History: The First Civil Law Code in the U.S.

The Real History of The Gadsden Flag
(aka “The Don’t Tread On Me Flag”)
The Beginning of Civil Law in America

   The timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback rattlesnake both populate the geographical areas of the original thirteen colonies.  Their use as a symbol of the American colonies can be traced back to the publications of famous abolitionist, author, diplomat, and publisher Benjamin Franklin.  In 1751, he made the first reference to the rattlesnake in a satirical commentary published in his Pennsylvania Gazette.  It had been the policy of Britain to send convicted criminals to America, so Franklin suggested that they thank the British by sending rattlesnakes to England.

Photo of
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

{Crotalus adamants}

adamanteusSpecial thanks to Sambel-Captiva Conservation Foundation for the above photo we’re utilizing for educational purposes in accordance with fair use.

The First Political Cartoon:

   In 1754, during The French and Indian War, Franklin published his famous woodcut of a snake cut into eight sections.  It represented the colonies, with New England joined together as the head & South Carolina as the tail, following their order along the coast.  Under the snake was the message “Join, or Die”.  Of course, “Join, or Die” doesn’t sound like a very funny “cartoon”,  but the irony was that no colonialist would ever talk like that — only the English, Spanish, & French empires would!  

first political cartoon join or die by Benjamin Franklin

     As the American Revolution grew, the snake began to see more use as a symbol of the colonies. In 1774, Paul Revere added Franklin’s iconic cartoon to the nameplate of his paper, The Massachusetts Spy, depicted there as fighting a British dragon:

mass spy picSpecial thanks to FoundingFathers.info for the above archived image we’re utilizing for educaitonal purposes in accordance with fair use.  Closeup from The Unfolding Journey:

Massachusetts Spy Detail

The Rattlesnake becomes
a Symbol for Civil Rights:

     In December 1775, Benjamin Franklin published an essay in The Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym American Guesser in which he suggested that the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit:

   “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?

   …& then came a strong civil rights supporter named Christopher Gadsden, who designed the first flag that came to represent The American Colonies & what the “new government” would stand for civil rights; this new government was designed to protect individuals who would get brought before the “criminal commercial county courts”- which assumed guilt rather than innocence:

Don't Tread On Me

   This flag became known as The Gadsden Flag; Christopher Gadsden was an outspoken supporter of the Declaration of Rights, refusing that England maintained any rulership over the Americas or its peoples.  On the morning of August 27th, the new British commander in the South, General Cornwallis, turned on 20 civil officers then on parole, including Gadsden.   They were marched as prisoners to a ship and taken to St. Augustine, Florida.  

Charles Cornwallis, by Daniel Gardner, early 1780s

Portrait of Charles Cornwallis, commander of British troops at the 1781 siege of Yorktown, by Daniel Gardner, 1780s.

   Thank you Columbia.edu for the above picture of “Lord” Charles Cornwallis- “The Captain Hook of American history”.  

   The same year the Declaration was signed, Cornwallis- a much-hated historical figure who slaughtered Colonialists & people from India during his killing spree on behalf of “The Crown” & on behalf of “the banks” in which England was indebted to- was sailing to The America’s to murder any colonialists who may be conspiring to defy The Crown.

   When Gadsden & the civil officers arrived to the military prison where they were shipped by Cornwallis’s cronies, Governor Tony offered the “freedom of the town” if they would give up their parole.  Most accepted, but Gadsden refused claiming that the British had already violated one parole, & he could not give his word to a false system.  As a result, he spent the next 42 weeks in solitary confinement in a prison room at the old Spanish fortress of Castillo de San Marcos.  When they were finally released in 1781, they were sent by merchant ship to Philadelphia. Once there, Gadsden learned of the defeat of Cornwallis at Cowpens & withdrawal to Yorktown.  He hurried home, to help the restoration of South Carolina’s civil government.   


   Special thanks to Carolana.com for the above graphic of forgotten civil rights hero Christopher Gadsden.