Watching the news this week, there have been a lot of turkeys. I felt sorry for the pair of them pardoned by Bush who were taken from their native Minnesota to live as an attraction at Disneyworld in Florida. I see heatstroke in their future.

I’ve never been particularly fond of bald eagles, and always found it rather poignant that our national symbol would be an endangered predator. But the really interesting bit I heard today on a History Channel program about thanksgiving was this:

From the start, the eagle was a controversial choice. Franklin scowled at it. “For my part,” he declared, “I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes the fish. With all this injustice, he is never in good case.”

Some people have since questioned whether the eagle would have been chosen to adorn the seal had the nation not been at war. A year after the Treaty of Paris ended the conflict with Great Britain, Franklin argued that the turkey would have been a more appropriate symbol. “A much more respectable bird and a true native of America,” he pointed out. Franklin conceded that the turkey was “a little vain and silly,” but maintained that it was nevertheless a “bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” Congress was not convinced, however. The eagle remained our national symbol. (here)

There’s also the matter of the bird being bred so fat and awkward that it can’t really move—the turkey exists as a painstakingly engineered foodstuff. Neither alternative really seems attractive as a “national symbol.”