The History of the Gadsden Flag
The Gadsden flag was designed during the American Revolution (1765-1783) by an American statesman, Christopher Gadsden, in 1775. The field was yellow and featured a rattlesnake that was coiled to strike. Below the rattlesnake, the words “Don’t tread on me” were printed.
Rattlesnakes were plentiful in the original thirteen colonies. Benjamin Franklin first used the rattlesnake in a satire commentary that he wrote and that was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1751. His cartoon noted that, since Britain was sending its convicted criminals to America, American should send its rattlesnakes to Britain. As time went on, the rattlesnake became a symbol of the ideals of America.
Franklin published another satirical cartoon in 1754. This one featured a photo of a snake cut into eight pieces with each piece containing the initials of the American colonies (there were only eight at that time). Below the snake segments were the words “Join, or Die”. The French and Indian War was raging at that time. It is thought that Franklin’s cartoon was meant to show the importance of the colonies uniting. This may be where Gadsden got the idea for his flag in the late 1700s.
The rattlesnake symbol was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1778 when a Seal of the War Office was designed and officially accepted. A rattlesnake was featured at the top of the seal holding a banner with the words “This We’ll Defend”. The message was that the Army was ready to defend and preserve America.
The first time the flag was used was by the Continental Marines. The Gadsden flag was given to the Commander in chief of the Navy, Esek Hopkins, for use on his flagship to represent America. The marine force was formed by the Continental Congress in 1775 and it was disbanded in 1783.
Since the Revolutionary War, the Gadsden flag has been used as a symbol of patriotism, in support of civil liberties, and for disagreements with the government. In 2009, the Gadsden flag was been adopted by the Tea Party for use at its movement rallies. It would appear that the flag has become a political symbol because of its association with political parties and in disagreements with the government.