American Indian Governance and Its Impact on the U.S. Constitution

Benjamin Franklin's Albany plan to create an alliance of 13 colonies stemmed from recommendations from the Iroquois Confederacy.
Benjamin Franklin’s Albany plan to create an alliance of colonies stemmed from recommendations from the Iroquois Confederacy.

A little know piece of American history is something called the “Albany Plan,” a Benjamin Franklin-led proposal in 1754 to put the disparate colonies under a central government. It didn’t fly at the time, but it was an initial effort to create some form of union.

Even less well known than the Albany Plan is the fact that it was a leader from the Iroquois Confederacy (which had its own alliance) who recommended such a colonial collaboration to Franklin and others a decade earlier.

This is one example historians point to showing the impact Native American tribal governance had on the Founding Fathers and the framing of the U.S. Constitution. The good news is that the conversation is ongoing. For too long, the Native American contributions to American political thought have been largely hidden or ignored. For many of us, our formal education didn’t even hint at such things.

The latest contribution to this debate comes from Robert Miller (Eastern Shawnee), a Law Professor at at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He published a paper March 1 titled: American Indian Constitutions and Their Influence on the United States Constitution. It appeared in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. This very accessible paper looks at the impact of the Iroquois Confederacy on the Founding Fathers, then explores the impact the U.S. Constitution had on tribal efforts to create written constitutions.

Here are a few takeaways. Continue reading