Monday, August 17, 2009

Guest Contributor: Benjamin Franklin

From time to time, Son of the Cucumber King will have a guest contributor. Our first such guest is the esteemed Benjamin Franklin.

Mr. Franklin is commenting on the Iroquois Confederacy, the society and government of the Six Nations (known also as the Haudenosaunee).

We consider ourselves quite fortunate to be in possession of this tract: after the eminent newspaper of the day failed to respond to it, the writer gave it to us. Our editorial board of one recognized it for being what it is—a timely gem.

The text, modernized for easier reading, is B. Franklin’s. The bold highlighting is ours.

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The Indian men, when young, are hunters and warriors, when old, counsellors; for all their government is by the counsel or advice of the sages. There is no force, there are no prisons, no officers to compel obedience or inflict punishment. Hence they generally study oratory, the best speaker having the most influence.

The Indian women till the ground, dress the food, nurse and bring up the children, and preserve and hand down to posterity the memory of public transactions....

Having frequent occasions to hold public councils, they have acquired great order and decency in conducting them. The old men sit in the foremost rank, the warriors in the next, and the women and children the hindmost.

The business of the women is to take exact notice of what passes, imprint it on their memories—for they have no writing—and communicate it to their children. They are the records of the council, and they preserve tradition of the stipulations in treaties a hundred years back, which when we compare with our writings we always find exact.

He that would speak, rises. The rest observe a profound silence. When he has finished and sits down, they leave him five or six minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted anything he intended to say or has anything to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common conversation, is reckoned highly indecent.

How different it is from the conduct of a polite British House of Commons, where scarce a day passes without some confusion that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to order; and how different from the mode of conversation in many polite companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your sentence with great rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the impatient loquacity of those you converse with and never allowed to finish it.

Benjamin Franklin, printer, writer, scientist, statesman. Discovered electricity. Helped draft the Constitution. Invented the Franklin Stove.


  1. Love this piece, Ray. Big fan of the wisdom of the founders, and that of tribes and cultures with great tradition.

    How many of today's talk show hosts might benefit from allowing someone to finish a thought or sentence?

    If we dare to take a moment in conversation to be silent & reflect, the voice on the other end gets impatient... "Are you there? Did I lose you...?"

  2. Amen to Dick's words. Which I why I can't tolerate talk shows.