Gadsden Flag: What’s Up With The Snake?

Whenever those Americans that don’t enjoy being “tread on” want to make their feelings known to anyone willing to listen, they’ll typically display the Gadsden Flag in some fashion. But what’s the deal with the rattlesnake? I mean, why not a lion or a bear? Personally, I’m much more afraid of spiders than any old rattlesnake.

Gadsden Flag

Well, folks, looks like we’ve got ol’ Ben Franklin to thank for the inspiration behind the Gadsden Flag, same as we’ve got him to thank for the lightning rod, Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, and, my own personal favorite, the flexible urinary catheter.

In 1754, during the time of the French and Indian War, Franklin published a woodcut of a snake chopped up into 8 sections in his Pennsylvania Gazette. This was meant to represent 8 different regions of the British colonies, with New England joined together to form the head and South Carolina bringing up the rear. Along with the image of the snake, Franklin also published the phrase “Join or Die”, which referred to his water polo team — just kidding, it obviously referred to the Union.

Join, or Die

As the American Revolution began to draw near, many people began using the rattlesnake as a symbol of the colonies, and even Paul Revere – yes, the famous “the British are coming” Paul Revere – got in on the act by adding the rattlesnake to the title of his paper, The Massachusetts Spy.

Finally, in December of 1775, Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal. In the essay, he argued that the Colonies resembled a rattlesnake in that a rattlesnake never attacks without first giving a warning, or, in the words of Franklin, cautioning “against treading on her”.  However, according to Franklin, once in a fight, a rattlesnake never backs down. Also, Franklin believed that by keeping its fangs hidden inside its mouth, the rattlesnake wished to avoid any and all confrontations.

So those are the origins of the Gadsden Flag’s image of a mean rattlesnake. Stay tuned for more information on the Gadsden Flag!

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