Benjamin Franklin was 26 when he began “Poor Richard’s Almanacks” in 1732. Almanacs at the time were calendars and road-books with lists of places to stay and descriptions of the highways. They predicted the weather and were full of interesting history and facts. Franklin published his almanacs for 25 years using the name of Poor Richard Saunders. Franklin was a great man; he organized the first police force and the first fire company in the Colonies. He led the city of Philadelphia, his hometown, in establishing street lights and in founding its hospital and the University of Pennsylvania. He was the Postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737 and the U. S. Postmaster General in 1753. He was a brilliant man, respected by everyone. His almanacs were not purely his original writings; he included many favorite passages of other writers in them without giving the authors credit. No one cared; they were all dead, and his almanac was just a little 10 or 12-page pamphlet, to be thrown away each year. That is why there are so few of them in existence today and why they command great sums to acquire an original issue.
So, how did the bald eagle become America’s national bird, and not the wild turkey? After July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress gave Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams the job of designing an official seal for the new nation. Their initial design didn’t please Congress, nor did the next two proposed by different committees. Finally, in 1782, the secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, was given the task of using those three designs to make an acceptable Great Seal. Thomson recommended that an American bald eagle replace the small, white eagle in the center of the best of the designs. Some people thought Franklin publicly bad-mouthed the bald eagle in favor of the wild turkey, but that is not true; it’s a myth millions still believe.
The Franklin Institute has the January 26, 1784 letter Franklin wrote to his daughter in which he privately questioned the choice of the bald eagle over the turkey as our National Bird. Franklin does a fantastic job of depicting the bald eagle as a parasite living off the hard work of the industrious fishing hawk. The parasite is England sucking money through taxes from our American colonies. “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen 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 near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour 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.” English taxation was taking the food from our babies’ mouths.
Franklin next equates British soldiers during the American Revolution as scared little men defeated by the majestic Patriots of the Continental Army associated in a veterans group named the Society of Cincinnati. “With all this injustice, (the bald eagle) is….like those men among us who live by sharping (cheating) & robbing, he is generally poor and often very lousy (disgusting). Besides, he is a rank (offensive) coward. The little King Bird, 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 King birds from our country….I am, on this account (reason), not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For the Truth is the Turkey is, in Comparison, a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier (soldier) of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” A wild turkey (an American Patriot) would viciously attack anyone invading his nest or country.
Lewis Smith lives in Thomson. Contact him at email@example.com.