The Native American Government That Inspired the US Constitution
November 10, 2020
When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in 1787 to debate what form of government the United States should have, there were no contemporary democracies in Europe from which they could draw inspiration. The most democratic forms of government that any of the convention members had personally encountered were those of Native American nations. Of particular interest was the Iroquois Confederacy, which historians have argued wielded a significant influence on the U.S. Constitution.
What evidence exists that the delegates studied Native governments? Descriptions of them appear in the three-volume handbook John Adams wrote for the convention surveying different types of governments and ideas about government. It included European philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu, whom U.S. history textbooks have long identified as constitutional influences; but it also included the Iroquois Confederacy and other Indigenous governments, which many of the delegates knew through personal experience.