Published on February 17, 2011 by Alice
In 1698, the Onondaga Sachem, Sadeganaktie, explained the Iroquois Tree of Peace in this way:
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“now all of us sit under the shadow of that great Tree, which is full of Leaves, and whose roots and branches extend not only to the Places and Houses where we reside, but also to the utmost limits of our great King’s dominion of this Continent of America, which Tree is now become a Tree of Welfare and Peace, and our living under it for the time to come will makes us enjoy more ease, and live with greater advantage than we have done for several years past.”
Thus, the English colonists drew more detailed accounts of the Iroquois League as interaction becomes more frequent and systematic.
Many such accounts were doubtless simplified and idealized, but the literature offers too many examples for a conspiracy of imaginative fabrication. These accounts illustrated the theories of Locke and other European philosophers in the flesh: among people living under natural law, sovereignty rests with the people whose leaders must use public opinion and consensus, not force, to maintain social order.
The title “king” did not fittingly describe people who led by consensus, by molding public opinion instead of coercing belief and action. The English had no other generally accepted way to describe such a leader at the time, so they often used the Indians’ own words for their leaders, such as “sachem,” or “sagamore.”