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The Meaning Behind the Don’t Tread on Me Flag

Published on
September 14, 2023 at 3:49:24 PM PDT September 14, 2023 at 3:49:24 PM PDTth, September 14, 2023 at 3:49:24 PM PDT

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Chances are you’ve seen a bright yellow flag with a coiled rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” as you drive around town. While this flag has become a popular symbol promoting the idea of a small government and lowered taxes, it has also generated controversy. The Gadsden flag has a deep and complex history, dating back to the Revolutionary War, and you must understand the context of its creation to fully comprehend its meaning.


Why Was the Gadsden Flag Created?


Contrary to false statements on the Gadsden flag's historical significance, its origins date back to the Revolutionary War and have no racial context whatsoever. In fact, the rattlesnake that makes the flag so familiar was the equivalent of a Colonial-era meme, created by none other than Benjamin Franklin!


In 1751, in response to the Crown shipping convicts to America, Franklin made a satirical suggestion suggesting that the American colonies repay it by distributing rattlesnakes throughout England, specifically in the “Gardens of the Prime Ministers, the Lords of Trade and Members of Parliament.” He would later turn this idea into the country’s first political cartoon, publishing the now famous “Join or Die” image using the rattlesnake symbol to depict the colonies in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Another well-known name, Paul Revere, used the snake in a 1770s newspaper nameplate, helping it gain in popularity as a symbol of American patriotism during the American Revolution. In 1775, Christopher Gadsden, a delegate to the Continental Congress in South Carolina and a brigadier general in the Continental Army, developed the design we now use today. In his version, Gadsden used the rattlesnake as a righteous threat for trampling imperialism. He presented this flag to Commodore Esek Hopkins, who became commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy and used it as his personal banner aboard the USS Alfred.


It was also a popular emblem for the Continental Marines during the early stages of the war. According to the New Yorker, Marc Leepson, author of An American Biography points out that the Gadsden flag “[was] completely, one hundred percent anti-british, and pro-revolution.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission directive agrees stating, “It is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context.” 

Meaning Behind the Gadsden Flag

While there are many variations of the Gadsden flag, the meaning behind it remains the same. 

Rattlesnake Imagery 

The timber rattlesnake signifies the original thirteen colonies since it is an animal that was unique to America and not found in Britain. This separate identity served to set the new world apart from the Crown. Originally, Benjamin Franklin pictured the snake cut into thirteen pieces, one for each colony, with the head as New England and the tail as South Carolina, mirroring their order along the East Coast. 


Franklin described the rattlesnake in his Pennsylvania Journal as an “emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, [never] surrenders... Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces...The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterward leave her, but spend their lives with her.” 

Don’t Tread on Me 

The phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” was added to the flag as a warning to the British of what would happen if the Crown tried to take away the Colony’s rights. It cautioned America’s enemies about the dangers of trying to come against the nation and take away its individualism and freedoms. These words still ring true today, which is why you should check out the full line of high-quality, American-made Gadsden flags available at Carrot-Top.com!

How Has the Gadsden Flag’s Meaning Changed Over The Years? 

The meaning behind the Gadsden flag has changed over the years in response to shifting political climates and global threats. In the 1970s, libertarians embraced the flag as a symbol for promoting smaller government and more individual rights, a belief held later by Tea Party members. On 9/11 it was used to warn against any threat, foreign or domestic, that our country would not sit by and let its citizens be attacked.

Recently, it has gained popularity among Republicans and those on the far-right in a similar manner to the ‘70s, with many influential people like President Trump using the emblem to promote Second Amendment rights, self-defense, and freedom of speech.

Detractors of the flag claim it is akin to the Confederate flag and racially based. Because of the Gadsden flag controversial ties, it has been at the center of many legal battles, including one well-known case when a postal service worker filed a complaint against a coworker wearing the emblem on a hat. The EEOC investigated and determined it was not a “racist symbol” or a promoter of discrimination in any way.

Purchase Don’t Tread on Me Flags from Carrot-Top Flags!

At Carrot-Top.com, we proudly sell a variety of Don’t Tread on Me historical flags that are perfect for the office, warehouse, or anywhere you want to show your patriotism.


Gadsden Flag 

Our Gadsden flags feature a vibrant yellow background and are crafted from quality materials. They come in four size options: 2’x3’ and 3’x5’, which are great for homes or small businesses, and 4’x6’ and 5’x8’, which are ideal for businesses who want to make a statement and on a 25’ or 30’ flagpole. Those who want to showcase the Gadsden symbol in their home office can purchase 4”x6” mini Gadsden flags in packs of 12.


Culpeper Flag 

The Culpeper flag is similar to the Gadsden flag but with a white background and containing the words “Liberty or Death” which were used by Patrick Henry in 1775 in a speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses. It was used by the Culpeper Minutemen as they fought against the British. This flag is perfect for declaring your commitment to the ideals America was founded on. 

Navy Jack Flag 

The Navy Jack flag was one of the first flags used by the republic and signifies the many strengths that have made the U.S. Navy one of the most successful military branches in the world. Fly this beautiful flag to show your patriotism and support for the men and women keeping our country safe. 

Shop our Historical Flag Collection Today 

At Carrot-Top.com, we proudly offer the widest selection of American-made historical flags and accessories. With over 40 years of crafting high-quality flags, you can shop with confidence. Our friendly Flag Pros are eager to help, so contact us today