Cathy Hulbert: Franklin Wanted Turkey As Our National Symbol

Roundup: Talking About History

Benjamin Franklin was known as a man of vision, but what he saw in the wild turkey was more than others could see.

Franklin thought so highly of the turkey that he preferred it over the bald eagle when people were trying to come up with a symbol for America. The eagle, which he called a "scavenger," was not a good choice, he said.
Here's the story:

After the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, three men were appointed to come up with a national symbol. They were Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

At first, none of them wanted a bird. Instead, they talked about ideas from the Bible and from myths. Congress didn't like their ideas, historians say. Then a lawyer from Philadelphia made a design that included an eagle.

But it took until 1782 for the final decision to be made. That's when the bald eagle became part of the official American seal.

Franklin said the wild turkey was "a little vain and silly" but at least was "more respectable" than the bald eagle. But he probably was joking when he called it a "bird of courage" that would attack a British soldier if it invaded his farm "with a red coat on."

Franklin wrote in a letter to his daughter that the bald eagle "does not make his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of a 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 eagle pursues him and takes it from him."

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