On every Thanksgiving, there is a story that goes around the United States which sounds like: “You know, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird, not the bald eagle!” That’s seems strange at first thought, but you realize it is Thanksgiving Day, so everyone bursts into laughter and continue with what they were doing — probably having a turkey feast. We’re not going to dismiss the story though, it’s about 15 percent true, but what really happened… could be a myth.
Related media: Did Benjamin Franklin REALLY Suggest The Turkey For The Great Seal Of The United States?
Our National Burd
First and foremost, let’s get this straight: Benjamin Franklin really did write a letter in which he showed discontent about the suitability of the eagle as a national mascot. Here’s an excerpt of his letter:
“For my own 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.”
Later on in his letter, he writes what would be a myth today:
“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.”
Voilà! There you have it. Game over. That’s the true story, and it turns out that Benjamin Franklin really thought the turkey was better off than the eagle. Hold on… ! Wait a minute. What? You thought we were going to debunk this story? Yes, we are. Keep on reading.
Is That A Burdkey?
Now, concerning the letter that Franklin wrote, it was sent a couple of years later, after the decision about the national seal was made; and to begin with, he wasn’t even talking about the national seal or whatever bird. You’ll need the backstory that led to all this.
After the American Revolution, (not the War of Independence), veteran officers founded a fraternity called the Society of Cincinnati which was a controversial organization. Most people claimed you only became a member through inheritance, while others thought they shouldn’t have used Latin as part of their seal. This complaint kept on showing up: the eagle on the seal looked too much like a turkey.
So Franklin’s rumination on the suitability of the eagle as a seal of the nation is more of an aside in a much broader conversation about birds in general, and all nations. Upon reading his letter, you realize that he’s talking about a Revolutionary soldier, which had nothing to do with national seals. (Not the navy, though).
Thanks Given Turkey
He further wrote in his letter:
“Besides [the eagle] 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.”
Get it? King bird? By the time he starts talking about the turkey — and he’s clearly talking about the “turkey” that appears on the Society of Cincinnati’s seal — it’s evident that he is continuing the joke. The members of the society really didn’t “hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards” even if they might be “a little vain and silly” with their Latin grandiosity. When it comes down to it, we’re thinking that Benjamin Franklin didn’t actually have very strong feelings about the best bird for the job — personally, we’re voting for the Velociraptor.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Jan 05, 2019.