Indian Style


James Catron

The Framers created our Constitution as a foundation for a system of self-government, government by popular consensus. The ideas contained in the document are not European ideas; they are American ideas. They are organic to this continent.

Europeans first encountered these ideas over 350 years ago when a Frenchman named Samuel de Champlain was exploring the Northeast coast, searching for the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia. He stumbled upon a tribe of people whose ways changed the course of world history.

These people elected their leaders annually through universal suffrage and impeached and removed the incompetent or corrupt ones. They divided the power of government by electing red chiefs (war chiefs) and white chiefs (peace chiefs). The white chiefs were elected to councils to deliberate and legislate for the public good, and any member of their society could address that council and speak his or her mind without interruption. Among these people the priest or medicine man had no political authority and could not pass his trade on to his son, so there could arise no clan or elite of priest-kings.

In addition to separating executive and legislative powers, and dividing religion and government, these people has the wisdom to meld five separate and sovereign tribes into one nation, the Iroquois Confederacy. That nation's elected legislative body functioned in a bi-cameral fashion and met once every five years. It had fifty seats, but the tribes elected only forty-nine delegates. The fiftieth seat was left empty, reserved in memory of the genius who, a thousand years before Champlain, devised this system of self-governance by a society of equals, a society without royalty, without peasants. His name was Hiawatha.

The French explorers were stunned by this society because Europe, in the 1600's, was ruled by absolute monarchs. Nobody voted and no king ever got impeached. European society was divided by class. If you were born a peasant, you died a peasant.

Knowledge of the Indian Way had tremendous impacts upon European societies, especially the French. Knowledge of these ideas did not spread through books. Books were very expensive and the common folk could not read, anyway. However, at the same time Will Shakespeare was writing and performing his plays at the Globe Theater, French plays were spreading the word of the American Way of self-government. French intellectuals like the Baron Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau began to write about 'man in the state of nature' and the 'noble savage;' they wrote that freedom and equality are natural, and class and privilege, aristocracy and elitism are false and corrupt.