Monday, October 18, 2010


Join or Die
by Benjamin Franklin
Cartoon in the Pennsylvania Gazette
May 9, 1754

In his well known best humor, Ben Franklin wrote a satirical commentary in his Pennsylvania Gazette suggesting that as a way to thank the Brits for their policy of sending convicted felons to America, American colonists should send rattlesnakes to England. Three years later, his infamous cartoon was born with a more serious edge.

This cartoon shows a snake cut into eight pieces, each labeled with the name of one of the colonies. The position of each colony in the snake corresponds to the geographic position of the colonies along the American coast, with the snake's tail pointing south and the head pointing north. The colonies, from tail to head (south to north), are: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England (New England refered to the colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire). The caption reads, "JOIN, or DIE."

The cartoon appeared along with Franklin's editorial about the "disunited state" of the colonies, and helped make his point about the importance of colonial unity during the French and Indian War. At the time, there was a superstition that a snake which had been cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset.

The Gadsden Flag
By 1775, the snake symbol wasn't being printed in newspapers, but was appearing on uniform buttons, paper money, banners and flags. The snake was no longer cut in to pieces, but shown as a coiled American timber rattlesnake.

Some Marines enlisting in the fall of 1775 were carrying drums painted yellow, emblazoned with a fierce rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, with thirteen rattles, and the motto "Don't Tread on Me" and the beginning of a new flag was born.