Friday, May 25, 2012

Iroquois Confederacy Tribal Organization

Iroquois Confederacy

Iroquois Sachem

When the Iroquois confederacy was formed, or soon after that event two permanent war-chiefships were created and named, and both were assigned to the Seneca tribe. One of them (Ta-wan'-ne-ars, signifying needle-breaker) was made hereditary in the Wolf, and the other (So-no'-so-wo, signifying great oyster shell) in the Turtle gens. The reason assigned for giving them both to the Senecas was the greater danger of attack at the west end of their territories. They were elected in the same manner as the sachems, were raised up by a general council, and were equal in rank and power. Another account states that they were created later. They discovered immediately after the confederacy was formed that the structure of the Long House was incomplete, because there were no officers to execute the military commands of the confederacy. A council was convened to remedy the omission, which established the two perpetual war-chiefs named. As general commanders they had charge of the military affairs of the confederacy and the command of its joint forces when united in a general expedition. Governor Blacksnake, recently deceased, held the office first named, thus showing that the succession has been regularly maintained. The creation of two principal war-chiefs instead of one, and with equal powers, argues a subtle and calculating policy to prevent the domination of a single man even in their military affairs. They did without experience precisely as the Romans did in creating two consuls instead of one, after they had abolished the office of rex. Two consuls would balance the military power between them, and prevent either from becoming supreme. Among the Iroquois this office never became influential.
In Indian ethnography the subjects of primary importance are the gens, phratry, tribe, and confederacy. They exhibit the organization of society. Next to these are the tenure and functions of the office of sachem and chief, the functions of the council of chiefs, and the tenure and functions of the office of principal war-chief. When these are ascertained the structure and principles of their governmental system will be known. A knowledge of their usages and customs, of their arts and inventions, and of their plan of life will then fill out the picture. In the work of American investigators too little attention has been given to the former. They still afford a rich field in which much information may be gathered. Our knowledge, which is now general, should be made minute and comparative. The Indian tribes in the Lower and in the Middle Status of barbarism represent two of the great stages of progress from savagery to civilization. Our own remote forefathers passed through the same conditions, one after the other, and possessed, there can scarcely be a doubt, the same, or very similar institutions, with many of the same usages and customs. However little we may be interested in the American Indians personally, their experience touches us more nearly, as an exemplification of the experience of our own ancestors. Our primary institutions root themselves in a prior gentile society in which the gens, phratry, and tribe were the organic series, and in which the council of chiefs was the instrument of government. The phenomena of their ancient society must have presented many points in common with that of the Iroquois and other Indian tribes. This view of the matter lends an additional interest to the study of comparative institutions of mankind.
The Iroquois confederacy is an excellent exemplification of a gentile society under this form of organization. It seems to realize all the capabilities of gentile institutions in the Lower Status of barbarism, leaving an opportunity for further development, but no subsequent plan of government until the institutions of political society, founded upon territory and upon property, with the establishment of which the gentile organization would be overthrown. The intermediate stages were transitional, remaining military democracies to the end, except where tyrannies founded upon usurpation were temporarily established in their places. The confederacy of the Iroquois was essentially democratic, because it was composed of gentes each of which was organized upon the common principles of democracy, not of the highest but of the primitive type; and because the tribes reserved the right of local self-government. They conquered other tribes and held them in subjection, as for example the Delawares; but the latter remained under the government of their own chiefs, and added nothing to the strength of the confederacy. It was impossible in this state of society to unite tribes under one government who spoke different languages, or to hold conquered tribes under tribute with any benefit but the tribute.
This exposition of the Iroquois confederacy is far from exhaustive of the facts, but it has been carried far enough to answer my present object. The Iroquois were a vigorous and intelligent people, with a brain approaching in volume the Aryan average. Eloquent in oratory, vindictive in war, and indomitable in perseverance, they have gained a place in history. If their military achievements are dreary with the atrocities of savage warfare, they have illustrated some of the highest virtues of mankind in their relations with each other. The confederacy which they organized must be regarded as a remarkable production of wisdom and sagacity. One of its avowed objects was peace—to remove the cause of strife by uniting their tribes under one government, and then extending it by incorporating other tribes of the same name and lineage. They urged the Eries and the Neutral Nation to become members of the confederacy, and for their refusal expelled them from their borders. Such an insight into the highest objects of government is creditable to their intelligence. Their numbers were small, but they counted in their ranks a large number of able men. This proves the high grade of the stock.