The Iroquois Constitution: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Constitutional Beginnings
  • 1:23 Main Provisions
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matt Lamb

Matt has tutored for six years now, in a variety of subjects including reading, essay writing, chemistry, and theology. He is finishing his M.A. in Political Science this August.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the history of the Iroquois Constitution, including the main provisions, groups involved, and similarities to the U.S. Constitution.

Constitutional Beginnings

Did you know that before the U.S. Constitution there was another constitution which laid out details on immigration, relationships with foreign countries, and how new laws would be passed? This was the Iroquois Constitution.

There is debate over when exactly the Iroquois Constitution originated because at first it was not written down, but instead passed down orally. However, the general time range is between 1200 and 1500 A.D. The original groups participating in the constitution were five different tribes, also known as the Confederacy of the Five Nations.The five original members of the Confederacy were the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, and Cayuga. The sixth nation, joining later, was the Tuscarora. The main organizer of the Confederacy and the constitution was a man named Dekanawida, better known as Hiawatha (although, this is not the same Hiawatha told of in fictitious stories about Native Americans).

The tribes are very interesting themselves. For example, the Mohawk tribe is often described as the Eastern Door keeper for the Iroquois Confederacy. The Seneca tribe had a history of ending wars and making friendships with other tribes, both before and after the Confederacy.

Main Provisions

The constitution details how meetings of the Confederacy will be conducted, laws of immigration, rights of foreign nations, and laws of war. These provisions will look familiar to people versed in documents such as the U.S Constitution and other founding government documents. For example, the rights of foreign nations are very similar to a mixture of immigration law and treaty law. A foreign nation, which in this sense means another tribe, could be admitted on a temporary basis to the Confederacy of the Five Nations. The tribe then had to prove itself to be a peaceful country dedicated to the Iroquois Constitution.

Decisions were made through the Confederate Council, which can best be described as a version of the legislative branch or a city council. The Mohawk leaders were given ultimate control over the council, which meant they could essentially veto a measure they disagreed with. In a sense, the Mohawks served as a hybrid of a Speaker of the Council or an executive member.

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