Word on the street is that the turkey was almost our national bird. With Thanksgiving Day occurring this week, what better time to dig deeper into this question. Back when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were given the task to design a seal to represent the new country. Franklin never did propose the turkey to be our Great Seal. Instead, he proposed a biblical image. The Continental Congress tabled the concept. The bald eagle was then approved as the Great Seal in 1782.
Why do people think the turkey was proposed as the Great Seal? This story began as a result of a letter that Benjamin Franklin wrote to his daughter criticizing the original eagle design for the Great Seal. In the letter that Franklin wrote, he said that the bald eagle is a bird of bad moral character. He explained that he did not think the eagle got his living honestly. He wrote that in comparison to the eagle, the turkey was a more respectable bird and a bird of courage. He also commented that the Great Seal of the eagle looked more like a turkey.
While the letter Franklin wrote to his daughter involved the comparison of the turkey to the eagle, Franklin never made his views public. It would be interesting to know what would had happened if Franklin did propose the turkey to be our Great Seal.
Below is letter that Franklin wrote to his daughter.
“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…
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth 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 of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”