If you have studied the American Revolution, electricity, spectacles, etc., you are familiar with the brilliant aptitude of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was a printer, inventor, the first postmaster general, diplomat, author as well as a brilliant marketer – long before marketing existed in business. In fact, if it were possible to print on clothing in the 18th Century, Franklin would certainly have considered it. He knew the kind of influence a powerful message had on people.
During the French and Indian War, Franklin began to foresee a dire need for the colonies to join together as one power or face enormous challenges alone. In 1754, he published the first political cartoon, Join or Die, depicting a diced up timber rattlesnake, each a designated colony with the exception of the New England colonies, which were denoted simply as N.E. It made a statement that continued to influence politicians in the colonies. As the years progressed and the idea of independence grew, the timber rattlesnake would become a symbol of the American spirit, helped along by Franklin’s musings. In 1775, he published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pen name American Guesser, powerfully outlining the similarities between the snake and America:
“I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?”
The message took flight. That same year, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden, one of the seven members of the Marine Committee charged with outfitting the first naval ships, designed the flag known as the Gadsden flag, arguably the most famous from that period. Some states even have Gadsden flag license plates and while its message might have become skewed by political rhetoric over the past decade, the true meaning should never be lost.