Ben Franklin and the Bird


Since Ben Franklin was probably one of the smartest men who ever was and also probably behind the American Revolution, he deserved some honor for Thanksgiving.  Most people know that he wanted the turkey for our national bird and not the Eagle. I wanted to know why so I did some investigating.  There’s all sorts of history behind the turkey, breeds and etc, but I was just interested in ol’ Ben.


This is what I discovered:


He claims that the drawing that had been produced looked like a turkey anyway and that such a bird would actually be preferable to the eagle. Franklin explained that the bald eagle had a “bad moral character” and was a “rank coward” that merely steals from other birds.


In Franklin’s letter from Paris to his daughter, dated January 26, 1784:

I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as an Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. So yes, he did float the idea that a turkey might be a better bird for a national symbol. But only within the context that people were claiming the bald eagle symbol already looked like a turkey. He never actually advocated this notion publicly or seriously.

As Smithsonian magazine points out, this little fun fact has evolved and grown more popular over the course of the last half century, aided by a 1962 New Yorker cover (pictured above) featuring the turkey in place of the bald eagle.


So—he did float around the idea of the Turkey being our national bird instead of the Bald Eagle.  Can you imagine the patriotic songs?  Where Turkey’s fly or soar?  Oh my goodness!  Thank heavens common sense prevailed or we’d be thought of as a Turkey Nation!

I love history which is why I write A First Ladies Mystery series.  You can learn about me on my website: Barb’s Books   First Lady blog: First Lady blog



11 thoughts on “Ben Franklin and the Bird

  1. Very interesting post Barb. I have found other accounts of things Ben Franklin said or did that are pretty much unknown unless you are seeking the subject. While the turkey does make sense in some way (because of the first Thanksgiving, I suppose) I think for the most part, people are glad the majestic Eagle is the bird of our nation. It’s regal bearing is known and revered by Americans and I’m not so sure the Turkey would signify the same thing. Thanks for sharing!


  2. That was interesting. And fun to know. It’s true the turkey may be more moral, but the eagle has many references to it in the Bible, so I believe it has always been “looked up to” as a symbol of strength and ability. Ben must have had a sense of humor too.


  3. Enjoyed this Barb,
    I had always heard that Ben advocated for the turkey, so this great insight. One thing about turkeys, watching them walk, you can see dinosaur ancestry.


  4. Educational and enjoyable post, Barbara. I enjoy observing both eagles and turkeys — each species is unique and fun! Soaring eagles, however, or even perching ones, are so AWE-INSPIRING, I think: I’m glad the bald eagle became our national symbol. Thanks for a wonderful post, Barb!


  5. I had no idea Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey over the bald eagle. I’m so glad he didn’t get his wish. Eagles are so majestic and beautiful. Turkeys are fun to watch and I’ve seen some wild ones get pretty aggressive.


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