Ben Franklin did not propose making the turkey the national symbol of America as popular myth leads us to believe. I will admit to believing and probably passing that myth on to others, but no longer. I would be content with ending my column with that sentence. But the editor has set aside about 600 words worth of space, and I am guessing she does not want to use 100 point font to fill it. So as Paul Harvey used to say, here is the rest of the story.
Ben Franklin was heavily involved in the process of crafting the Declaration of Independence. Once that was finished (not on July 4th by the way), the same group of men was tasked with creating an official symbol for this new country. According to several sources, Franklin’s suggestion was a biblical scene of Moses, the Red Sea, and drowning Egyptian soldiers. One could assume he was hoping to see a red-coated army swept away in a similar fashion. Apparently the Congress of the Confederation disagreed, as this symbol never came to fruition. Later on, a symbol with the bald eagle was officially adopted. Franklin never publicly stated any opposition.
Several years later, Franklin wrote a private letter to his daughter in which he discussed a symbol for a society of veterans. It was for this symbol that he suggested using the turkey. However, in typical Franklin style, he didn’t just suggest but went on to talk about the moral virtue of the turkey verses the moral deviance of the bald eagle. He pointed to the turkey’s courage and supposed it would attack a British soldier if one ever invaded his farm. Franklin viewed the bald eagle as lazy because it steals the fish from the fish hawk. I do not know about any of you readers, but I can honestly say that I have never given much thought about the moral character of a specific species of animal. I guess that, along with many other attributes, is why Franklin ended up on the 100 dollar bill.
As we get ready for our Thanksgiving feasts it is worth engaging in some Franklinesque thoughts about what that meal might look like had the turkey somehow ended up as our national bird. I would imagine that it would not have been bred into the genetic flightless, white freak that it is today, and we would need to find something else as the centerpiece of our meal. I would be all for eating ham, but I do not know how kindergärtners would make a pig by tracing their hand. Perhaps a roast goose would be on the platter, but then Butterball would probably need to change their name. I suppose we could just carve up the bald eagle instead, but there just seems to be too many issues with that. Finally, we could just skip the meat altogether and have a good old vegetarian feast, but that just does not seem very American.
So back to the turkey it is, which in my world is really just a means to the pumpkin pie. And yes I do like it with whip cream and I do eat it the next day for breakfast. As you gather around the table this weekend remember to actually be thankful for your family and friends. Also, remember those that can not afford a meal, and/or are missing family. And remember to be thankful that the turkey did not become our national bird. Happy Thanksgiving.
Guest columnist Jared Barse is a social studies teacher at Onamia High School.