James Catron

The ideas of weak, limited government divided into legislative and executive branches, separating the power of religion from civil power, of equality and self-government are American Indian ideas. They were transported to Europe by explorers, spread through theater, and romanticized by intellectuals.

Those intellectuals, especially Montesquieu and Rousseau, became the guiding lights of our Founders. The Indian concept of a self-governing society of equals came home in the works of those European writers.

However, the Founding Fathers' knowledge of the Indian Way did not come exclusively from the thinkers of the Enlightenment. They lived very near these Indians, and there was great commerce between the Colonials and the Natives.

Ben Franklin knew a great deal about Indians, as he was the official printer for the Colony of Pennsylvania. In that capacity, he was hired to print transcripts of treaty negotiations and diplomatic missions to the Indians.

He became an expert on Indian politics and adopted their ideas and values and diplomacy as his own. In fact, at the Albany Convention in 1754, he proposed that the colonies unite in the same Federal fashion as the Iroquois League. He was not the first to make that suggestion, however.

In 1744, an Iroquois chief named Canastego observed that white people had too many sets of laws and should unite themselves as his people had.

The Founders wanted to create a society of equals, electing its rulers, separating civilian and military powers, separating religion and government, and uniting several peoples into one nation. The Colonials had ceased to consider themselves British. Before the 1750's, the term American meant only Indian. The Colonists began to call themselves Americans, and formed organizations to promote the Indian Way of government.

Many such clubs were called Tammany Societies, named for a great Delaware chief. These AngloAmericans met in lodges, as did the Indians. They elected their leaders, and convened their lodges in Indian regalia. They addressed their elected leaders as sachem and sagamore, Indian titles.

One such group, the Sons of Liberty, charged out of a lodge meeting in Boston in 1773, wearing their Mohawk lodge clothing. They boarded a British merchantman in the harbor and chopped open tea crates with their tomahawks. They dumped the tea into the water to protest an oppressive tea tax, and the Boston Tea Party went down in history.

These men loved the Native equality and freedom and despised European aristocracies, elitists who inherited property and power. They so admired the Indian Way that fifteen American Indian chiefs were invited to attend the Constitutional Convention as advisors to the Founders' efforts to craft a document creating government by popular consensus.