Today in History: Franklin’s Lamentation

BenFranklin_800In a letter to his daughter 231 years ago today, Benjamin Franklin expresses unhappiness over the design of the Seal of the President of the United States. He complains that the artist of the Great Seal had tried to paint a bald eagle in the center but that the bird ended up looking much more like a turkey. He then goes on, tongue in cheek, to compare the merits of the eagle versus the turkey as our national bird, pretending to believe that the turkey would make a better national symbol.

This letter – taken out of context –  led to one of the great American myths: that Ben Franklin was unhappy with the eagle as our national symbol and actually preferred the turkey.The misunderstanding was chalked up to a failure of people to understand sarcasm, but a newly discovered painting of Franklin posed mid-letter provides a more apt reason for the miscommunication, and also explains why it took him three days to write the letter.


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