Unravelling the Truth: Did Benjamin Franklin Propose the Turkey as the National Bird?

One intriguing narrative that often crops up around the American Thanksgiving table involves Benjamin Franklin’s alleged proposal to make the turkey, a bird central to the day’s festivities, the United States’ national emblem. This narrative has sparked numerous discussions and debates, many in favor of the bald eagle’s valor and nobility versus the turkey’s assumed domestic simplicity. The veracity of this claim, however, is steeped in historical events, personal correspondences, and varied interpretations. Was it merely a casual suggestion mentioned in passing, or does Benjamin Franklin’s stand on the national bird hold grounds in systemic literary scrutiny? Furthermore, it’s interesting to ponder whether Thanksgiving traditions played any role in swaying the national bird debate back then.

Understanding the Sources of the Claim

Title: The Tale of Benjamin Franklin Advocating for the Turkey: Gathering the Facts

Fact Check

Claim: Benjamin Franklin advocated for the turkey to be the national bird

Description: The claim suggests that instead of the bald eagle, Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as United States’ national emblem. This assertion usually emerges around Thanksgiving, linking it to the holiday’s turkey tradition. It’s primarily based on Franklin’s personal correspondence where he unfavorably compared the eagle to the turkey.

Rating: False

Rating Explanation: Primary sources research, which includes Franklin’s writings and Continental Congress records, doesn’t show any evidence to support the claim that Franklin voiced a public advocacy for the turkey being the national bird. The claim is decontextualized from a joke Franklin included in a personal letter, without having in Congressional records any data where the decision was made. This claim is therefore regarded as false.

One claim that often re-emerges around the thanksgiving dinner table is that Benjamin Franklin fervently advocated for the turkey to be the national bird over the bald eagle. The purpose of this fact-checking exercise will be to dig deep into the origins of this claim to ascertain whether it is rooted in historical truth or simply a myth perpetuated over time.

Let us delve straight into the primary source that is often cited when making this claim: A letter from Benjamin Franklin to his daughter Sarah Bache, dated January 26, 1784. In this letter, Franklin made disparaging remarks about the eagle, stating it was “a bird of bad moral character,” but on the flip side, he seemed to hold the turkey in high regard, describing it as “a much more respectable bird”.

From this description, one could infer that indeed, Benjamin Franklin held some form of preference for the turkey over the eagle. However, nowhere in this letter did Franklin explicitly advocate for the turkey to be made the national bird. The national bird doesn’t figure into the correspondence at all, as the conversation was in the context of a new design for the Order of the Cincinnati, a military fraternity of revolutionary war officers.

Moreover, according to the likes of The Franklin Institute and the U.S. National Archives, the claim that Franklin advocated for the turkey to be the national bird is entirely apocryphal. His views on the national bird were never shared publicly. Furthermore, there’s no record of Franklin expressing his dissent when the eagle was approved as the national symbol by the Continental Congress on June 20, 1782, almost two years prior to the letter that sparked this claim.

Another point commonly referenced to support this myth is Franklin’s reputation as a noted wit and satirist. His unconventional ideas often showed through his works such as “Poor Richard’s Almanac”. However, linking these characteristics to an assumed advocacy for the turkey as the national bird is purely speculative in nature.

Final Verdict:

This fact-check finds the claim that Benjamin Franklin advocated for the turkey to be the national bird of the United States to be “False”. While he indeed expressed a personal preference for the turkey in a private letter to his daughter, there is no factual evidence supporting the assertion that he openly lobbied for the turkey to usurp the bald eagle as the national bird. As with all fact-checking, the devil is indeed in the detail.

An image of Benjamin Franklin writing a letter with a turkey and an eagle in the background, symbolizing the debate over the national bird.

Benjamin Franklin’s Stand on the National Bird

Subsequent Analysis: Exploring Franklin’s Aptitude in Fauna Symbolism

Tracing the yarn back to its origin, the long-standing rumor around Benjamin Franklin’s preference for the national bird morphs from a seemingly simple debate into a nuanced exploration of his extensive writings. Widely known for his eclectic interests and clever wit, Franklin’s comments on the subject of the national bird do not point to a straightforward verdict. Instead, they offer a window into his remarkable mind and its sophisticated meditations on ornithological symbolism.

As a detailed investigation ensues, the notes of Franklin’s writings from the Papers of Benjamin Franklin available through Yale University shine a light on further remarks. Remarkably, amid thousands of pages detailing his political, scientific and personal musings, no entries affirm his endorsement of the turkey as America’s national symbol.

While the official emblems and symbols of the newly born United States were settled by Congress, and the United States Seal was determined on June 20, 1782, Franklin’s own thoughts on the choice are found in a January 26, 1784, letter to his daughter Sarah Bache. He decries the bald eagle as a symbol because it was “a bird of bad moral character” and praises the turkey as “a much more respectable bird.”

In some of his correspondences, he did make statements relating to the bald eagle, flights of fancy though they were. In the presence of this, it would be decontextualized to assert that Franklin’s musings and casual dialogues qualify as endorsement of the turkey as the national bird. It is clear that his colorful commentary on the subject was less a deliberate campaigning effort and more an expression of his wit.

In dissecting Franklin’s writings, it becomes apparent that there are subtle nuances in his commentary. Franklin, a known lover of satire and wordplay, could be indulging in a flight of whimsy when he admires turkeys and presents the bald eagle in a less flattering light. The absence of evidence that Franklin explicitly sought to elevate the turkey to national prominence further diminishes the weight of this claim.

Additionally, affirmations by trusted resources like The Franklin Institute and U.S. National Archives, as well as testimonies from relevant historians all converge to one verdict: the claim is false. The story of Benjamin Franklin advocating the turkey as the national bird appears contested and, likely, misinterpreted.

Ultimately, in the elaborate tapestry of Benjamin Franklin’s life and work, his presumed quest to make the turkey America’s national bird merely accounts for a thread, one that has been woven with misconceptions and false assertions. As fact checkers reflecting on this intriguing yet widely misunderstood tale, it becomes a powerful testament to the importance of peeling back layers and interrogating each detail in our diligent pursuit of truth.

Verdict: The claim that Benjamin Franklin advocated for the turkey to be the national bird remains false. The assertion is decontextualized from Franklin’s playful musings. Not only does it oversimplify his writings, but it also wrongly attributes a stance to him that his known records fail to uphold.

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin with his quill pen and inkwell on a desk, symbolizing his extensive writings on various subjects, including fauna symbolism.

Photo by cbyoung on Unsplash

The Role of Thanksgiving Tradition in the National Bird Debate

Let’s now venture into the correlation between Thanksgiving traditions and the perennial debate regarding America’s national bird. Thanksgiving, deeply entrenched in American history and culture, is often associated with the turkey. Given this association, and combined with the aforementioned, false claim regarding Benjamin Franklin’s preference for the turkey as a national symbol, one might be tempted to link Thanksgiving traditions to the discourse on the national bird.

However, a deep dive reveals that this link has more to do with misconceptions and folklore rather than solid evidence. Thanksgiving, as a celebration, predates the selection of the national bird. Native Americans and colonists are known to have celebrated harvest feasts, which eventually evolved into what is recognized as Thanksgiving today. From first-hand historical accounts of these feasts, a variety of game was consumed, with no exclusive emphasis on turkey.

Despite the turkey’s significant cultural representation during Thanksgiving, there isn’t any known primary source material tying the bird to the debate on the national symbol. The connection seems to be more of a modern interpretation influenced by the holiday and its iconic imagery, rather than any historical fact stemming from Franklin’s time or the Continental Congress.

In the records of the Continental Congress, where the decision regarding the national bird was solemnized, turkey was never mentioned as a potential choice. Instead, the bald eagle, emblematic of strength and freedom, was deemed the most suitable symbol.

This evidence—or rather, the lack thereof—substantiates the rating of this claim as “false”. There’s no association between Thanksgiving traditions and the discourse over the national bird other than cultural ties and misunderstandings, solidified over time into falsely assumed truths.

Reviewing this issue emphasizes once again the critical role of fact-checking. Continuing to question and scrutinize claims, regardless of their foundations in cultural beliefs or long-standing traditions, remains essential. Ultimately, unbiased, objective examination of available evidence ensures we uphold the truth and facilitate an informed public discourse.

Image illustrating the tradition of serving turkey on Thanksgiving, symbolizing the holiday's association with the bird.

Reading and analyzing various historical documents and correspondences of Benjamin Franklin have provided significant insights into his perspective on the symbol of national identity. Yet, the myth that surrounds Franklin’s preference for the turkey over the bald eagle continues to persist, intertwined with the celebration of Thanksgiving. Cross-examining this with the cultural context of the turkey’s significance during Thanksgiving brings up the intriguing thought – how deep is the influence of traditions on our perception of national symbols and identity? The quest to unravel these questions marks a fascinating journey through historical accounts, personal letters, and societal beliefs.