The Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden Flag

“She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage…Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.”

—Benjamin Franklin

The Gadsden Flag is a yellow flag depicting a coiled rattlesnake, fangs bared and ready to strike, with the words “Don’t Tread On Me” running its entire length, just beneath the image. The most prominent feature of the Gadsden Flag—the rattlesnake—is the only reptile found exclusively in the Americas and has a rich history in the founding of the United States. It first appeared as a representation of the original thirteen colonies in a newspaper with the motto “Join or Die”, during the French and Indian War in a political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin even suggested that the colonies send rattlesnakes to Britain in return for the criminals they were shipping to America.

By 1775, the rattlesnake image began appearing in more than just paper publications. People were embedding the image on uniform buttons, paper money, banners and flags. Marines carried yellow-painted drums showcasing a fierce rattlesnake accompanied by the “Don’t Tread On Me” motto. Inspired by the symbols he’d seen carried by the Marines, Statesman and General Christopher Gadsden led the Sons of Liberty in South Carolina, serving as a colonel in the Continental Army. He created the first Gadsden Flag, becoming its namesake, and presented it to Commodore Esek Hopkins, the Commander in Chief of the American Navy, to fly as his standard during his first mission against the British. Gadsden also presented the flag to his state legislature in Charleston.

The flag has long been associated with the fight for America’s independence and has been used at various periods to represent the indomitable spirit and exceptionalism of the United States. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, harbor patrol boats and the Customs Service flew the Gadsden flag in US ports and individuals serving abroad have carried and displayed the flag. It has also has been employed as a universal symbol for the modern day Tea Party Movement as well at rallies and protests.

The Gadsden flag was the predecessor to the current stars and stripes that represent the United States of America. And though various interpretations of the American flag have been designed and discussed throughout the years, there has never been any doubt as to the powerful message and meaning encapsulated within the Gadsden flag, or that its famous motto “Don’t Tread On Me” is an enduring battle cry.

—Diane Student

About the Author: Conservative-libertarian and registered Republican Diane Student is a successful small business owner, talented blogger/proprietor of Freedoms’ Wings Politics, and host of the wildly popular internet radio programFreedom’s Wings. Follow her on twitter @FreedomsWings and like The Freedom’s Wings Show on Facebook. 


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