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2.3 Influence on the United States

According to a controversial argument sometimes known as the “Iroquois Influence Thesis”, the Iroquois League was an important influence on the development of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. The “Influence Thesis” became popular in the 1980s, particularly through publications by Donald Grinde and Bruce Johansen. According to these historians, the democratic ideals of the Great Law of Peace provided a significant inspiration to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and other framers of the United States Constitution. The popularity of the Influence Thesis culminated with the United States Congress passing a resolution in October 1988, specifically recognizing the influence of the Iroquois League upon the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Influence Thesis has since been rejected by many scholars, however, including experts on the Iroquois and the US Constitution. According to historian Jack Rakove, “The voluminous records we have for the constitutional debates of the late 1780s contain no significant references to the Iroquois.” Scholars of the Iroquois Confederacy who have rejected the Influence Thesis include William N. Fenton and Francis Jennings, who called it “absurd”. Anthropologist Dean Snow writes:

There is, however, little or no evidence that the framers of the Constitution sitting in Philadelphia drew much inspiration from the League. It can even be argued that such claims muddle and denigrate the subtle and remarkable features of Iroquois government.… Yet the temptation to demonstrate that the United States Constitution was derived from a Native American form of government remains, for ephemeral political purposes, too strong for some to resist.