"I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, 'Don't tread on me.'" - Benjamin Franklin in an anonymous letter in the Pennsylvania Journal
“Don’t Tread On Me” means, to United States patriots, unified resistance to oppression of liberties: oppression both by one’s own government and by foreign powers. It began as an early symbol of defiance to the tyrannical King George and the British government during the American Revolution. To the American soldiers of the late 1700’s, most specifically the Continental Marines, it represented what they were fighting for. To modern patriots, it represents what we have to lose, and that we are prepared to strike if those inalienable rights are threatened (“tread on”, if you will).
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Historical view of the first “DTOM” use
Below is the rest of the account of the first use of the DON’T TREAD ON ME and rattlesnake symbolism on the drums of Marines, continued from Benjamin Franklin’s letter above:
"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."
"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."
History of the Rattlesnake Symbolism in the United States
The snake depicted in the Gadsden Flag is the timber rattlesnake, a snake native to the geographic location of the 13 colonies.
As you probably know or can gather from the anonymous writings from Benjamin Franklin above, Franklin was an active political voice in multiple newspapers of the time. In 1751, Franklin published in the Pennsylvania Gazette an idea that since Britain had a habit of shipping convicts to the Colonies, that a fair and equal response would be to ship the Colonies’ timber rattlesnakes back to Britain.
Only a few years later, Franklin published this recognizable cartoon:
This Join, or Die woodblock carving was the first political cartoon to be published in an American newspaper. Many attribute its creation to be in response to the anti British sentiment during or just before the Revolutionary War, but it was actually first published about 20 years prior- in 1754. It was re-printed and in some cases the design slightly changed (such as the snake fighting a British Griffin) to be more relevant to the Colonies vs. British attitudes around the time of the Declaration of Independence.
It was soon after this re-distribution of Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” cartoon that Christopher Gadsden borrowed the symbolism for use in the Continental Navy.
History of Christopher Gadsden
Christopher Gadsden’s life before the American Revolution was notable, as he was politically active, but the most relevant to this article starts as one of the founders and leaders of the Charleston Sons of Liberty.
Gadsden was elected as a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775. While fulfilling his responsibility at Congress, Gadsden was one of the first seven members of the Marine Committee, the seven members of Congress responsible for planning the first naval mission of the Continental Navy.
First appearance of the “Gadsden Flag” as we know it
Commodore Esek Hopkins was appointed to be the commander-in-chief of this newly formed Continental Navy. Before setting off on the aforementioned naval mission, the first Gadsden Flag was gifted to Hopkins from Gadsden; a yellow flag of Gadsden’s design, with a coiled rattlesnake, and the words “DON’T TREAD ON ME”. This Gadsden Flag was displayed on the main mast of Commodore Hopkins’s personal command ship.
Modern importance of “Don’t Tread on Me” and the Gadsden Flag
While we may not all be at the point of “Liberty or Death” in the literal sense, here in 2020 we protectors of civil liberties have a war on our hands of an entirely different kind. The extremist-fueled sensational witch-hunt that we are up against is almost unimaginable. The Democrat leaders, in classic fashion, have jumped on the “moral superiority” bandwagon to try to “agree” their way to more votes.
Joe Biden wants to ban magazines over 3 rounds because (and I can’t make this up) “federal law does more to protect ducks than children.” https://joebiden.com/gunsafety/ Last I checked the Second Amendment wasn’t written to protect Americans from birds.
A movement that is gaining popularity is touting the phrase “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” while claiming that any question of their intentions is an argument that black lives don’t matter. Shutting down our freedom of speech in the name of “equality” and “political correctness” is a disturbing road to go down. How can a movement that can’t be argued with be steered away from driving our country into civil war?
Apparently, according to these “morally superior” fellows, the best way to “care” for the less prosperous is to take something from someone else, first with high taxes, and now they're targeting our guns.
Does taking away my guns prove that activists care about their fellow Americans? Or does it just prove their ignorance of history? Hopefully there are enough of us that see through the nonsense.
In our opinion, in 2020 it is more essential than ever to have the means to protect ourselves, our families, our liberties, and our country. Patriot Depot stands by that.
Patriot Depot’s merchandise celebrating the Gadsden Flag and its meaning
Why our products at the end of this article? Because if you’ve read this far you probably will think this stuff is bad-ass: