1784 | Passy

Dissenting Opinion

Benjamin Franklin praises the virtues of the turkey.

Some object to the bald eagle as looking too much like a dindon, or turkey. 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 IX. 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.

Contributor

Benjamin Franklin

From a letter to his daughter. The Continental Congress had selected the bald eagle as the new nation’s symbol in 1782. Franklin quit school at the age of ten and became an apprentice to his brother, a printer, two years later. He settled in Philadelphia in 1726, printing the state’s currency in 1730 and beginning to publish Poor Richard’s almanac in 1732. Franklin invented, among other things, the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and the odometer. He died at the age of eighty-four in 1790.