Friday, November 24, 2023

1787 Ben Franklin Likes The Turkey more than The Bald Eagle

1615 Turkey Tapestry from India

 About the turkey lots of us ate for Thanksgiving, Ben Franklin wrote to his daughter that in comparison to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America...He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.” So, although Benjamin Franklin defended the honor of the turkey against the bald eagle, he did not actually propose it become one of America’s most important symbols.

“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; & when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, & is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate & young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him & takes it from him. With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor & often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly & drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave & 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, & 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, & serv’d up at the Wedding Table of Charles the ninth. He is besides, tho’ a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, & would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.“

See: “From Benjamin Franklin to Sarah Bache, 26 January 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 41, September 16, 1783, through February 29, 1784, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 503–511.]