The Founding of America and the Iroquois Confederacy

Saturday June 23, 2012

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker

As we approach another national birthday (the US will be 236 years young this July 4th) we give pause to remember our history lessons that taught us about the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party and other events that led up to the founding of the United States. We are taught that the European colonial settlers' struggle to overcome British tyranny led them to conceive of a new nation based on the principles of participatory democracy and freedom that respected the rights of the individual. Typically, we are informed that the Founding Fathers drew from the example of the ancient Roman Empire, from which we get a bicameral Congress and regional representatives. However, there is far more to the story than that. The Founding Fathers were equally as influenced by (if not more so) by what they observed in the Iroquois Confederacy.

A long and bloody history of incessant warfare among the neighboring tribes of the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga (also known collectively as the Haudenosaunee) necessitated a profound change in the way the tribes related to each other. Out of conflict was born the Iroquois Confederacy and its guiding principles which are based on the Kaianerekowa, the Great Law of Peace. Conventional written European history holds that the Confederacy was formed in response to European invasion in the mid-15th or 16th century but Haudenosaunee oral history maintains that federation is far older by at least 1000 years or more. Little-known but well-documented is the Founding Fathers' careful study of the Confederacy, impressed as they were by its complex system of checks and balances and dedication to equality, democratic participation, the autonomy of the individual nations and the respect for the rights of individuals. Historians have noted George Washington and Benjamin Franklin's admiration of the Confederacy and the Great Law of Peace, and the United States has officially recognized it with the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 76 in 1987. For a more in-depth look go to my article at the Native American History page at And happy Independence Day!


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