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The Turkey as America’s National Bird?


Oh, the majestic bald eagle. When we gaze upon it, we see nobility, courage and pride. Now that you have that image in your mind, replace it the American turkey. Different picture, isn’t it?

Historical rumor has it that the turkey almost was our national bird. The truth is generally not quite what we learn throughout our years. Yes, Benjamin Franklin did express a desire for the turkey to be the national bird over the bald eagle, but it was never official. He never did stand before the Continental Congress or any other group and propose that the turkey be the bird. We only know of his feelings from a letter he sent his daughter.

Within the letter, he states that not everyone was too keen on the bald eagle being chosen as it looked too much like a turkey. Franklin then states that

For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as 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, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor 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 and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little kingbird, 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 kingbirds from our country; though exactly fit for that order of knights, which the French call Chevaliers d'Industrie.

I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours; the first of the species seen in Europe, being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and served up at the wedding table of Charles the Ninth. He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that,) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.


I bet you never thought of the turkey like that. Many do not even think of the bald eagle as so conniving and underhanded.

Well, now that I’ve started a few political debates…..

Source of letter:
University of Buffalo - http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/nw98/franklinturkey.html
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Content copyright © 2014 by Rebecca Graf. All rights reserved.
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