The Great Law of Peace

Democracy in North America originates with the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Five Tribes, authored by the part-legendary Hiawatha. Seeing that European settlers intended to form their own government (the American Revolution) the tribes sent emissaries to white notables: such as Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, Jefferson passed on the idea … and the US Constitution got written.

There were differences: big differences, some of which I’ll discuss below. I’ll also discuss ways in which the Constitution, with its Bill of Rights, though a model of democratic liberalism compared to British rule between king and Parliament, is far less liberal, far less democratic, than the Great Law of Peace which we’d been offered.

The Iroquois’ reward was to be vilified: and have more territories stolen.

Here’s how I first mounted The Great Law of Peace at in 1999, part of launching a new domain, Shame on US. The code will need a great deal more revision, I just get something up first:

Paul Knatz has been writing about the Great Law of Peace for years. See for example pk’s Democracy and his Description vs. Thing [links to be reconnected].

Willow [my partner in the venture] published an article (as a letter to the editor in the local paper) but pk has no digital version for mounting. We have articles issued by the Mohawk Nation which will link to.

Meantime, I duplicate a portion of the Mohawk’s presentation.

… After many, many years had passed by, the Sky-Holder, whom Indians called Ta-rhu-hia-wah-ku, decided to create some people. He wanted them to surpass all others in beauty, strength, and bravery. So from the bosom of the island where they had been living on moles, the Sky-Holder brought forth six pairs of people.

The first pair were left near a great river, now called the Mohawk. So they are called the Mohawk Indians. The second pair were told to move their home beside a large stone. Their descendants have been called the Oneidas. Many of them lived on the south side of Oneida Lake and others in the valleys of Oneida Creek. A third pair were left on a high hill and have always been called the Onondagas. The fourth pair became the parents of the Cayugas, and the fifth pair the parents of the Senecas. Both were placed in some part of what is now known as the State of New York. But the Tuscaroras were taken up the Roanoke River into what is now known as North Carolina. There the Sky-Holder made his home while he taught these people and their descendants many useful arts and crafts.

The Tuscaroras claim that his presence with them made them superior to the other Iroquois nations. But each of the other five will tell you, “Ours was the favored tribe with whom Sky-Holder made his home while he was on the earth.”

The Onondagas say, “We have the council fire. That means that we are the chosen people.”

As the years passed by, the numerous Iroquois families became scattered over the state, and also in what is now Pennsylvania, the Middle West and southeastern Canada. Some lived in areas where bear was their principal game. So these people were called the Bear Clan. Others lived where beavers were plentiful. So they were called the Beaver Clan. For similar reasons, the Deer, Wolf, Snipe and Tortoise clans received their names.


Peace Tree
(I’ll linking to images stored elsewhere, if they fail, I’ll try to replace them in time.)

At or about the year 1390 AD, amongst the political and spiritual leaders of the Nations who formed the Iroquois Confederacy was a Holy Man whose name, as was decided by the Grand Chiefs, can no longer be written by human hands or even whispered by human lips. Today, he is mentioned as the: “GREAT PEACEMAKER”. He was a very learned man and commanded an extremely high respect by the members of all the Nations and their Chiefs. During the negotiations for the Confederacy, the Chiefs anonymously agreed to approach the “GREAT PEACEMAKER” and entrust on him the creation of a commonly acceptable law. The “GREAT PEACEMAKER” agreed and the Constitution or, The Great Law of Hyawatha of the Iroquois and the Symbol: The Tree of Peace or Peacetree was born.

Following please find the “GREAT PEACEMAKER’s” partial authentic text of the Great Law and the Planting of the first Tree of Peace of the Great Iroquois Nation.

a Graphics Suite accompanied, which I’ll rebuild.



1. I am the “Great Peacemaker” and with the Five Nations’ Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga Nation, in the territory of you who are Firekeepers.

a) I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords.

b) We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace. There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations.

2. Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace, one to the north, one to the east, one to the south and one to the west. The name of these roots is The Great White Roots and their nature is Peace and Strength.

a) If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and make known their disposition to the Lords of the Confederacy, they may trace the Roots to the Tree and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.

b) We place at the top of the Tree of the Long Leaves an Eagle who is able to see afar. If he sees in the distance any evil approaching or any danger threatening he will at once warn the people of the Confederacy.

3. To you Adodarhoh, the Onondaga cousin Lords, I and the other Confederate Lords have entrusted the caretaking and the watching of the Five Nations Council Fire.

a) When there is any business to be transacted and the Confederate Council is not in session, a messenger shall be dispatched either to Adodarhoh, Hononwirehtonh or Skanawatih, Fire Keepers, or to their War Chiefs with a full statement of the case desired to be considered. Then shall Adodarhoh call his cousin (associate) Lords together and consider whether or not the case is of sufficient importance to demand the attention of the Confederate Council. If so, Adodarhoh shall dispatch messengers to summon all the Confederate Lords to assemble beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.

b) When the Lords are assembled the Council Fire shall be kindled, but not with chestnut wood, and Adodarhoh shall formally open the Council. (note: chestnut wood by generating and spreading out sparks in burning, can create a disturbance in the council]

c) Then shall Adodarhoh and his cousin Lords, the Fire Keepers, announce the subject for discussion. The Smoke of the Confederate Council Fire shall ever ascend and pierce the sky so that other nations who may be allies may see the Council Fire of the Great Peace. Adodarhoh and his cousin Lords are entrusted with the Keeping of the Council Fire.

4. You, Adodarhoh, and your thirteen cousin Lords, shall faithfully keep the space about the Council Fire clean and you shall allow neither dust nor dirt to accumulate. I lay a Long Wing before you as a broom. As a weapon against a crawling creature I lay a staff with you so that you may thrust it away from the Council Fire. If you fail to cast it out then call the rest of the United Lords to your aid.

5. The Council of the Mohawk shall be divided into three parties as follows: Tekarihoken, Ayonhwhathah and Shadekariwade are the first party; Sharenhowaneh, Deyoenhegwenh and Oghrenghrehgowah are the second party, and Dehennakrineh, Aghstawenserenthah and Shoskoharowaneh are the third party.

The third party is to listen only to the discussion of the first and second parties and if an error is made or the proceeding is irregular they are to call attention to it, and when the case is right and properly decided by the two parties they shall confirm the decision of the two parties and refer the case to the Seneca Lords for their decision. When the Seneca Lords have decided in accord with the Mohawk Lords, the case or question shall be referred to the Cayuga and Oneida Lords on the opposite side of the house.

6. I, the Great Peacemaker, appoint the Mohawk Lords the heads and the leaders of the Five Nations Confederacy. The Mohawk Lords are the foundation of the Great Peace and it shall, therefore, be against the Great Binding Law to pass measures in the Confederate Council after the Mohawk Lords have protested against them.

No council of the Confederate Lords shall be legal unless all the Mohawk Lords are present.

Researched, composed and written during May, June, July & August 1998 by:

Zoltan E. Szabo, CGA., CFP

You can see the whole Zoltan Szabo version at Peacetree Centre’s Mohawk Nation Page. We’ll add still more as we can. pk was first guided to this bit of history by the book Wasi’Chu, now out of print. We’ll also digitize and mount an article by Dr. Greg Schaaf: “The Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution,” distributed by the Tree of Peace Society.

pk’s previous comments on the relationship between the Great Law and the US Constitution charged the US with unacknowledged borrowing, plagiarism, theft … Zoltan Szabo assures me that historians are aware of the debt. So why had I never heard of it once in thirty years of schooling or in a couple more decades of teaching and scholarship? Why did I meet no other individual who was aware of it until I met Willow. And she, older than I, had herself just heard of it. Thus, it’s “known,” but infrequently taught or mentioned. Sounds like hairsplitting to me. I still say shame, shame, shame.

2002 12 17 I just occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned one possible explanation for the US’s silence on the theft: the Iroquois allied with Britain in the American Revolution! When the English “lost,” they weren’t conquered: they just gave up and went home. Ah, but the Iroquois were conquiered: and did lose much of their homes: and all of their intellectual and political royalties.

Maybe they should have fought to the death of the last child. Then there’d be no shame to live with.

2002 02 08 I am very pleased to report that I have just encountered a novelist, already popular apparently, whose regular heroine is a Seneca woman: one Jane Whitefield. The origin of the Peace Tree is narrated. Thomas Perry, Vanishing Act, NY 1995, p. 161 ff. I’m enjoying it and recommend it. (Ten months later I add that I’ve enjoyed several: some of the best not involving Jane.)

2005 02 14 Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution, argues that the West is distinctive in chosing which ancestors it adopts rather than just inheriting them. We are not Greek; we decided to honor the Greeks.

Thus: the Iroquois tried to give Hiiawathan democracy to the English colonists: may well have tried to give it to the French too. The English colonists took it, called it American democracy (true); but say they got it from the Greeks! (False! Dammit!)

If I steal your homestead but tell everyone I inherited it from Jesus, I get both land and glory.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in civilization, institutions, pk Teaching, politics, social order, society. Bookmark the permalink.

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