Little Bits of History

Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2011

Great Seal of the United States

January 26, 1784: Benjamin Franklin sends a letter to his daughter discussing the eagle as engraved on the national seal. Many countries have an animal that represents them. England has the lion, Canada has the beaver while Australia has the kangaroo. The newly formed US now had the eagle. On July 4, 1776 three men were given the task of designing a seal for the new nation – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, none of which wanted an eagle. Congress did not accept the seal as delivered by the committee which showed Lady Liberty holding a shield that represented the states.

William Barton, a Philadelphia artist, was called in to redesign the seal. His first attempt had a golden eagle in the design. The new nation, still fighting for independence from European rule, did not accept that particular bird since it was also found in Europe. Instead, the American bald eagle was used.

Franklin’s letter to his daughter laments the quality of the drawing of the eagle, saying that it looked like a dindon, or turkey. He then went on to compare the two birds. It was Franklin’s contention that the bald eagle was both lazy and a “rank coward.” It seems he had seen an eagle in flight followed by smaller birds and felt that the larger bird of prey was in retreat rather than just ignoring the insignificant birds. He also felt that wild turkeys were a staple of life, used during feasting times along with venison, corn, and pumpkin.

There are other national symbols that are familiar around the world. The Statue of Liberty is globally recognized as American, a present from the French honoring the nation’s commitment to liberty. Mount Rushmore, another large monument is particularly American with the faces of four presidents carved into the mountain. Many nations have a national flower, and the US claims the rose. National trees are popular as well, with the US having selected the oak. Other symbols that represent the US are the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

“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.” – Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter

“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.” – Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter

“We have built no national temples but the Capitol; we consult no common oracle but the Constitution” – Rufus Choate

“People will accept your idea much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” – David H. Comins

Also on this day:
The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
The Phantom of the Opera – In 1988, The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in NYC.


One Response

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  1. James Zerdian said, on September 4, 2014 at 3:29 am

    ‘A more respectable bird’ in Franklin’s term for turkey would beam a turkey to the White House in our New World 2.0- A Kardashian?!? Jimmyz,NYC

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