Of Turkeys, Eagles and Grizzly Bears

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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.

 

 

  • Theodore Roosevelt : The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times… but courageous beyond all doubt. And one other trait that goes with all previous.

    2nd Reporter : And that, Mr. President?

    Theodore Roosevelt : Loneliness. The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered – but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he.

    2nd Reporter : And you feel this might be an American trait?

    Theodore Roosevelt : Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us – they might even grow to fear us. But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! And, we’re a bit blind and reckless at times too.

    2nd Reporter : Are you perhaps referring to the situation in Morocco and the Panama Canal.

    Theodore Roosevelt : If you say so… The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America. He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle – he’s nothing more than a dandified vulture.

    Screenplay, The Wind and the Lion (1975)

 

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