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History of the Gadsden Flag

History of the Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden Flag is the ultimate symbol of American freedom and in a sense displays more openly that ultimate spirit of American individual than the stars and stripes. It represents very often a personal statement

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Gadsden Flag

The flag is shown as a yellow background with an imposed coiled rattlesnake and the caption “Don’t tread on me”. What could be a greater message about expressing individual freedom. The flag was designed in 1775 by the American general Christopher Gadsden during the civil war. The flag has been associated with various political movements throughout history to do with the American Tea Party and even used today in modern times by sporting groups such as football teams and a show against terrorism.

The source of this symbolism had its roots with a great figure of American history in none other than Benjamin Franklin. In 1751 he made the suggestion that the American colonialists should reward the English policy of sending convicted criminals to America, by sending to England shipments of rattlesnakes in return.

He was further involved in using this symbol by publishing his famous woodcut in a newspaper reportedly the first political cartoon in an American newspaper. This showed the form of a wavy uncoiled rattlesnake cut into eight pieces. These pieces were meant to represent the eight colonies of the East coast and the shape of the waviness supposing to represent the Eastern seaboard. This print of a wood cut had underneath the caption “Join or Die.”  This was a clear indication of the setting the impetus towards thinking about Union rather than individual colonial States.

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The flow of the states in the image was deliberate and showed New England as the head down to Carolina as the tail with the others in clear order.

The political symbol of the rattlesnake has been attributed to Franklin but Gadsden has been associated with incorporating this in to the famous yellow ground flag. Sometimes but rarely it is also called the Hopkins flag.

This is because Gadsden together with congress chose Hopkins as commander- in chief of the Navy. It is believed that he then presented Hopkins with this very flag that he had designed as a standard for his naval endeavors.  It is also believed that Gadsden presented another of these flag to the State legislature in Charleston. This presentation has been recorded as the full flag together with the caption  “ Don’t Tread on Me.”

Altogether there were four version of the flag showing a coiled rattlesnake, while the naval jack showed the snake uncoiled against the 13 red and white stripes. It is said that this was because the flag was designed  by an English artist Thomas Hart who did not show the rattlesnake as coiled which would have been more aggressive because he did not understand snakes. So some opinion says that this design appeared to be less aggressive with the snake even appearing to be passively slithering away.

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First Navy Jack Flag

A second version of the flag was designed for the Navy with the rattlesnake and caption against a background of 13 alternate red and white stripes representing the colony States at that time. This was the first Navy Jack.

There were other variations of the rattlesnake against white ground and so on which were used as Standards during the revolution and were used by the Virginia militia and the Minutemen of Culpeper County. They incorporated the additional phrase “Liberty or Death” All these flags were used long before the now known famous stars and stripes renditions.

After the Revolution and Independence the flags use became less used as this was replace by the now familiar form of the Stars and Stripes. This was brought about by the intervention of George Washington and the ideas people around him.

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