Perhaps one of the most misunderstood symbols of our current era is the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag that one can find emblazed on bumper stickers, on license plates, and waving from homes and businesses. I have been told by many that the flag should be banned because it represents those who support the Confederacy, the January 6 “insurrection,” and other acts of political protest.
I would like to set the record straight.
First, let’s look at what it is historically, from a fairly neutral source, such as Encyclopedia Britannica:
“The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag properly known as the Gadsden flag or the Hopkins flag traces it roots to Commodore Esek Hopkins, the United States’ first naval commander in chief, as his personal ensign during the American Revolution The flag features a coiled rattlesnake above the words “Don’t Tread on Me” on a yellow background.
The flag was one of several contemporary flags that included an image of a rattlesnake, which had become a popular symbol of unity among the American colonies. The rattlesnake symbol originated in the 1754 political cartoon “Join, or Die” published in Benjamin Franklin‘s Pennsylvania Gazette. The cartoon, which depicted the colonies divided as segments of a cut-up snake, exhorted the colonists to unite in the face of the French and Indian War. The symbol was later used to represent unity during the Revolutionary War. One observer, writing to the Pennsylvania Journal in December 1775, claimed that a drum of the newly created Marine Corps displayed a rattlesnake alongside the motto “Don’t tread on me!”
From Wikipedia, I found this:
“The flag has been described as the “most popular symbol of the American Revolution.” Its design proclaims an assertive warning of vigilance and willingness to act in defense against coercion This has led its association with the ideas of individualism and liberty.“
At some point after the Revolutionary War, a variation of the flag with red and white stripes was adopted by the United States Navy and was flown from the forecastle of the oldest naval vessel in commissioned service.
I had the honor of commanding one of those ships, the USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20), and still proudly display the flag that was presented to me by the crew upon my departure.
In modern times, the flag has been used in the United States as a symbol for right-libertarianism, classical liberalism, and small government, for distrust or defiance against authorities and government.
I will not pass judgment on this, but, like it or not, one of the outcomes of the American Revolution was the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech for those who may display the flag for purposes other than its intended use.
So no matter what its critics say, the flag is part of our heritage as Americans, and I plan to continue to fly my Gadsden flag with pride, knowing that it represents American independence. Any perceived negativity about it is simply the naïve thinking of people who are not aware of its real history.
(The above article was first posted at American Thinker and reposted here with the author’s permission.)