The popularity of the Gadsden Flag has grown immensely in the last few years.Always a symbol of American patriotism and a warning call to intrusive government, this flag has recently seen a resurgence in use across the country.We've all seen this flag: a yellow field with a coiled rattlesnake and the words "Don't Tread On Me" written beneath it.Perhaps you have seen this flag popping up everywhere, but are curious about the history behind the Gadsden Flag.If so, hopefully this article will fill in the blanks a little bit and give you a good primer.
The Gadsden Flag has two primary components:the motto "Don't Tread On Me" and the image of the coiled rattlesnake.The motto "Don't Tread On Me" should be self-explanatory.It was a rallying cry, a call to arms, and a sacred creed by which America's founders lived by.These young Americans valued individual liberty above all else and viewed any attempts to "tread" upon this liberty as an abomination.The American Patriots believed their individual rights were Natural and God-given; that these rights were neither bestowed upon them by government nor could they be taken away by government.Moreover, because these rights were God-given, any attempt to dismantle these rights was considered an affront to God and contrary to human nature.However, this is exactly what the British authorities did in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.Idealistic Americans responded accordingly, with muzzle fire and the chant of "Don't Tread On Me."
What about the rattlesnake, though?What is the symbolism behind the image of a coiled snake?The history behind the rattlesnake image is quite fascinating and corresponds strongly with how Americans view themselves individually, as separate states, and as a nation.The first recorded use of the rattlesnake as a symbol of defiance against British authority in the Colonies was by none other than Benjamin Franklin.The British Crown back in England had a history of sending hardened and violent criminals to the American Colonies; much like the Crown did for its other colonies and territories around the globe.Franklin noticed this, and declared in an article in 1751 that the Colonies should return the favor by sending shiploads full of rattlesnakes back to England.
Franklin again used the rattlesnake image in 1754 for his widely popular "Join or Die" political cartoon which swept through the Colonies.This image portrayed a rattlesnake broken up into many pieces symbolizing the 13 Original Colonies; and was a call for the Colonies to unite.It is clear that Franklin had studied the rattlesnake in great detail and believed it best represented the character of Americans.
At the outset of the Revolutionary War, an anonymous author, later confirmed to be Franklin, who went by the name "American Guesser" wrote in the Pennsylvania Journal:" (The Rattlesnake) has no eye-lids.She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance (also, the Rattlesnake) is found in no other quarter of the world besides America."Franklin chose the rattlesnake because he believed it was an honorable creature who would first warn its adversary before attacking by the use of its rattler.Franklin continued:"The Rattlesnake never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.âÂ€Â”Was I wrong in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"
Franklin also added that the rattles of the rattlesnake are individual yet very purposefully connected together.He saw this as very metaphorical of the US Colonies; they are individual in culture and habit, but when combined they represent true strength.He stated: "'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."
Taking the motto "Don't Tread On Me" and the image of the coiled rattlesnake and turning this into the flag we know today can be attributed to a few young Marine recruits in 1775.The Americans had just established a new US Navy and US Marine Corps to help ward off British naval vessels.Colonel Christopher Gadsden had been chosen to equip these new Marine companies.In Philadelphia, a recruitment drive was held by Gadsden.He noticed that many of the young recruits arrived with yellow-painted drums with the image of the coiled rattlesnake and the phrase "Don't Tread On Me" adorning them.He was so inspired by the idealism and patriotism of these recruits that he had several flags made up which reflected the image on those drums.Thus, the Gadsden Flag was born.
Now, if you see those "yellow snake flags" flying at political rallies, tea parties, or atop a residential flagpole, you will hopefully have a good idea where these flags came from and the history behind these truly unique American flags.