Background image: Constitution of the United States Foreground photo: White Deer, a proud Mohawk 1901 at the Indian Congress, Pan-American Exposition

American History Myths Debunked: No Native Influence on Founding Fathers


When posted an article on May 15 entitled “6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America,” it started something of a mini-sensation. Tens of thousands of people liked it on Facebook, and more than 1.4 million people have viewed it on the site thus far.

So we’ve decided to look into their myth busting and offer our own take. We’ll be going through their “6 Ridiculous Lies” over the next couple of days to dig into where they got their information, and who else agrees.

In lie #1, takes umbrage with the false notion that Natives have had no influence over modern America. The part that we found interesting was that they wanted to dispel the myth that the United States Constitution was a lightning bolt of humanity and genius, with ideas on governance theretofore unknown.

They call this a myth, and we concur. digs into how the U.S. Constitution owes many of its “novel” notions on democractic government to the Iroquois Confederacy. They quote from Senate resolution 331, from the 100th congress in 1988 (with the link to prove it) in which the Senate acknowledges, “the confederation of the original thirteen colonies into one republic was influenced…by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.”

In further parsing of that resolution, we find that the Senate’s stated purpose was to “acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution and to reaffirm the continuing government-to-government relationship between Indian tribes and the United States established in the constitution.”  Hear, hear.

The resolution was raised by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the highest ranking Asian American politician in U.S history, who wanted his government to acknowledge the crucial connection between the Iroquois principles of governance and the birth of the U.S. Constitution. The resolution name checks George Washington and Ben Franklin as being two notable constitutional framers who were “known to have greatly admired the concepts of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.” One of those concepts, The Great Law of Peace, was especially significant, and inspirational, to the Founding Fathers. cites a 1987 conference held at Cornell University on the link between the Iroquois government and the United States Constitution entitled “The Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the U.S. Constitution.” Convened by the university’s American Indian Studies Program, some 200 scholars examined scholarly and historical evidence that the earth’s oldest democracy isn’t the United States of America, but rather the Six Nation Confederacy of the Iroquois.

A simple search brings up many newspaper articles and scholarly books  on the subject of the debt the U.S. government owes in their founding principles to the Confederacy’s template. The 200th anniversary of the constitution, in 1987, saw a spike in such articles, from the Washington Post’s piece, “The Iroquois and the Constitution,” to the New York Times article, “Iroquois Constitution: A Forerunner to Colonists Democratic Principles,” to National Geographic’s “From One Sovereign People to Another.”

Listing the book titles that cover the subject would require more room than we have—including Bruce Johansen’s “Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy,” Nancy Dieter Egloff’s, “Six Nations of Ignorant Savages: Benjamin Franklin and the Iroquois League of Nations,” and Kirke and Lynn Shelby Kickingbird’s “Indians and the United States Constitution: A Forgotten Legacy.”

When the first Europeans swept into the northeast of the New World, far from finding a organizational blank canvass on which to create a brand new system of government, it should be part of the curriculum for students in the Americas to understand that they instead encountered a highly organized, very powerful alliance of six nations that controlled a giant expanse of territory, from the St. Lawrence river south into Pennsylvania and west into Illinois.  The Iroquois League was, and still is, the oldest participatory democracy on Earth.

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williamfisher's picture
Submitted by williamfisher on
H E L L O !!! SIx nations - SIX - why does everyone seem to forget about the Tuscarora... At least Nancy Dieter Egloff’s, “Six Nations of Ignorant Savages: Benjamin Franklin and the Iroquois League of Nations” is mentioned here... :-)

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
We stand corrected, the source we cited is incorrect; the Tuscarora joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in the early 18th century.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
i think "democracy" is inappropriate to use in reference to the haudenosaunee confederacy. what they had was light years beyond the elitist greek notion of demos...the founding fathers gutted haudenosaunee notions of participatory nationhood & replaced the best parts with anthropocentrism, sexism, racism and elitism. as usual, the brightest of the bright europeans could not grasp concepts of true equality and egalitarianism because they had been embedded for far too long in systems of oppression.

Linkon's picture
Submitted by Linkon on
What about the myth that Columbus used an ancient map that came from China. I don't know if thats true, but I think were missing a whole chunk of history that shows trade and travel way before the Vikings and Columbus.

Trung 's picture
Submitted by Trung on
Thank you! I was a boatpeople refugee from VN. I'm always graceful and thanks to the peoples of this great nation, specially to the Natives. Thank you

ProfG's picture
Submitted by ProfG on
"The Iroquois League was, and still is, the oldest participatory democracy on Earth"… except for pre-Kings Israel, which was a constitutional, decentralized, confederative, popular, representative republic. Israel had a constitution, which took form first as Séfer Ha-Brit (Exodus 20) and later as Sefer Torat Moshe (Joshua 8:31; 23:6). It was decentralized, with authority going from the bottom up (Exodus 18). It was confederative, in that it was a voluntary union of mostly independent nations (Joshua 22; II Samuel 2). It was popular, because it was agreed to by the people as a whole (Exodus 19: 7-9). It was representative, because the tribal (national) leaders were elected by the people (Numbers 1:16; 16:2) to serve in an Assembly (Numbers 10:4). It was a republic, because there was a balance of powers (Exodus 12:21, 28; Numbers 11:16-17, 24-26) exercised by chosen representatives of the body of citizens, and given to the citizens themselves (Numbers 10:2-4). Great article, but let's not create new myths when we debunk old ones.