or death, what we so proudly hail
once you provoke her, rattling of her tail
never begins it, never, but once engaged...
never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage...
it or live it, she with the deadly bite
quick is the blue tongue, forked as lighting strike
shining with brightness, always on surveillance
the eyes, they never close, emblem of vigilance..."
~ Metallica, Don't Tread On Me
Franklin's woodcut from May 9, 1754.
Newspaper Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress.
Franklin sketched, carved, and published the first known
political cartoon in an American newspaper. It was the image of a snake cut
into eight sections. The sections represented the individual colonies and the
curves of the snake suggested the coastline. New England was combined into one section as the head of the snake. South Carolina was at the tail. Beneath the snake were the ominous
words "Join, or Die."
This had nothing to do with independence from
Britain. It was a plea for unity in defending the colonies
during the French and Indian War. It played off a common superstition of the
time: a snake that had been cut into pieces could come back to life if you
joined the sections together before sunset.
In December 1775, "An American
Guesser" anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal...This anonymous writer, having "nothing
to do with public affairs" and "in order to divert an idle
hour," speculated on why a snake might be chosen as a symbol for America...
First, it occurred to him that "the
Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America." The rattlesnake also has sharp eyes, and
"may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance."
Furthermore, "She never begins an
attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of
magnanimity and true courage. ... she never wounds 'till she has generously
given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of
treading on her."
Finally, "I confess I was wholly at a
loss what to make of the rattles, 'till I went back and counted them and found
them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of
the Snake which increased in numbers..." 'Tis curious and amazing to
observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal
are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated
but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of
producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm
the boldest man living."
Many scholars now agree that this
"American Guesser" was Benjamin Franklin.
Source: Gadsden.info Whitten, Chris, "Gadsen
Flag History" 2001-2003
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