An Indian Democracy

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An Indian Democracy

Donald Grinde is the author of The Iroquois and the Founding of the American Nation, one of the earliest books to argue for an Indian influence on the formation of the American democracy. Since Grinde’s publication and Bruce Johansen’s a year later, there has been a great deal of debate over this issue. Many of the most prominent opponents of the influence thesis have failed to distinguish between the arguments of more extreme authors, such as Gregory Schaaf, who claim that the Iroquois Gayanashagowa was copied by the U.S. Constitution, and those with a more moderate stance, like Johansen and Grinde, who simply point to a clear influence (Johansen, 1998). This paper intends to argue along the lines of these latter authors. Our founding fathers did not copy the Gayanashagowa or Great Law of Peace, but our Constitution was written with reflection upon the Iroquoian government with the goal of synthesizing this model into a form that could satisfy the needs of the American people. Given the evidence presented by Grinde and Johansen, it is clear that Native Americans influenced early U. S. political minds—if not directly, then at least indirectly.

Elisabeth Tooker is one of the strongest opponents of the claim that there was a native influence on the U. S. democracy. She addressed Schaaf’s extreme claim that the U.S. had copied the Gayanashagowa, which is clearly not the case. Tooker sites differences between the Constitution and the Great Law of Peace such as majority rule rather than unanimous consensus. This line of argument works well to refute Schaaf, who’s evidence is based almost entirely on his analysis of such parallels (Johansen, 1998)

Tooker’s overall argument, though, is not effective ...

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