A Tale of Two Headlines

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Two stories on back to back pages in The Daily Pennsylvanian may have more to do with each other than the newspaper’s editor ever imagined.

In the Feb. 1, 2005 issue of the University of Pennsylvania’s newspaper, a guest opinion column by graduate student Anna Holster entitled, “The Real Founding Fathers” appears on page 6. In that same issue, a story entitled “Fewer Students Turn to Reading in Their Spare Time” by Megan Madden appears on page 7.

“While the white male ‘founding fathers’ are credited with the creation of the United States Constitution, historical study makes clear that the Constitution actually originated from Eastern American Indian tribes,” Holster writes. “The U. S. Constitution was taken almost verbatim from the Five Nations Constitution, in existence for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of Europeans.”

You can actually read both online and judge for yourselves. To be fair, tribes, at least in Africa, did have a representational system for choosing leaders. Tribal chieftans, for example, were chosen by a Council of Elders. The Council of Elders consisted of the oldest man [They were sexist that way] in each house.

Nonetheless, attributing the origins of the Constitution to the “unearthed” historical documents might be a bit of a reach. “Taken almost verbatim” falls way wide of the mark of accuracy.

To test this “verbatim” theory, let’s just look at the first three paragraphs of each. See if you can tell which is which:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Article. I.

Section 1.

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Section. 2.

Clause 1: The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

1. I am Dekanawidah and with the Five Nations’ Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga Nation, in the territory of you who are Firekeepers.

I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords.

We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace. There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations.

Laudable sentiments in both, to be sure, but can you tell them apart?

Madden’s story, meanwhile, reports on a study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Madden writes, “Between 1982 and 2002, literary reading declined among all age groups, with the most dramatic decline—17%–occurring among young adults aged 18 to 24.”