“We heartily recommend Union and a Good Agreement between you our Brethren. Never disagree, but preserve a strict Friendship for one another, and thereby you as well as we will become the Stronger. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and Authority with our Neighboring Nations. We are a Powerful confederacy, and by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power; therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.”
– Onondaga Chief Canasatego at Treaty of Lancaster, 1744
Some colonial political thinkers were inspired by Haudenosaunee style of civic engagement, seeing something unique in the way the Haudenosaunee governed themselves in which citizens were engaged in deciding on matters that affected their lives. The various clans and nations worked together, under one law, to make a difference in the quality of their lives and protect their national interests.
It must have been astounding to the colonial leaders, who grew up under the oppressive regimes of a king or queen, to see ordinary individuals having voice in their government. The Great Law of Peace provided a mechanism whereby all people could express themselves in clan councils, with our united decision carried forward by Chiefs, first to nation councils, then to the Grand Council that met at Onondaga. This was an interesting form of representative democracy, right in the backyard of people like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington.
Benjamin Franklin published the minutes of several treaty councils with the Haudenosaunee, recording Canasatego urging for American unity. In 1751 Franklin commented that it would be strange if the Six Nations could create a political union that “appears indissoluble” and the English colonies could not.
When Franklin was creating his Albany Plan of Union, Haudenosaunee delegates were offering testimony at a treaty council at the Albany Congress, and were cited by some of the speakers as a model for the colonists to follow. The U.S. Constitution does not mimic the Great Law, but the Haudenosaunee model of governance provided the colonists with a working example of what life without the rule of kings and queens could look like.