Grateful American® Foundation

Why didn’t Benjamin Franklin want the American eagle to be the national symbol?

January 26th 26, 1784 — Today, Benjamin Franklin expressed unhappiness over the eagle as America’s symbol,

It was a year and a half after the Great Seal was adopted by Congress (on June 20, 1782) with the American Bald Eagle as its centerpiece. But Franklin thought the eagle on the badge of the Society of the Cincinnati Medal looked more like a turkey, which prompted him to compare the two birds as a symbol for the United States.

He said: “Because of their size, bald eagles are not concerned about threats from other birds. However, eagles are often chased by smaller birds, who are trying to protect their young.”

Franklin actually had a number of ideas for the emblem of the United States. In an anonymous letter to the Pennsylvania Journal in 1775, he pondered the virtues of using the rattlesnake as the coat of arms of America. Although it didn’t make it onto the Great Seal, Franklin’s rattlesnake comparison and the related “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan and other symbols have been in the limelight in recent years.

Words of Wisdom

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. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country...

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... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

— Benjamin Franklin's letter to his daughter about why the turkey would be a better symbol of American that the eagle.

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