“Join, or Die,” by Benjamin Franklin, PennsylvaniaGazette (Philadelphia, PA),
May 9, 1754. Courtesy, Library of Congress
This image is largely seen as the first American political icon. It is both a cartoon and a map of sorts. The message in its words is the most enduring over time. Ben Franklin originally created this image as a response to the threats of the French land claims to the West and a warning to the American colonists that they were dangerously divided before the French and Indian War. It was later used as a masthead design on Paul Revere’s ship The Massachusetts Spy and a rallying cry in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence.
The head of the snake is depicting the New England colonies where the American Revolution began and where the British colonists saw the most conflict with the French and Indians to the West. The tail of the snake is South Carolina which is where the Civil War began in 1861. I wonder why the colony of Georgia was not included. Virginia is the one coiled section of the snake. This makes me think of the strength of the Virginia founding fathers and central role Virginia has played in forming and preserving the leadership of the union.
Whenever I see the image of our nation depicted as a snake it makes me think of the average citizen and not the most powerful. A snake is not a creature of great power but one of humility and perseverance. It is interesting that many citizens today who feel the government has too much power and is infringing on their rights go back to this image of a united citizen body as a snake. The Tea Party is a minor political party who has adopted the snake image as one of its symbols. It is very similar to another classic American image and slogan originating during the American Revolution; “Don’t Tread on Me”. The flag below is known as the Navy Jack as it was first used by the Continental Navy in 1775. It is currently a symbol of the U.S. War on Terror. Do you think that these images are effective symbols of American unity?