July 11, 2005


Did the Founding Fathers Really Get Many of Their Ideas of Liberty from the Iroquois? (Jack Rakove, 7/11/05, History News Network)

What's wrong with the Iroquois influence hypothesis? There are two principal and, I think, fatal objections to the idea that anything in the Constitution can be explained with reference to the precedents of the Haudenosaunee confederation.

The first is a simple evidentiary matter. The voluminous records we have for the constitutional debates of the late 1780s contain no significant references to the Iroquois. It is of course possible that the framers and ratifiers went out of their way to suppress the evidence, out of embarrassment that they were so intellectually dependent on the indigenous sources of their political ideas. But these kinds of arguments from silence or conspiratorial suppression are difficult for historians to credit.

But, it is objected, there were no real European antecedents and sources for the institutions that Americans created, or for the democratic mores by which they came to live. Again, this is a claim that cannot escape serious scrutiny. All the key political concepts that were the stuff of American political discourse before the Revolution and after, had obvious European antecedents and referents: bicameralism, separation of powers, confederations, and the like.

It's just the British system enhanced by a written constitution but unperfected by a monarch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 11, 2005 10:27 AM

Twisting History and Fabricating Facts

New Fordham Foundation study finds underhanded intentions in supplemental social-studies materials.

WASHINGTON, DC—Widely-used instructional materials that teachers rely upon to supplement their textbooks and their own knowledge may be dangerous to children's educational health. The creators of such materials (and "professional development" programs for teachers) often inject bias and political manipulation into the minds of teachers and, subsequently, their students. The latest Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study, The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America's History Teachers, casts wary light on resources that teachers frequently use but that seldom come under public or expert scrutiny.

The Stealth Curriculum was authored by Sandra Stotsky, veteran education analyst, scholar and former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education. It takes a close look at some prominent supplemental materials and workshops in the social-studies field.

Published by all manner of organizations and interest groups, these materials mislead teachers, distort the curriculum, and deflect classroom attention from the content that students should be learning. Worse, such materials are reinforced by a network of teacher workshops that focus more on propagating political and social ideas than imparting actual historical knowledge. At best, these materials offer a one-sided biased view of complex issues. In many cases, they go farther, omitting events that paint an interest group in a negative light or fabricating facts altogether.

"Under the guise of heightening teachers' and students' awareness of previously marginalized groups, they manipulate teachers (and, thus, their pupils) to view the history of freedom as the history of oppression and to be more sympathetic to cultures that don't value individual rights than to those that do," says Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr. in the report's foreword.

This stealth curriculum tends to fly under the radar of historians and other experts as the sheer amount of materials makes any sort of tracking and reviewing process next to impossible. Little is known about the direct effects of these materials on teachers and their students because of the lack of research on them, but Stotsky uses the lesson plans teachers created after completing the workshops that promote these materials as evidence of what participants are taking away from the workshops they attend. Stotsky suggests that teachers either do not recognize the difference between fact and fiction or bias and fair portrayal in what they are told or given to read, or are too intimidated to voice their concerns.

To remedy this situation, Stotsky makes several recommendations. She favors halting professional development via workshops and supplemental materials until there is an effective way to evaluate materials and workshops, and requiring straightforward academic course work in their place. Additionally, history teachers should have an avenue to report problems and questions with supplemental materials so omissions and factual misrepresentations do not continue to spread.

The full text of the report and Stotsky's recommendations can be found at http://www.edexcellence.net/foundation/publication/publication.cfm?id=331. To obtain an electronic or hard copy of the report, please contact Jennifer Leischer at 202-223-5452 or email jleischer@edexcellence.net.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is a nonprofit organization that engages in research and public policy programs that advance knowledge and reform in elementary and secondary education, both nationally and in the Dayton area. The Foundation is not affiliated with Fordham University.

Posted by: Dave W. at July 11, 2005 11:24 AM


Our monarch stands for election by the states every four years. If you want a king, let Leahy, Schumer and the wobbly senate Republicans appoint all judges to the SCOTUS. A monarchy is simply one style of 'living constitutionalism'.

Posted by: at July 11, 2005 11:27 AM

Yes, the presidency is to transitory and partisan to fill the proper role of a monarch.

Posted by: oj at July 11, 2005 11:37 AM

The US President who resembled a monarch the most was FDR. I understand you're not a big fan of his...

Posted by: b at July 11, 2005 11:46 AM

Au Contrar OJ: We can argue about the term length of the president. But he is a Monarch. As for partisanship, the claim that there is a system of government that does not have partisanship, is silly. We are all partial. We all have our eyes in our own head, and our hearts in the middle of our own bodies. There are always parties. Court and Country, Geulph and Ghillbine, Merchants and Farmers, etc. This is true in all political systems whatever their structure.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 11, 2005 11:55 AM

No, there are 5 Supremes which ARE Monarchs.

They are unelected and you really can't get them out.

We can neuter the sitting prez every 2 years.

Posted by: Sandy P at July 11, 2005 12:07 PM

FDR was a partisan hack. The president who resembled a monarch most was Washington, though Coolidge and Ike aren't far behind.

Posted by: oj at July 11, 2005 12:11 PM

The powers of the President bear more than a passing similarity to the actual powers of the British monarch in the mid-18th century.

Posted by: Peter B at July 11, 2005 12:27 PM

Washington could have been King, but he abdicated in the most important move for America (and hence the world) of the past 2+ centuries. The precedent held until FDR decided he wanted to be King and no one stopped him...

Posted by: b at July 11, 2005 12:39 PM

What needs to be borne in mind is that oj's ideal society is Franco's Spain.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at July 11, 2005 12:40 PM


We'll never have enough communists here to need a Franco. One creates a stable Republic in order to avoid such eventualities.

Posted by: oj at July 11, 2005 12:42 PM

Not Iroquois. Rome. The Founders were big Roman Republic fans.

As to the Rakove article, It is quite true that a lot of public school curriculum is slanted as alleged. History and literature are slanted in hesperophobic directions. Pagan creation myths are presented to the complete concluseion of our own. In our city, where the public schools are only 15% European-American, we are teaching that the Pilgrimas gave thanks to the Indians and that Negro Egyptians invented everything.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 11, 2005 1:12 PM

The Framers did not use any European model, except indirectly.

The U.S. Constitution was a distillation of about 37 colonial constitutions that had been written in the previous generation -- often by the Framers -- most of which had novel elements in them unknown in Europe.

Sydnor explained this long ago.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 11, 2005 2:36 PM

It's interesting how we've romanticized the Iroquois. They were the Wehrmacht and SS of their time and space. Try telling the Huron, Erie and Abenaki about the wonderfully civilized Iroquois. I saw one TV special that even transformed them into a "horse culture" tribe. Sheesh.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 11, 2005 3:05 PM

The Framers were European, so their ideas are European, which means mainly Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman.

Posted by: oj at July 11, 2005 3:15 PM

Monarchs are not transitory? A reign may be over many years although the changes can be dramatic in succession. It's all dependent on the personality and character of the sovereign rather than on a body of fixed law developed over decades, even centuries. Much like the decrees of the Warren Court or the judicial philosphy of a Stepeh Breyer or Justice Ginzberg, government becomes, in whole or in part, dependent on on the will of the Monarch rather than the consent of the governed. The assumption that a monarch has nothing but altruistic and well considered motives unconnected to ego or basic human foolishness is silly.

Posted by: at July 11, 2005 3:29 PM

Yes, that's why the monarchy need to be an adjunct to, not independent of, a constitutional republic.

Posted by: oj at July 11, 2005 3:34 PM

A monarch? Here? It's bad enough we have Jacko and Britney and Bennifer -- you want to toss in a Diana on top of that?

Posted by: Mike Morley at July 11, 2005 4:45 PM

oj - All of the Founders were born in America, except Hamilton, born in the West Indies. If they'd thought of themselves as European, they wouldn't have rebelled.

Posted by: pj at July 11, 2005 5:42 PM

bart? What was that you said about Indoctrination 101?

Posted by: erp at July 11, 2005 5:51 PM


They thought themselves entitled to the full rights of British citizens. So they won them.

Posted by: oj at July 11, 2005 5:53 PM

There are only two requirements for a national myth. First, that it be national. Second, that it be mythical.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 11, 2005 6:17 PM


I know what you mean. When I first heard this ahistorical nonsense, I immediately thought that the Founding Fathers got their ideas about governance from the Iroquois about as much as they got their ideas about coiffure.

Posted by: bart at July 11, 2005 8:18 PM

"It's interesting how we've romanticized the Iroquois."

The new world resembled Hobbes' idea of the state of Nature. The reason the Conquistadors were able to take over places like Mexico and Peru was that it was very easy to find allies among the tribes that the local top dogs were oppressing.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 11, 2005 10:46 PM

Quite right, Robert. The Central and South American "top dog" Indians had a pretty good handle on the whole "monopolization of violence" thing. Made themselves many enemies. And the Iroquois descended from those repressive cultures.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 12, 2005 12:31 AM

Saying that we've got essentually the British system but with a written constitution is like saying we've got essentially the Iranian system, without the Islamic nutballs. That the British constitution is unwritten is the second most important thing about it. The first most important thing about it is the sovereignty of Parliment, which we also don't have.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 12, 2005 9:29 AM

Yes, take away the Guardian Council in a couple years and Iran will have an Anglo-American political system.

Posted by: oj at July 12, 2005 9:49 AM


Much as it pains me to admit, most of what is good about our political system does derive from the British. The tradition of protecting individual liberties and the use of the common law are but two aspects. Our separation of powers is an outgrowth of British political theory for about the previous two centuries. It would not be an unknown concept to Hobbes or Locke.

The notion of a constitution which is a major difference is actually a French notion, the 'social contract.' And the word 'constitution' is itself French.

Posted by: bart at July 12, 2005 10:35 AM


Iranian tradition involves having a ruler who is essentially seen as divine. Given that and Iranian friendship with Continental Europe for at least 2 centuries, I would imagine that any Iranian government would look like the French 5th Republic.

Posted by: bart at July 12, 2005 10:37 AM

Iranians want to be American.

Posted by: oj at July 12, 2005 10:47 AM

When OJ mentions monarch, I'm pretty sure he is using it as its function of being head of state as opposed to head of government. The British PM is head of govt, the Queen is head of state. The US President is both.

Obstensibly OJ wants some non-partisan, and thus unelected, office to he head of state and serve as some kind of last minute protector of the constitution. Because it would not enjoy electoral legitimacy, the only legitimacy it could enjoy would be of the kind that long standing ("eternal") tradition gives, something only monarchies probably enjoy. I personally don't think it would work, but this does reveal OJ's deep cultural conservatism.

Presumably, there was a whole clone army of OJ's in the Star Wars universe that made sure there would be lots of Dukes, Princesses, and other pseudo-monarachical trappings when the Galactic Republic was set up.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at July 12, 2005 12:00 PM

David: The Parlimentary rule is a 19th century slogan. At the time of the American revolution, the King still had subsantial governmental power, and he was the "Soverign." QEII still has soverign immunity.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 12, 2005 12:01 PM


The U.S. Constitution was a distillation of about 37 colonial constitutions that had been written in the previous generation...

Do you mean the strongest parts of all these speci...er...constitutions were selected and contributed to its survival while the less beneficial parts were dropped and are now extinct?

Posted by: Peter B at July 12, 2005 1:31 PM

So Sydnor says, Peter.

If the Framers were so darned European, why did they make entail unconstitutional?

They were the heirs of six or seven generations of drift away from European values, which they had grown to despise.

So they left out religious coercion, monarchy, aristocracy (read the part about foreign orders), entail, standing armies, etc.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 12, 2005 5:00 PM

"The positive effects of a monarchy are indistinguishable from those of a sufficiently large ziggurat."
-- Homerick's Law.

Posted by: Bill Woods at July 12, 2005 5:10 PM

they believed in Natural Aristocracy, not titled or landed, and hostility to entail was ancient.

Posted by: oj at July 12, 2005 5:45 PM

Robert: Sovereignty, from the time of the Glorious Revolution onward, rests on "the King in Parliment." It is clear to everyone that if the Parliment wants to change Kings, it can. It wouldn't even have to behead them any more.

Bart: I fully admit the Founder's intellectual debt to English thought. Nonetheless, our system is not their system, with a little tweaking. Ours is fundamentally different.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 12, 2005 7:39 PM

For one thing, the Constitution is written in American....

Posted by: oj at July 12, 2005 8:03 PM

One people, separated by a common language.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 12, 2005 11:58 PM

And united by common ideas and institutions.

Posted by: oj at July 13, 2005 12:03 AM

The idea of a Natural Aristocracy was profoundly antiEuropean.

And since then, we've ditched even that.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 13, 2005 6:53 PM

Nah, now we call them heads of lobbies, unions, PACs, etc.

The president of the NRA commands more power than any nobleman ever did.

Posted by: oj at July 13, 2005 6:57 PM

If that's a definition of 'aristocracy,' then it isn't worth having.

But it sounds more like a definition of 'ward heeler.'

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 14, 2005 8:47 PM

Yes, the sole objection to aristocracy is that they wield more than their own votes. Getting rid of titles didn't solve the problem, predictably.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2005 8:50 PM