Monday, April 17, 2006

The American Eagle

national emblems of (L to R) Germany, Poland & tsarist Russia

The USA took 6 years of sometimes acrimonious arguing on the choice of its national symbol, before it decided on 20 June 1782 on the bald eagle. President Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey as it was an American native, tasty and useful.

But others wanted the eagle because it was a damn impressive bird of prey. The Germans, Russians, Poles and Egyptians have the eagle as their national emblem. Egypt claimed its eagle was that of Sulaiman the Great.

Egyptian eagle

President Franklin actually despised the eagle because it was a scavenger, eating its fill off either others’ flesh or its victims’ flesh. 2 years after the bald eagle was adopted as the national emblem, President Franklin who was then in Paris wrote a rather famous letter to his daughter criticizing the choice:

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.

With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank 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.

How prescient was Franklin in coming to that assessment of the symbol that represents the United States of America. The USA has certainly asumed those avian characteristics that Benjamin Franklin despised.

all pictures/photo from Wikipedia

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