Essay Independence Day

The Story of a Bald Eagle & a Turkey

Text by Penny & photographs by Michael B. Wilkes

Photography by Michael B. Wilkes, FAIA

Independence Day, celebrated on July 4, commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. In 1774, on June 11, the first Continental Congress (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman) worked on the draft of the Declaration of Independence.

The group designated Thomas Jefferson to write the text because of his superior writing skills and what they called his, “felicity of expression.”

The document declared that the thirteen American colonies would unite as free and independent states. They signed it into action on July 2 in 1776 and broke away from the British government under King George.

Now we celebrate Independence Day on July 4.

Photography by Michael B. Wilkes, FAIA

The Continental Congress gave Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson the job of designing an official seal for America. The idea for the bald eagle proposed in 1782, received acceptance. It included an olive branch with arrows in the talons to symbolize war and peace.

Photography by Michael B. Wilkes, FAIA

When Benjamin Franklin saw the eagle on the Cincinnati medals, he felt it looked like a turkey. He said, “The turk’y is in comparison a much more respectable bird. Though a little vain and silly. The turkey remains a bird of courage who would attack any British grenadier who should presume to invade the farm yard with a red coat on.”  Franklin wanted the turkey as the national bird.

Photography by Michael B. Wilkes, FAIA

Congress adopted the eagle design on June 20, 1782. The bald eagle appeared on official documents, currency, flags, public buildings, and other government-related items. Instead of a turkey, the bald eagle became an American icon.

Photography by Michael B. Wilkes, FAIA

In the late 1800’s, America was home to 100,000 nesting bald eagles, but the number of birds shrank because of habitat destruction and excessive hunting. In 1978 the bald eagle arrived on the endangered species list. Bills passed protecting the elegant bird. In 1995, the bald eagle population had recovered enough for the status of the bald eagle to be changed from, ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.

In 2007 the “threatened species” list no longer included the bald eagle.

Photography by Michael B. Wilkes, FAIA

The Bald Eagle soars as America’s national symbol with its fierce beauty and proud independence. It symbolizes the strength and freedom of  The United States of America.


Penny Wilkes,  served as a science editor, travel and nature writer and columnist. An award-winning writer and poet, she has published a collection of short stories, Seven Smooth Stones. Her published poetry collections include: Whispers from the Land, In Spite of War, and Flying Lessons. Her Blog on The Write Life features life skills, creativity, and writing: . My photoblog is @:

Michael B Wilkes is an award winning architect and  photographer who has collaborated on three books of poems with his wife Penny Wilkes. On two occasions he has received recognition among the 100 Most Influential peoples in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. Michael B Wilkes site:



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