On May 9, 1754, Join Or Die, an iconic political cartoon, was printed for the first time by Benjamin Franklin in his Pennsylvania Gazette, printed in Philadelphia. Now, 264 years later, the historic effects of the cartoon, a call to the U.S. colonies to unite, are still being felt. But the cartoon itself, and an original copy of the entire newspaper in which it was first printed, will soon go up for sale on the auction block.
Described as “the most influential political cartoon in American history,” the Join Or Die newspaper will be auctioned off in Los Angeles on July 26 by Nate D. Sanders Auctions.
This first printing of the original 1754 Pennsylvania Gazette is one of only two copies known to exist, the other being in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.
According to Sanders, the cartoon of a severed rattlesnake is attributed to Franklin, who ran it in 1754 as a criticism against colonists unwilling to support the French in the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War.
“Franklin created the rattlesnake cartoon, sliced into eight pieces symbolizing the American colonies, to dramatically enforce the effective message: join together as one cohesive body, or die,” Sanders said in their auction announcement. “Franklin also published an editorial in the ‘Pennsylvania Gazette,’ urging the colonists to work together, reading in part, ‘The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies… while our Enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one Direction, with one Council, and one Purse …’
Legacy of Join or Die
20 years later, the image was resurrected amid calls for a general revolution against the English throne. Paul Revere printed it as the name-plate of his 1774 pro-Revolution “Massachusetts Spy” paper, while in 1775, the coiled rattlesnake became part of the “Don’t Tread On Me” logo of the Continental Army, which under General George Washington went on to trounce the British Empire. Interestingly, no rattlesnakes lived in Britain at the time, although they were found in the US. Franklin embraced the symbolism of the creature as a stand-in for the North American colonies.
“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,” Franklin wrote in 1775 of rattlesnakes. “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?”
Bidding is set to begin at $40,000. To learn more, visit natedsanders.com.