Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

My neurons started firing wildly when I read somewhere that while they were debating which animal would represent America on the Great Seal, Benjamin Franklin argued for the turkey. My mind went wandering. I had visions of how American history would have panned out if perching atop flagpoles and stately buildings all across the land were great big dumpy turkeys.

But of course, like most "Wow, that's amazing," stories, the Benjamin Franklin thing turned out to be a little mythic. In fact, before the eagle was chosen, Ben actually suggested
the rattlesnake as the best symbol of "the temper and conduct of America." Ouch.

The turkey vs. bald eagle story comes from a letter he wrote to his daughter, in which he mused that he thought the bald eagle was a bit of a dubious choice:

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character.
He had seen bald eagles stealing fish from honest hard-working osprey, and backing off when harassed by birds that were not only much smaller but also had the unfortunately colonial name of kingbird. And then, when an artist took a stab at portraying the nation's new emblem, Franklin thought their draftsmanship was a bit off and that the result looked more like a turkey. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing, he mused:
I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
Happy Fourth of July!

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