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Ben Franklin and the Haudenosaunee

American Democracy and the Haudenosaunee

When proposing his Albany Plan of Union in 1754, Benjamin Franklin sought to spur the colonies toward a confederacy by pointing out that the Haudenosaunee had provided the model.

“It would be a very strange thing,” Franklin wrote, “if Six Nations… could be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.”

Though his Albany Plan failed, Franklin continued to express his admiration for Haudenosaunee social and governmental structures. Historian Donald A. Grinde Jr., in a 1987 speech at Cornell University, catalogued Franklin’s interest in Haudenosaunee culture:

• In England before the American Revolution, Franklin’s friends gave him a silver tea service engraved with the words, “Keep bright the chain,” one of Franklin’s favorite phrases.

• During his stay in France during the Revolution, Franklin “loved to cite and to practice the proverb of his friends, the American Indians, ‘Keep the chain of friendship bright and shining,’ when discussing the concept of liberty among distinguished French philosophers like Turgot, Helvetius, La Rochefoucault, and Condorcet.

• Franklin designed paper currency using the Covenant Chain to represent the colonies; used on Congress’ half-dollar bill and other small-denomination notes, the design features 13 links in a circular chain and the legend, “We are one.”

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