There is substantial evidence that, in drafting the documents which created the institutions that are the foundation of the American Republic, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Rutledge, and other founding fathers were influenced by the long-established democratic traditions of the Iroquois Confederacy. In recent decades, this idea has created a heated controversy that has spilled out from academic circles into school policy and the media. For its opponents, the “influence theory,” as it is called, is a perverse attack on American identity—an attempt to deny the foundations of the European intellectual, cultural, and racial “credentials” that Americans have claimed from colonial times onward. This book gives a history of the highlights of the controversy and examines some important issues that it raises.
This controversy is not merely academic. It brings up very serious questions about the ability of the intellectual elite to “manage” the pool of information from which public and educational policies, media coverage, and public opinion itself are drawn. Bruce Johansen, one of the historians who has been at the center of this storm, follows the controversy from its early beginnings, providing highlights of the battle—both attacks and responses.
Barbara Mann’s epilogue traces the philosophic roots of European assumptions of racial, cultural, and intellectual superiority, which remain the foundation of education and scholarship in the arts and sciences—despite tokenism and lip service to multicultural values. She discusses the inevitable result: the continuing exclusion of all but a handful of non-Europeans from truly meaningful participation in our society.