Great Law of Peace
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Gayanashagowa or the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) Six Nations (Oneida, Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, the Seneca and Tuscarora) is the oral constitution whereby the Iroquois Confederacy was bound together. The law was written on wampum belts, conceived by Deganwidah, known as The Great Peacemaker and his spokesman Hiawatha. The original five member nations ratified this constitution near present-day Victor, New York, with the sixth nation (the Tuscarora) being added in ca. 1720.
Historians once thought the Iroquois Confederacy started in the 1500s, but a more recent estimate dates the confederacy and its constitution to between 1090 and 1150 CE. These estimates were based on the records of the confederacy leadership and astronomical dating related to a total solar eclipse that coincided with the founding of the Confederacy.
The laws were first recorded and transmitted not in written language, but by means of wampum symbols that conveyed meaning. In a later era it was translated into English. The Great Law of Peace is divided into 117 articles. The united Iroquois nations are symbolized by a Eastern White Pine tree, called the Tree of Peace. Each nation or tribe plays a delineated role in the conduct of government.
According to several historians, including Donald A. Grinde, Jr. of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, the democratic ideals of the Gayanashagowa provided a significant inspiration to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and other framers of the United States Constitution. Franklin had done much to circulate copies of the proceedings of the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster among his fellow colonists; at the close of this document, the Iroquois leaders offer to impart instruction in their democratic methods of government to the English. John Rutledge of South Carolina, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, is said to have read lengthy tracts of Iroquoian law to the other framers, beginning with the words "We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order..." In October 1988, the US Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331 to recognize the influence of the Iroquois Constitution upon the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Those who argue against Iroquoian influence point to lack of evidence in US constitutional debate records, and democratic US institutions having ample antecedents in European ideas.
Notable differences between The Great Law of Peace and the original US Constitution include the original US Constitution's denial of suffrage to women, and rule of majority as opposed to consensus.
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