Ben Franklin and the Turkey




After the American Revolution, former American officers in that struggle created a fraternal organization called the Society of Cinncinatus, named after the Roman consul and dictator, a constitutional office of the Roman Republic in emergencies, who saved Rome through his efforts in the fifth century BC and then retired to his humble farm.  The Society selected as its symbol a bald eagle.  In a letter to his daughter Sally Bache on January 26, 1784, no doubt with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek, Dr. Franklin indicated that he thought another bird would have been a better choice.

Others object to the Bald Eagle, as looking too much like a Dindon, or Turkey. For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perch’d on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him. With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country, tho’ exactly fit for that Order of Knights which the French call Chevaliers d’Industrie. I am on this account not displeas’d that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and serv’d up at the Wedding Table of Charles the ninth. He is besides, tho’ a little vain and 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.

I rather dislike to disagree with Benjamin Franklin, but although the Turkey has several delicious qualities, I cannot imagine having it as our national symbol.  If Congress is ever looking for a symbol however…

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  1. Well, whenever I think of Franklin’s suggestion regarding our national bird, the thought always occurs to me that if it had gone through, our fighter pilots today would be flying F-15 Turkeys. 😉

  2. If the Turkey was the National Bird, I guess we would not or could not eat it, I don’t know. Turkeys are wild birds in a number of places in this country.

  3. For the record, on Veteran’s Day, Fox had this guy on their with a “Bald Eagle”, envision Falconry or Falconing but with a Bald Eagle. I’m sure one can find their song or cry online as most birds do have that online at bird sites.

    Interestingly, per the Ben Franklin quote above, “You may have seen him perch’d on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk…” , I once came upon a “Young Bald Eagle” on a tree stump right next to the river! So Franklin’s quote makes some sense to me, young Bald Eagles so they say are still all brown and this one was, I guess young Bald Eagles don’t have that white head yet.

  4. Interesting that Franklin uses the French name « Dindon » originally « coq d’Inde » or “Cockerel of the Indies” Later, a turkey cock became « Dindon » and the hen, « poule d’Inde » became « dinde »

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