iroquois and democracy (and the American constitution)

Well.iriquois eagle-dollar-bill

The American Constitution is one of my favorite well written documents … so when I read in a book the idea that much of it was ‘borrowed’ from the Iroquois Indians … in fact that “we the people” was borrowed … that lit a fire under my ass to do some research.

I knew it had borrowed significantly from the ‘best of the best’ European & Greek/Roman democratic principals but I had not heard about the Iroquois.

In initial research I actually discovered a physical symbol first.

The 13 arrows <for the 13 colonies> bound together in the eagle talons.


–          Iroquois constitution Article 57:

Five arrows shall be bound together very strong and each arrow shall represent one nation. As the five arrows are strongly bound this shall symbolize the complete union of the nations. Thus are the Five Nations united completely and enfolded together, united into one head, one body and one mind. Therefore they shall labor, legislate and council together for the interest of future generations.


iriquois arrowsThe Iroquois used the arrows bound together. And they refer to ‘nations’ as we would ‘states.’


Further research showed that the committee tasked with developing the constitution struggled with how to formalize so many items being discussed into one document that would satisfy one and all. Samuel Rutledge proposed they model the new government they were forming into something along the lines of the Iroquois League of Nations which had been functioning as a democratic government for hundreds of years.

While there were many desirable  models <and aspects within> from ancient and modern histories in Western & Eastern Europe and the Middle East it seemed that the Iroquois had a system which provided a basic national/state construct to meet most of the demands espoused by the many parties to the debates.

<I did not know this>


I never did find “we the people” backed up in what writings there are concerning the ancient Iroquois.


I DID find enough evidence to convince me that the Iroquois certainly influenced the drafting of the American Constitution … and we present-day Americans owe these Native Americans big thanks.

Some background on the Iroquois and their Constitution.

In about 1715, the Tuscarora Nation, once part of the Iroquois peoples in a much earlier period of their history, moved up from North Carolina to avoid warfare with the invading white settlers, and were adopted into the Confederacy. At this point in time, the Iroquois controlled many parts of our now eastern states from their homelands in what is now New York state. The original Five Nations were:


Mohawk: People Possessors of the Flint

Onondaga: People on the Hills

Seneca: Great Hill People

Oneida: Granite People

Cayuga: People at the Mucky Land

Tuscarora: Shirt Wearing People <became the Sixth Nation>.


I am including the most relevant aspects of their original Constitution <as best it can be reconstructed from legend and spoken history> which is titled: The Constitution of the Five Nations – or – The Iroquois Book of the Great Law.


It is pretty amazing. You can find close parallels to our Executive, Legislative and Judiciary branches of government as originally described in our U. S. Constitution as well as many of the ‘freedoms’ and some verbiage. In addition if you assume their Nations as our current States the parallels increase significantly. I have not included the entire thing <I believe it has close to 100 articles> but just some relevant portions that make for good reading.


I included the first section hoping that maybe someone in our current government would read this. It is a good reminder for what should be expected of elected officials <one could only hope they would actually follow some of the thinking … sigh …. Article 27, in particular, should be posted everywhere in Washington DC>.




24. The Lords of the Confederacy of the Five Nations shall be mentors of the people for all time. The thickness of their skin shall be seven spans — which is to say that they shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism. Their hearts shall be full of peace and good will and their minds filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy. With endless patience they shall carry out their duty and their firmness shall be tempered with a tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in their minds and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.


25. If a Lord of the Confederacy should seek to establish any authority independent of the jurisdiction of the Confederacy of the Great Peace, which is the Five Nations, he shall be warned three times in open council, first by the women relatives, second by the men relatives and finally by the Lords of the Confederacy of the Nation to which he belongs. If the offending Lord is still obdurate he shall be dismissed by the War Chief of his nation for refusing to conform to the laws of the Great Peace. His nation shall then install the candidate nominated by the female name holders of his family.


26. It shall be the duty of all of the Five Nations Confederate Lords, from time to time as occasion demands, to act as mentors and spiritual guides of their people and remind them of their Creator’s will and words.

Every Confederate Lord shall speak words to promote peace.


27. All Lords of the Five Nations Confederacy must be honest in all things. They must not idle or gossip, but be men possessing those honorable qualities that make true royaneh. It shall be a serious wrong for anyone to lead a Lord into trivial affairs, for the people must ever hold their Lords high in estimation out of respect to their honorable positions.


–          Freedom of Religion

99. The rites and festivals of each nation shall remain undisturbed and shall continue as before because they were given by the people of old times as useful and necessary for the good of men.


–          Rights of the People

93. Whenever a specially important matter or a great emergency is presented before the Confederate Council and the nature of the matter affects the entire body of the Five Nations, threatening their utter ruin, then the Lords of the Confederacy must submit the matter to the decision of their people and the decision of the people shall affect the decision of the Confederate Council. This decision shall be a confirmation of the voice of the people.


–          Rights of states <Nations>

Before the real people united their nations, each nation had its council fires. Before the Great Peace their councils were held. The five Council Fires shall continue to burn as before and they are not quenched. The Lords of each nation in future shall settle their nation’s affairs at this council fire governed always by the constitution american-flag-all-rights-reserved-by-jade-leyvalaws and rules of the council of the Confederacy and by the Great Peace.


–          Commander in chief: Rights and Powers of War

79. Skanawatih shall be vested with a double office, duty and with double authority. One-half of his being shall hold the Lordship title and the other half shall hold the title of War Chief. In the event of war he shall notify the five War Chiefs of the Confederacy and command them to prepare for war and have their men ready at the appointed time and place for engagement with the enemy of the Great Peace.



This is good stuff. Research well worth the time I invested <the entire Constitution is fascinating in it’s detail>.

Native Americans <or Indians> not only were the original settlers in America but helped provide some of the original founding father thinking. And, frankly, some good thinking for us today if we actually were to pay attention to it.

This is continuing proof that I still have a lot to learn.

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Written by Bruce