A few weeks ago we looked into the allegations brought against the Confederate Battle flag, and whether it truly is racist or not. If you missed it, you can find it here.
Today I’m asking the question, is the Gadsden flag racist as many in today’s world have claimed? You might be thinking, what on earth is the Gadsden flag? Trust me, if you’ve lived in America for any length of time, you’ve seen it probably a million times over.
The background is solid yellow, and it bears the picture of a rattlesnake with the words “Don’t tread on me” written beneath it. There are a lot of different opinions regarding this flag. I’ve heard some say that it is racist. Others have said it’s arrogant. Still others yet claim that to fly the Gadsden flag is just looking for trouble.
I say hogwash to all of the above. These claims stem directly from ignorance—a problem that seems to be on the rise in our nation today.
So what is the Gadsden flag, why is it considered racist, and why should we still fly it today?
What Is Its History?
The Gadsden flag had its beginning in the early days of our fight for Independence. Historically, rattlesnakes carried heavy symbolism regarding the Thirteen Colonies and their will to defend themselves. This carried all the way back to the days of the French and Indian War. The Colonies were under brutal attack and fighting for survival. During this time, a cartoon drawing of a rattlesnake began to circulate. Below it were inscribed the words “Join, or Die”. It represented the idea that together the colonies were strong and deadly.
Between the periods of the French and Indian War and the American War for Independence, the rattlesnake only grew in popularity with regard to its symbolism. During this time, Great Britain had become increasingly hostile in its behavior towards the colonies. They began to take convicted criminals and release them in the colonies. This caused crime rates to sky rocket and left the colonists to deal with issues that were not their’s to deal with in the first place. This outrageously unfair justice system only punished Great Britain’s law abiding colonists.
Benjamin Franklin, ever filled with witty advice, wrote an article suggesting that the colonists show the “highest returns of gratitude and duty” to their dear “Motherland” in regard to the importation of criminals. He suggested that thousands of rattlesnakes be rounded up and shipped to England to be released on their shores, just as they released their criminals on us. Indeed that would’ve perhaps given them cause to think twice before unloading the most heinous of their criminals on us.
By the peak of the early 1770s, Americans were beginning to realize that they had taken as much abuse as they could handle. Enough was enough. They were tired of repeated abuse and injury at the hands of their king. Finally after many attempts to prevent a war from breaking out, the colonists were left with no choice but to defend themselves. Make no bones about it—the American War for Independence was self defense, pure and simple.
At the outbreak of the war, it became evident that America, though rather small, was a foe not to be reckoned with. Though it ended in American defeat, the battle for Bunker Hill in 1775 proved to the colonists that they had the strength and grit within them to hold their own against the greatest military power in the world at that point. Shortly thereafter, a merchant ship arrived in Philadelphia. It had come from England and bore secret letters for the Continental Congress, informing them that Great Britain was sending two supply ships to the colonies loaded with weapons and gunpowder.
Naturally it was decided that the Patriots had to find a way to stop the supplies from reaching the British troops. This was where the US Navy first had its debut. Congress ordered a Continental Navy to be mustered to intercept the ships and capture the supplies. It consisted of four ships, including the ship that brought the information in the first place. Along with the Navy they also authorized the raising of five companies of Marines to accompany them.
Before the mission, the commander of the newly founded US Naval fleet was presented with a bold standard to fly over the fleet. It bore the fierce design of a coiled rattlesnake and the warning “Don’t Tread On Me”.
Racist Because Its Designer Owned Slaves?
The Gadsden Flag was predominantly designed by a man named Christopher Gadsden. He was a Patriot from South Carolina, leader of the Sons of Liberty, and Colonel in the Continental Army. He was so impassioned with patriotic zeal that he was often called the “Sam Adams of the south”. His list of accomplishments and selfless service to our country is highly impressive.
• Fought in the colonial militia during the Cherokee wars
• Served in the 1765 Stamp Act Congress.
• Attended the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses
• Took the battlefield position as Colonel in the Continental Army
• Captured by the British and refused to accept their parole, choosing instead to suffer in solitary confinement
• Would later be part of the Constitutional convention
The list could go on quite a bit further, but for now those are a few of the main highlights. Many people today will try to claim that the Gadsden flag is racist for the sole fact that Christopher Gadsden was also a slave owner.
For starters, let’s just clear some things up regarding myths surrounding slavery:
1) Slavery was an evil that existed long before the United States of America ever had its founding. That means it’s not an America problem, but rather a sin problem.
2) Slavery in America affected whites and blacks.
3) Though many of our founders owned slaves, many of them also either did not or later saw the evil that it was and advocated heavily for its end.
I’m in no way defending his decision to own slaves. That isn’t even in question here. So get that out of your mind right now. What I am saying however, is that those who want to make a case out of this had better be prepared to make a case out of all the facts. Unfortunately we have too many today who want to pick apart our founders over the topic of slavery but refuse to actually address all the facts regarding it. Until you are ready to truly address the whole situation instead of cherry picking situations that help further your agenda, don’t come crying to me about racism in our nation’s symbols. Because I will shut that down in a hot second.
Christopher Gadsden was in no way a perfect man. He did however do many good and right things for our country that should not be neutralized because of a mistake he made. Honor where honor is due.
The fact of the matter is that Christopher Gadsden actually wrote about how he realized and understood that slavery was a poison that needed to be disposed of. In one letter written to a colleague and friend he said,
In short, he was proclaiming that he understood slavery would be punished and judged by God. He had seen Jamaica and the West Indies brought into their own form of slavery as judgement for allowing slaves, and he was saying that he hoped America would realize her need to demolish the institution before the same judgement fell on us.
What Was Its Original Meaning?
Now that we’ve looked at the history and designer of the flag, let’s talk about what the true meaning of the flag is. People today want to scream bloody murder when liberty-defending, history-loving people like me fly the Gadsden flag.
But what is its actual meaning? Is it pure arrogance that initiated the design and wording?
As we discussed before, the rattlesnake was a common symbol of America. Benjamin Franklin, who was also involved in influencing the design of the Gadsden flag, noted the unique factors regarding the rattlesnake that made it such a perfect symbol of America.
• The rattlesnake is native only to the regions of America.
• She has sharp eyes and no eyelids, which “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.”
• The rattle of the snake on the flag consisted of thirteen sections—representing the original colonies.
• She always gives sufficient warning before attacking.
His exact quote was:
Nothing about the design was ever racist, but rather patriotic in every way. Within the fierceness of the rattlesnake, lies the symbolism of who we are as Americans. When the British soldiers arrived in the colonies, they had never seen these ferocious snakes before, and thus hardly knew of the serious dangers they presented if threatened. That was the epitome of the American patriots and Continental Army—vigilant, courageous, united, and fierce.
The phrase “Don’t Tread On Me” is a picture of the telltale sound the rattlesnake makes when it feels it is threatened. Anyone who has actually ever heard one while walking in a field or pasture can testify that it is well sufficient warning. Trust me. It’s sufficient warning.
Racist? Arrogant? Trouble making?
You tell me. What do you think about it? Don’t listen to what the media is trying to cram down your throat. Do research into it on your own. Look into all sides of the story!
As for me, the Gadsden flag is a treasured part of who I am personally as an American. It is a piece of my heritage, my past, and my responsibilities in the present. I display the Gadsden Flag proudly, as an ever present reminder of who we are—our strength, courage, vigilance, valor, and love for liberty. Nothing will ever change that.
Share with me what your thoughts are on the Gadsden flag! Did you know how closely tied the rattlesnake is to representing America? Let me know in the comments!