The Native American Document That Inspired The US Constitution

The United States is a country that prides itself on the freedom it offers its citizens and the pursuit of happiness that this independence allows. But like many great things, the young nation drew inspiration from knowledge gleaned from the past, including the Great Law of Peace that created the Iroquois Confederacy. Although the date of its adoption is disputed, Bruce E. Johansen's piece in Akwesasne Notes New Series claims that the law was established in 1142.

As reported by PBS, the Iroquois Confederacy — officially known as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which according to their website means "people of the long house" — marked the bonding of five separate indigenous nations that made the northeast region of North America their home. The five tribes — the Cayuga, the Mohawks, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and the Seneca — were each defined by the unique way of life that they lived on their respective land. Before the Great Law of Peace, the society of 5,000-plus people was in a state of perpetual war as the nations battled with each other through the years.

Eventually, the high cost of war caught the attention of the Great Peacemaker and the Hiawatha, the chief of the Onondaga tribe. After discussing the societal costs of everlasting conflict, the pair decided to embark on a journey across North America with the goal of uniting the nations under the banner of peace.

The Great Law Of Peace paved the way for the American experiment

The end result was the Iroquois Confederacy Constitution, which acted as the foundation for the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the League of Nations. Later on, in 1722, the Tuscarora nation migrated into the land and became the sixth nation in the confederacy.

The peace forged in the Iroquois lands inspired English colonist Benjamin Franklin, who was influenced by a 1744 unity speech given by Onondaga leader Canassatego. Notably, the bundle of arrows on the Great Seal of the United States is a reference to a metaphor that Canassatego used in his impassioned call to unite 13 colonies. "One arrow can be easily broken," he said, per Onondaga Nation. "But when five arrows are be bound together, they become strong. As the five arrows are strongly bound together with our ways and customs and this shall symbolize that the five nations are united; we are of One Mind."

Just as the Iroquois' chiefs discussed law under the Great Tree of Peace, the senators of the United States would go on to deliberate legislation in Congress using the U.S. Constitution.

The peace forged by both confederacies continues today. The United States is almost 245 years old, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy continues to thrive under an elective government that was established in 1924.