Where are the Founding Mothers?

Watching the Obama and McCain event at the Saddleback Church on television Saturday night, I was reminded how much male testosterone infuses the political landscape these days. CNN chief political correspondent John King several times referred to the pre-game coverage (it was held in a church for Christ’s sake, John, not the Giant’s stadium) and old John McCain couldn’t open his mouth without tossing out another military metaphor. Even Hilary Clinton, when running for the Democratic ticket as a breakthrough female candidate felt the need to boost the size of her manly cojones.

If life is supposed to be a balance of male and female energies, which I believe is true, then our social and political scales are way off kilter on the man side. This may explain a lot about our current administrative inadequacies.

Several years ago, I had the fortune of meeting a young woman from the Mohawk Tribal Council who was visiting Fairfield for a meditation retreat. In the course of our conversation, she told me, to my surprise, how much the America’s Founding Fathers were influenced by her people’s constitution when designing the framework of for their new country (and how, unfortunately, they missed out a crucial ingredient necessary for maintaining harmonious existence, namely the role of the feminine principle in governance).

Accustomed as we are by the ethnocentric tilting of historical events, it is sometimes hard for us to appreciate how sophisticated some of America’s native peoples were. The Mohawk Nation, for example, together with the Oneida, Onondaga, Cyuga and Seneca Nations, formed part of a five nation confederacy that stretched northwards from what is now New York State across the St Lawrence River and into Canada. Known as the Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee in their own language, this confederation was ruled by The Great Law of Peace, an oral tradition handed down from generation to generation since being given to them by the Peacemaker through his representative Hiawatha.

The Great Law describes a system of popular participation in government and checks and balances intended to maintain balance in society. The Peacemaker envisioned a communal longhouse in which each nation had its own hearth (ie. very similar to the federal system of government). Anyone was welcome to join as long as they followed the Great Law. Although couched in a different cultural perspective, many of these principles rang true to early American leaders who were amazed that these “primitive” nations guaranteed their people the very rights and liberties they were seeking themselves. Ben Franklin, in particular, was a frequent visitor to the Iroquois Nation Councils and a little research shows there was obviously an exchange of ideas between the Iroquois people and the writers of our constitution. Compare, for example, the opening part of the Great Law which states:

“We have tied ourselves together in one head, body, one spirit and one soul to settle all matters as one. We shall work, counsel and confirm together for the future of coming generations.”

with the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense, promote general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

The thirteen arrows grasped by the claw of the eagle in the U.S. government seal apparently is derived from the five bundled arrows which represented the union of nations in the Iroquois Confederation.

But, as I said, our founding patriarchs overlooked something important. In Iroquois society women are regarded as equal to men and lineage is matriarchal. Furthermore, the Great Law provides that clan mothers select the leaders of their nation, because they were the first to accept the Great Law of Peace and as mothers who give birth and raise children they are believed to be more sensitive to the needs of everyone. Their choice is sanctioned by the male council of chiefs, but that is part of their system of checks and balances.

The women will only choose leaders who are good family men and, according to my Mohawk friend, will never favor a man who is eager to be leader, thus conveniently removing the problem of the out-of-control male ego. Women also have the right to remove the Chief if he is failing in his duty (where are you Nancy Pelosi?) and are critical in the decision to go to war.

I cannot help wondering how different life might be in this country, and if fewer wars may have been fought, if the Founding Fathers had not been so male-orientated in their inspiration when creating their fledgling nation, and instead allowed a the role for the Founding Mothers.