Happy Friday and Welcome to a bonus installment of Friday Constitutional! This is the repost of my seemingly never ending series about the Constitution of the United States of America. Up to now we have focused on reading and giving a layman’s interpretation of the Constitution.
This week we will take a slightly new direction we will talk about some of the influences of on the construction of the Constitution itself. Specifically we are going to look at what role the governance of the Iroquois Confederacy or the Huadenosaunee had on the structure proposed and ratified by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. For those that have not been following this series and who are interested in the previous installments, you can find them at the following links:
Friday Constitutional 1 - Preamble, Article One, Sections 1 And 2
Friday Constitutional 2 - Article One, Sections 3 And 4
Friday Constitutional 3 - Article One, Sections 5 And 6
Friday Constitutional 4 - Article One, Sections 7 And 8
Friday Constitutional 5 - Article One, Sections 9 And 10
Friday Constitutional 6 - Article Two, Section 1 (Part One)
Friday Constitutional 7 - Article Two, Sections 1 (Part Two), 2, 3, And 4
Friday Constitutional 8 - Article Three, The Judicial Branch
Friday Constitutional 9 - Article Four, Relationships Between The States
Friday Constitutional 10 -Articles Five Six and Seven
Friday Constitutional 11 - 1st And 2nd Amendments
Friday Constitutional 12 - 3rd And 4th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 13 - 5th And 6th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 14 - 7th, 8th, 9th And 10th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 15 -11th And 12th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 16 - 13th and 14th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 17 - 15th, 16th And 17th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 18 - 18th, 19th And 20th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 19 - 21st, 22nd And 23rd Amendments
Friday Constitutional 20 - 24th And 25th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 21 - 25th And 26th Amendments
The idea that the Huadenosaunee structure of government between the nations that formed this body had an influence on the US Constitution is fairly contentious. I am sure that there will be those that want to dispute this connection, which is just fine, as long as we do not fall into the trap of either hero worship for the Framers or our abiding problem of American Exceptionalism.
As a process improvement guy I have found the best ideas are often ones you take from others who have been down the same road you are following, so if, as seems at least somewhat likely, the Huadenosaunee influenced the foundational document of our Republic, there is no shame in that, it just good resource management on the part of the Framers. Regardless of where the concepts came from, it was the Framers that gave us the Articles and the Bill of Rights, and these concepts have served us well (for the most part) for the last 224 years.
The Huadenosaunee is believed to have been formed in 1142 after a total eclipse of the sun. If you are interested in the formation story, you can find it here . It is easy to see that there are very many similar aspects to the compact that allowed the Five Nations (later to become Six) to our Federal system of government.
Under the Huadenosaunee each of the Nations was equal to the others. They maintained sovereignty within their individual nations but were under a Great Council of Sachems for all matters that pertained to the Huadenosaunee as a whole. There was a tiered structure of government where a tribe would have a council of sachems that would resolve local level issues, and would send representatives to the Great Council. The Great Council would then either approve of the nominee or disapprove and state the reason why.
This has a lot of parallels with the original structure of the United States Senate. Originally Senators were elected by the Legislatures of the States and to this day the Senate retains the right to admit or deny admission of any Senator for cause. It is one of the few places in the Constitution that does not have a check or balance on it, the power rests totally with the membership of the Senate, as it did with the Great Council.
The Nations of the Huadenosaunee had equality in exercise of the franchise (as they used it) from the start. The mothers of the tribe would often be the ones that nominated the sachems candidates, and were also the ones most likely to initiate the re-call of them as well if they did not actually represent the interests of the tribe in the Great Council. While there were two councils the mother’s council and the men’s council, both had strong say in who represented the tribe. There is some evidence that the mother’s councils were actually more influential but it is far from absolutely clear, as these things tend to be when seen through the lens of history and our own expectations of a society.
The Great Council was were war and peace would be declared. It regulated treaties, the treatment of the subjugated tribes and the general welfare for the entire Huadenosaunee. It was to assure the welfare and peace between the tribal nations that comprised the Huadenosaunee that it was formed. To assure that all were treated equally and could act as one, this made for the long term success of both the tribal nations involved and the Huadenosaunee itself.
The Huadenosaunee was the ruling structure for a Federated Nation that covered a large section of what would become the Untied States running from the Southern shore of Lake Ontario North East to nearly the Hudson Bay area. This meant that many of the Framers would have had at least a little contact with the Nation and tribes. Benjamin Franklin in particular was exposed the working of the Huadenosaunee by being the printer who recorded and printed the minutes of its meetings. Seeing this long term structure where the interests of disparate tribes can be argued and balance surely gave both Franklin and Jefferson some of place to jump off with in terms the Articles of Confederation which were the precursors of the Constitution.
It is true that there was a lot of input from other sources, but the framework of our nations Federal Government is such a departure from the European models and has so many correlations with the Huadenosaunee it would be impossible to say that our Framers were not in some way strongly influenced by it.
So, there is a little, very high level, look at one of the influences that has informed the framing of Constitution. There is a ton more, but I am going to leave it up to you, gentle reader to dig out.
So there it all is, a look at the whole Constitution, so far. Hopefully you all enjoyed reading and thinking about it as much as I did. If there is one thing that I’d ask everyone it is to read through the Constitution every couple of years. It will help you stay grounded in what this nation is supposed to be about. However, always remember that while the Constitution is a base, it is the Supreme Court case law that gives that base structure and application in the real world.
The floor is yours.