Co-Intelligence Logo The Co-Intelligence Institute

What's New
Our Work
Contact RESOURCES Don't Miss (Features)
Links JOIN US Subscribe
Take Action
Donate Legal Notices


American Indians: The original democrats


Many people think that our democratic tradition evolved primarily from the Greeks and the English. But those political cultures, steeped in slavery, aristocracy, and property-power, provided only a counterpoint to the real source of our federal democracy - the American Indians. In the following selections from his book Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (Crown Publishers, NY, 1988), Jack Weatherford looks into the historic record to correct the mythology we have been raised with. -- Tom Atlee


The most consistent theme in the descriptions penned about the New World was amazement at the Indians' personal liberty, in particular their freedom from rulers and from social classes based on ownership of property. For the first time the French and the British became aware of the possibility of living in social harmony and prosperity without the rule of a king.

As the first reports of this new place filtered into Europe, they provoked much philosophical and political writing. Sir Thomas More incorporated into his 1516 book Utopia those characteristics then being reported by the first travelers to America.... More's work was translated into all the major European languages....

Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan, wrote several short books on the Huron Indians of Canada based on his stay with them from 1683 to 1694 [during which he] found an orderly society, but one lacking a formal government that compelled such order.... Soon thereafter, Lahontan became an international celebrity feted in all the liberal circles. The playwright Delisle de la Drevetiere adapted these ideas to the stage in a play about an American Indian's visit to Paris... Arlequin Sauvage,.... which had a major impact on a young man named Jean Jacques Rousseau.... and eventually led to the publication of his best-known work, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, in 1754....

During this era the thinkers of Europe forged the ideas that became known as the European Enlightenment, and much of its light came from the torch of Indian liberty....

When the American Revolution started, [Thomas] Paine served as secretary to the commissioners sent to negotiate with the Iroquois.... [He] sought to learn their language and throughout the remainder of his political and writing career he used the Indians as models of how society might be organized.

- pp. 122-125


Reportedly, the first person to propose a union of all the colonies and to propose a federal model for it was the Iroquois chief Canassatego, speaking at an Indian-British assembly in Pennsylvania in July 1744.... He suggested that they do as his people had done and form a union like the League of the Iroquois....

Benjamin Franklin...[was] Indian commissioner...during the 1750s and became intimately familiar with the intracacies of Indian political culture and in particular with the League of the Iroquois..... Speaking to the Albany Congress in 1754, Franklin called on the delegates of the various English colonies to unite and emulate the Iroquois League.... This model of several sovereign units united into one government presented precisely the solution to the problem confronting the writers of the United Sates Constitution. Today we call this a "federal" system in which each state retains power over internal affiars and the national government regulates affairs common to all....

The Americans followed the Iroquois precedent[s] of always providing for ways to remove leaders when necessary .....admitting new states as members rather than keeping them as colonies....allowing only one person to speak at a time in political meetings....

One of the most important political institutions borrowed from the Indians was the caucus....The word comes from the Algonquian languages..... The caucus became a mainstay of American democracy both in the Congress and in political and community groups all over the country.

- pp. 135-145


Home || What's New || Search || Who We Are || Co-Intelligence || Our Work || Projects || Contact || Don't Miss || Articles || Topics || Books || Links || Subscribe || Take Action || Donate || Legal Notices

If you have comments about this site, email
Contents copyright © 2003-2013, all rights reserved, with generous permissions policy (see Legal Notices)