Benjamin Franklin preferred turkey to eagle as the national bird – which is true of the myth
The majestic bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. There is a myth that founding father Benjamin Franklin would have preferred the turkey to be the national bird. Is that correct?
The bald eagle is a winged patriot in the United States. He is omnipresent. It adorns the Great Seal of the United States and with it much of what surrounds the President, but also banknotes. But even a majestic eagle does not simply soar to national bird status. The founding fathers promoted him to the Great Seal in his day.
The origin goes back to the Continental Congress, the delegates of the then 13 colonies of North America. They also wanted an official seal for their newly founded nation when they signed the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were tasked with designating one.
The founding fathers of the United States had biblical motifs in mind
However, the first ideas that circulated were not animal, but biblically inspired. The National Museum of American Diplomacy quotes from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on August 14, 1776.
Benjamin Franklin thus suggested that Moses lifted his staff and parted the Red Sea while Pharaoh was overwhelmed by the waters. The motto of this depiction: rebellion against tyrants as obedience to God. Thomas Jefferson’s approach was also Biblical. According to this source, he imagined the Americans as the children of Israel in the desert, being led by a pillar of fire at night. Adams, in turn, referred to mythology and Hercules “leaning on his club” and gazing at a figure of virtue.
A few years and committees later, in 1782, it finally became the bald eagle, holding an olive branch and arrows in its talons, and said to represent strength, unity, and independence.
The thing about Benjamin Franklin and the turkey
To this day, we keep reading that Benjamin Franklin advocated a turkey as the national bird. “That’s just a myth,” clarifies the Franklin Institute. The fact that he persists and is not entirely implausible has to do with a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter. In it, Franklin criticized the original design of the eagle for the Great Seal because it looked more like a turkey. In the letter he writes that the bald eagle is a bird of bad moral character. “He doesn’t get his living honestly… [er] is too lazy to fish for himself.”
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In comparison, the turkey is “a much more respectable bird”, a “true, original Native American”. He is also, if a little vain and silly, a bird of courage. The Franklin Institute concludes: “Thus, while Benjamin Franklin defended the honor of the turkey over the bald eagle, he did not propose making it one of America’s most important symbols.”
The turkey, on the other hand, has become a kind of national bird without making a big appearance on seals and banknotes. For the animals, on the other hand, their popularity is usually not very pleasant: On Thanksgiving, they are an integral part of many family tables. After all, there was traditionally good news this year for two specimens named Chocolate and Chip: President Joe Biden pardoned the two animals on Monday.