Saluting the bald eagle seems like a no-brainer on the Fourth of July — after all, the bird has served as the centerpiece of the country’s Great Seal since adopted by Congress in 1782. However, the bird’s rise to prominence was met with some resistance. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was never a big fan, being of the opinion that the “lazy” eagle made a poor symbol for the nascent nation. Referencing The Society of the Cincinnati’s insignia (which, like the Great Seal, also features a bald eagle) in a letter to his daughter, Franklin points to the eagle’s less-than-stellar attributes and offers up “a much more respectable” avian species to hold the national bird post.
“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.”
-Benjamin Franklin, January 26, 1784
And for those of you who, unlike Franklin, think the bald eagle makes a fine national bird, here’s the full episode American Eagle to sink your talons into.
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