November 25, 2006

Debating the Constitution's origins

The myth of the Iroquois and the ConstitutionThe successes of the Iroquois campaign are impressive. The ceremony on the Mall was officially sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution Bicentennial Commission. The House and Senate resolutions passed easily. And in New York the Iroquois have almost succeeded in rewriting the history textbooks--their revision of a teacher's manual is awaiting approval from the state board of education. All this to further an idea with no discernible merit. The notion that the Iroquois somehow influenced the writing of the Constitution is dismissed by virtually every reputable historian with knowledge of the subject: Michael Kammen, author of A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture, calls the idea "a colossal myth." A scholar of Indian history says the Senate vote "destroys my faith in the historical literacy of the Senate."

The myth isn't just silly, it's destructive. Whatever brief boost the rewriting of history may provide for Iroquois self-esteem, it steals attention from the many real and persistent problems now facing the country's 1.4 million Native Americans--the Iroquois included."
"Feature:  Iroquois Law and U.S. Founders," quoted in Fun Fourth of July Facts[Robert H.] Bork called it "a detrimental forcing of a false notion by one culture on another."

In his introduction to "Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom," Johansen said Bork's absolute denial "is but one of many examples of the subject's ability to rub raw nerves ... "

"The notion that American Indian political systems have contributed to our present-day notions of these (democratic) concepts has caused intense controversy," Johansen wrote. He said many in the academic world had staked everything on a belief that the Iroquois had nothing to do with the evolution of democracy in America.

Scholars who back the influence theory base their conclusions on the published and unpublished papers of Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, other historical documents, Iroquois oral histories and the Great Law. These researchers say that presents a plausible argument that the Iroquois influenced the ideological birth of the United States.


Anonymous said...

Re: "Little Mary Sunshine." While I appreciate that we all must be sensitive to groups who have been for years the butt of yokes, it shows a lack of understanding of the context of the show. Rather than playing the race & bigot card, why not let a musical like "Little Mary Sunshine" go on and use it as an educational tool? Would the Native American educators protest "Merchant of Venice?" or "Taming of the Shrew?" Or is bigotry only when my team is being picked on. Time to think before acting on the emotions. PC'ism is stifling.

Rob said...

Did I say anything about "Little Mary Sunshine" in this posting? I don't think so. But if people want to read about it, they can read about it here: "Little Mary Sunshine" Play Portrays Cartoonish Indians.

FYI, I didn't take a position on banning the play. I just documented its stereotypes. I let (Native) people speak about and readers decide what to do about items like this themselves.

People have protested "Merchant of Venice" and especially "Taming of the Shrew" for their stereotypical portrayals. Should they not have protested and instead have accepted the stereotypes? As with the controversies over Huck Finn, I say teach about the work's shortcomings rather than gloss them over.

But that presumes the work has artistic merit, which Huck Finn does. Can anyone say the same about "Little Miss Sunshine"? I doubt it.