The Reason Why Benjamin Franklin Didn’t Want The American Bald Eagle To Be The National Symbol

On January 26, 1784 Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter explaining the reasons why he didn’t like the fact that the American eagle was becoming a national symbol.

You see, 18 months earlier (on June 20, 1782), the Congress adopted the Great Seal with the American Bald Eagle right at the center. However, Ben Franklin didn’t like the idea of the American Eagle as he felt that the bird’s characteristics – such as bad moral, being lazy, taking advantage of other creature’s work and often chased by smaller birds trying to protect their young – didn’t match that of the nation.

Here’s the letter: (the article continues after the ad)

Franklin’s Letter to His Daughter (excerpt)

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen 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 perched 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 & 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…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & 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.”

— Benjamin Franklin

By reading the above, one might assume that Ben Franklin wanted Turkey to be America’s national symbol. Is this the case though?

Well, he did say that he preferred turkey over the bald eagle, however he did so because the bald eagle reminded him of a turkey and not necessarily because he wanted turkey to be the national symbol.

Moreover, we cannot be sure that he was even serious (remember when we talked about The Funny Reason Why Benjamin Franklin Wasn’t Allowed To Write The Declaration Of Independence?). And let’s not forget the contradictory evidence about his drowning-Egyptians and rattlesnakes proposal for the Great Seal, as well as the fact that he elsewhere wrote that eagles are an “Emblem of Victory.”

There’s also the not-insignificant matter that the letter was not addressed anywhere official (the Congress or Thomas Jefferson for example), but it was rather written for his daughter, Sally Bache. Therefore, i believe that his words regarding the turkey should be taken with the same grain of salt as your dad’s angry statement that Tom Brady should be traded every time Patriots lose.   

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: The Funny Reason Why Benjamin Franklin Wasn’t Allowed To Write The Declaration Of Independence     

Photo: Wikimedia, Wikimedia
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: The Eagle, Ben Franklin, and the Wild Turkey | Bald Eagle Description Page 1 | Did Benjamin Franklin Really Say the National Symbol Should Be the Turkey? | American Myths: Benjamin Franklin’s Turkey and the Presidential Seal

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