Great Law of Peace
Gayanashagowa or the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) Six Nations (Oneida, Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, the Seneca and Tuscarora) is the oral constitution whereby the Iroquois Confederacy was bound together. The law was written on wampum belts, conceived by Deganawidah, known as The Great Peacemaker, and his spokesman Hiawatha. The original five member nations ratified this constitution near present-day Victor, New York, with the sixth nation (the Tuscarora) being added in ca. 1722.
Historians once thought the Iroquois Confederacy started in the 16th century, but a more recent estimate dates the confederacy and its constitution to between 1090 and 1150 AD. These estimates were based on the records of the confederacy leadership and astronomical dating related to a total solar eclipse that coincided with the founding of the Confederacy.
The laws were first recorded and transmitted not in written language, but by means of wampum symbols that conveyed meaning. In a later era it was translated into English. The Great Law of Peace is divided into 117 articles. The united Iroquois nations are symbolized by an Eastern White Pine tree, called the Tree of Peace. Each nation or tribe plays a delineated role in the conduct of government.
Influence on the United States Constitution
Historians, including Donald Grinde of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, have claimed that the democratic ideals of the Gayanashagowa provided a significant inspiration to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and other framers of the United States Constitution. Franklin circulated copies of the proceedings of the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster among his fellow colonists; at the close of this document, the Six Nations leaders offer to impart instruction in their democratic methods of government to the English. John Rutledge of South Carolina, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, is said to have read lengthy tracts of Six Nations law to the other framers, beginning with the words "We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order..." In October 1988, the U.S. Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331 to recognize the influence of the Iroquois Constitution upon the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The extent of the influence of Six Nations law on the U.S. Constitution is disputed by other scholars. Hodenashaunee historian Elizabeth Tooker has pointed to several differences between the two forms of government, notably that all decisions were made by a consensus of male chiefs who gained their position through a combination of blood descent and selection by female relatives, that representation on the basis of the number of clans in the group rather than the size or population of the clans, that the topics discussed were decided by a single tribe. Tooker concluded there is little resemblance between the two documents, or reason to believe the Six Nations had a meaningful influence on the American Constitution, and that it is unclear how much impact Canasatego's statement at Lancaster actually had on the representatives of the colonies. Stanford University historian Jack N. Rakove argued against any Six Nations influence, pointing to lack of evidence in U.S. constitutional debate records, and examples of European antecedents for democratic institutions.
Journalist Charles C. Mann has noted other differences between The Great Law of Peace and the original U.S. Constitution, including the original Constitution's denial of suffrage to women, and rule of majority as opposed to consensus.
- §37: There shall be one war chief from each nation, and their duties shall be to carry messages for their chiefs, and to take up arms in case of emergency. They shall not participate in the proceedings of the Council of the League, but shall watch its progress and in case of an erroneous action by a chief, they shall receive the complaints of the people and convey the warnings of the women to him. The people who wish to convey messages to the chiefs of the League shall do so through the war chief of their nation. It shall always be his duty to lay the cases, questions, and propositions of the people before the council of the League.
- §58: Any Chief or other person who submit to Laws of a foreign people are alienated and forfeit all claim in the Five Nations.
- §101: It shall be the duty of the appointed managers of the Thanksgiving festivals to do all that is needful for carrying out the duties of the occasions. The recognized festivals of Thanksgiving shall be the Midwinter Thanksgiving, the Maple or Sugar-Making Thanksgiving, the Raspberry Thanksgiving, the Strawberry Thanksgiving, the Corn Planting Thanksgiving, the Corn Hoeing Thanksgiving, The Little Festival of Green Corn, the Great Festival of Ripe Corn, and the Complete Thanksgiving for the Harvest. Each nation's festivals shall be held in their Longhouses.
- §107: A certain sign shall be known to all the people of the Five Nations which shall denote that the owner or occupant of a house is absent. A stick or pole in a slanting or leaning position shall indicate this and be the sign. Every person not entitled to enter the house by right of living within upon seeing such a sign shall not enter the house by day or by night, but shall keep as far away as his business will permit.
- Mann 2005, pp.332-33
- Mee, CL (1987). The Genius of the People. New York: Harper & Row. p. 237. ISBN 0-06-015702-X.
- "H. Con. Res. 331, October 21, 1988". United States Senate. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
- Shannon, TJ (2000). Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 6–8. ISBN 0-8014-8818-4.
- Tooker E (1990). "The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League". In Clifton JA. The Invented Indian: cultural fictions and government policies. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers. pp. 107–128. ISBN 1-56000-745-1.
- Rakove, J (2005-11-07). "Did the Founding Fathers Really Get Many of Their Ideas of Liberty from the Iroquois?". George Mason University. Retrieved 2011-01-05.
- Mann, Charles (2005-07-04). "The Founding Sachems". The New York Times (New York).
- Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4000-4006-3
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Gerald Murphy translation of "The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law, GAYANASHAGOWA"
- Different translation of "Kaianerekowa Hotinonsionne, The Great Law of Peace of The Longhouse People"
- Another rendition of the Constitution, displaying Sections 1-28
- The Iroquois Confederacy: Our Forgotten National Heritage (Interview w/ Dr. Donald Grinde Jr.)
- Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy by Donald Grinde & Bruce Johansen - see esp. Chapter 2 for a detailed description of Kaianerekowa or Great Law of Peace