Ben Franklin and the Turkey


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.

I rather dislike to disagree with Benjamin Franklin, but although the Turkey has several delicious qualities, I cannot imagine having it as our national symbol.  If Congress is ever looking for a symbol however…

7 Responses to Ben Franklin and the Turkey

  1. Dino says:

    We had ham for dinner on Thanksgiving. We are surrounded by turkeys, starting with Congress, all year long.

  2. Don the Kiwi says:

    Eagles are magnificent creatures. No wonder the early writers in the OT refer to eagles often.
    The Australian Sea Eagle is, I believe, a close relative of the American Bald Eagle. While living in Oz during the 80’s, I was out fishing with a friend. As we watched, this sea eagle, only about 50 meters away, swooped down and plucked a fish out of the water – not just a little fish, what the Aussies call a southern salmon (not a true salmon) which would have weighed around 12 pounds.

  3. Don the Kiwi says:


    4th. line – “livivd” should be “living”.
    (maybe I lived in Oz too long) 😉

  4. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I fixed it for you Don, although I imagine at least once while you were living in Oz you were livid. Most Aussies I’ve known have been fantastic, but a few have been truculent! 🙂

  5. Don the Kiwi says:

    Actually Don, it was quite an enjoyable experience. I do have Aussie cousins, and we moved to Wollongong NSW where they lived, to be with people we know, and within weeks had a great circle of Aussie friends – all with young families, as Sandy & I did then. And, of course, I got called “Kiwi” – (hopefully because I epitomised all those manly qualities other nationals expect of us rugged antipodean outdoors men 😉 ) and the name stuck, hence my combox name.
    I did , of course, cop a lot of stick, as is usual with banter between Aussies and Kiwis, and the Aussies can be more outspoken and course than us more genteel people from the islands to the East :-), but I found, give back as much crap as you cop, and you’re respected – otherwise you keep copping it.
    Only had one punch-up, and that was in a game of Touch Rugby – go figure. Had plenty of robust arguments though, being a builder/labour contractor on some of the building sites around Sydney.
    Have many good friends in Oz – haven’t visited for about 5 years now, but each time I have, I’m sure that within a few days, if I moved back, everything would be the same.
    But I’m not moving – Tauranga, NZ is home and I’ll be buried here; though after, I hope, many more travels.

  6. Al says:

    While I agree that he may have been saying it a bit tongue in cheek, he got it right. Given the turkeys in DC (& at lower levels of government as well), the turkey would have been a better symbol.

    PS 1776 is my favorite all time movie.

  7. Donna V. says:

    Do you remember the opening game of the World Series in 2001? It was less than a month after 9/11. A beautiful bald eagle soared over the Stadium during the opening ceremony. My eyes misted over and I got a lump in my throat. I’m sure millions of Americans had the same reaction.

    Sorry, Ben, but a turkey running across the field just would not have had the same effect.

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