competitors in the fur trade, the Hurons, but they also raised the torture of war captives (those whom they chose not to adopt, at any rate) to a high art."
Even as New York State declined to publish the Haudenosaunee curriculum for its own students, the "influence idea" was permeating school curricula across the United States by the 1990s. Literature published by the second National School Celebration stressed America's patriotic heritage for several million elementary-school children, taking a decidedly multicultural tack (1994.021). The 1992 celebration was held exactly a century after the first, for which the "Pledge of Allegiance" was written. The booklet contains an essay by Elizabeth Christensen ("Our Founding Grandfathers") observing Iroquois roots of American democracy. The booklet also lists month-by-month themes for school celebrations. The theme for October is "How did the political and social order of Native Americans influence American democracy?" The "influence" idea has been treated in Junior Scholastic (1988.031) and in Scholastic Update (1989.004).
James W. Loewen spent a year at the Smithsonian surveying the 12 leading high-school history textbooks, and concluded that none of them makes history interesting. He sets out to do that in Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995.015). One of the themes that Loewen described (asserting that conventional histories usually ignore it) is the influence of the Iroquois' system of government on the framers of the Constitution. Loewen devotes a chapter to portrayals of Indians in high-school texts, calling them "the most lied-about subset of our population." Over the course of this chapter, he devotes considerable space to the historical circumstances that initiated Iroquois influence of U.S. political institutions.
Native American democracy has been described in Europe as well as in North America. An article in The Warsaw Voice (1993.019), a journal for Americans of Polish descent, described the activities of the Polish Friendship Society, a group of Poles who study American Indian history and issues, publish books, and edit a journal.
The quarterly includes materials about the Great Peace Law, which is a discovery for the Polish reader. The law made it possible for the confederation of five Iroquois nations to function in harmony for several centuries. The editors stress that this law was taken by white colonists as a model for the United States constitution . . . and a model for democracy, but later the colonists forgot for long years both the Indian original and its authors.
In a similar vein, Raul Manglapus, Philippine foreign secretary, challenged the industrial world's assumptions about European primacy in shaping democracy at a ministerial meeting of the 21-nation Council of Europe at its headquarters in Strasborg, Germany. "The democratic value that is the heart of the constitution of the Council of Europe is indigenous not only to the northern societies, but to all human cultures. . . ." According to an unsigned newspaper account from Interpress Service (1988.014), Manglapus "cit[ed] democratic republics like Licchavis, developed on the Indian subcontinent 600 years before Christ, [and] the Iroquois Confederacy that preceded the United States Constitution. . . ." Manglapus' analysis sounds much like that of John Adams, who surveyed federal structures around the world in his Defence of the Constitutions... (1787), a reference used at the Constitutional Convention.
Despite its caricature as a horror story of "political correctness" and the jarring nature of some of the debate over the issue, the idea that Native American confederacies are an important early form of democracy has become established in general discourse. History is made in many ways, by many people; the spread of the idea that Native American confederacies (especially the Haudenosaunee Confederacy) helped shape the intellectual development of democracy in the United States and Europe is an example of how our notions of history have been changing with the infusion of multicultural voices. It is fascinating to watch the change in all its forms -- and the debate over the issue in all its cacophonous variety. This bibliography comprises the "field notes" of my journey.
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