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Did you know that Benjamin Franklin drew a herp-related political cartoon in an attempt to promote unity among the American colonies?


Franklin published his cartoon in the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754, well before the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. He drew the cartoon as propaganda during the French and Indian War. However, the image endured as a symbol for American unity beyond its first publication, remaining relevant during our Revolutionary War (or War of Independence, the more accurate name according to some of my history teachers). The snake’s pieces represent South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England.

To Franklin, the timber rattlesnake symbolized ideal behavior of the United States because

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 shewn 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?

-Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania Gazette, 1775