February 28, 2010

Franklin and Indians knew best

In today's partisan political environment, Democrats can't lead and Republicans won't follow. Ben Franklin recommended the Indian model of governance to the squabbling colonies then and he'd probably recommend it to the squabbling parties now.

Benjamin Franklin:  Respect in political discourse is good Native value

By José BarreiroIn 1750, while deliberating thoughts on the “necessary unity of the colonies,” Franklin mocked his fellow colonial leaders, presumably the elite of the promised republic, with the much-published argument: “It would be a very strange thing, if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such an union, and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English Colonies … who cannot be supposed to want an equal understanding of their interests.” (Letter to James Parker, Philadelphia, March 20, 1750.)

Franklin’s exhortation to gather American political forces is equally relevant today, when the unity of the American Republic appears in peril and in need of re-energized dialogue. The manner of its historically successful undertaking--by the value of careful, diplomatic and deliberate discussion--he attributes to American Indians, of whom he writes that, “having frequent occasions to hold public councils, they have acquired great order and decency in conducting them.”

Wrote Franklin: “He that would speak, rises. The rest observe a profound silence. When he has finished and sits down, they leave him five or six minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted anything he intended to say or has anything to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common conversation is reckoned highly indecent.”

This important observation of an American Indian value, which sustains in most contemporary tribal councils and arguably proposed for American political discourse, is vintage Franklin.
Comment:  Hard to imagine that 150 years ago, Lincoln and Douglas debated for hours without prepared speeches, notes, or teleprompters and people listened. These days it's a major event if Democrats and Republicans sit down together and exchange a few sound bites for the cameras.

I don't know how ironic Franklin intended the phrase "ignorant savages" to be. It's pretty ironic considering the Haudenosaunee tribes were more united than the British colonies. Wasn't that unity one mark of their civilized, stately nature?

For more on the Founding Fathers and Indians, see Fun 4th of July Facts.

1 comment:

Green Gal said...

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