June 23, 2024

USA: Did Benjamin Franklin favor the turkey as the national bird?

United States of America Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the eagle as the national bird – true to legend

Impressive: wild turkey

© Strussfoto / Imago Images

The majestic bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. There is a legend that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin favored the turkey as the national bird. Is this correct?

The bald eagle is the national winged eagle of the United States. He is omnipresent. It adorns the Great Seal of the United States and with it much that surrounds the President, but also banknotes. But even the majestic eagle does not simply rise to the status of national bird. The Founding Fathers promoted him to the Great Seal of his day.

The origin goes back to the Continental Congress, the delegates of the then thirteen North American colonies. 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 appointing one of them.

The Founding Fathers of the United States had biblical trappings in mind

However, the first ideas that circulated were not animalistic, but inspired by the Bible. The National Museum of American Diplomacy quotes a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on August 14, 1776.

Thus Benjamin Franklin suggested that Moses raised his rod and parted the Red Sea while Pharaoh was flooded. The motto of this depiction: rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God. Thomas Jefferson’s approach was biblical, too. According to this source, he imagined the Americans as the Children of Israel in the desert, led by a pillar of fire at night. Adams, in turn, referred to the myths and Hercules “leaning his staff” and staring at the figure of Virtue.

After a few years and commissions, in 1782, he finally became a bald eagle, bearing an olive branch and arrows in its talons, said to represent strength, unity, and independence.

Eagle on the Great Seal of the United States – here on the one dollar bill

© Design Pics / Imago Images

The thing about Benjamin Franklin and the turkey

To this day, we still read that Benjamin Franklin called the turkey the national bird. “This is just a myth,” the Franklin Institute explains. The fact of its persistence and implausibility relates to 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 wrote that the bald eagle is a bird with bad manners. “He doesn’t earn his living honestly… [er] Too lazy to fish.”

In comparison, the turkey is a “more respected bird”, and a “true Native American”. It is also, if a little vain and silly, a brave bird. The Franklin Institute concludes: “Thus, while Benjamin Franklin defended the turkey’s honor over the bald eagle, he did not propose to make it one of America’s most important symbols.”

On the other hand, the turkey has become a kind of national bird without making a large appearance on seals and banknotes. On the other hand, for animals, 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 cats named Chocolate and Chip: President Joe Biden pardoned the two animals on Monday.

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sources: Franklin InstituteAnd Science livesAD, National Museum of American DiplomacyAnd Hey ho