Benjamin Franklin's Obsession With Rattlesnakes


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"Like the wise and cautious rattlesnake, the American spirit is both vigilant and patient, prepared to strike only when the defense of its cherished liberties demands it."

—Benjamin Franklin

The peculiar affinity between Benjamin Franklin and the rattlesnake is a fascinating footnote in early American history.

Franklin saw great symbolic power in the rattlesnake, using its image to rally the divided colonies while also keeping a live snake as an eccentric pet.

This unlikely bond between statesman and serpent would leave an enduring mark, with the rattlesnake becoming synonymous with the spirit of American freedom and defiance.


Join, or Die cartoon
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In 1754, Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers, employed his artistic and persuasive talents to craft the "Join, or Die" political cartoon.

This powerful image would become an enduring symbol of American unity and resistance against foreign threats.

A Symbol of Colonial Resilience

The segmented rattlesnake, a native creature of the American continent, represented the divided colonies that needed to band together to survive.

Its venomous bite and potent warning signal served as a potent metaphor for the colonies' strength when united.

A Rallying Cry for Unity

The "Join, or Die" message resonated with the colonists, who recognized the need for unity and cooperation in the face of adversity.

As they faced off against their French and Native American adversaries, the slogan instilled in them a sense of pride and determination.


rattlesnake around the statue of liberty
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Benjamin Franklin, a man of many talents and a keen observer of nature, found inspiration in the rattlesnake as a representation of the American character.

Intrigued by its behavior and unique traits, he saw parallels between the serpent and the American people.

Qualities of the Rattlesnake Mirroring American Values

Franklin admired the rattlesnake's vigilance, courage, and self-restraint.

These qualities, he believed, were reflective of the American people's commitment to freedom, strength in the face of adversity, and their reluctance to strike unless provoked.

The "Natural Emblem" of the American Spirit

The rattlesnake, as a symbol, captured the essence of the American spirit for Franklin.

It served as a powerful reminder of the colonists' determination to protect their rights and freedoms while demonstrating a respect for peace and diplomacy.

Franklin's Rattlesnake Wisdom in Poor Richard's Almanack

In his renowned publication, Poor Richard's Almanack, Benjamin Franklin celebrated the rattlesnake's qualities, praising its wisdom and self-defense mechanisms.

This further solidified the connection between the serpent and the American ethos, emphasizing the importance of unity and strength for the fledgling nation.


american flag and a rattlesnake
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Benjamin Franklin continued to champion the rattlesnake as a symbol of American identity, even as the flames of revolution began to engulf the colonies.

His conviction in the snake's symbolic power was unwavering and served as an inspiration for the revolutionaries.

A Rallying Cry for Independence

Under the pen name "An American Guesser," Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1775, arguing that the rattlesnake was the ideal symbol for the emerging United States.

He emphasized its distinct characteristics and its unique connection to the American continent.

A Nation Defined by Resilience and Resolve

The rattlesnake's tenacity and unyielding nature made it the ideal representation of a nation unwilling to submit to tyranny.

It served as a reminder of the people's determination to secure their rights and freedoms, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.


the Gadsden Flag
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Drawing on Benjamin Franklin's reverence for the rattlesnake, American statesman and general Christopher Gadsden created the iconic Gadsden Flag.

This bold design, featuring a coiled rattlesnake and the unyielding motto "Don't Tread on Me," has become synonymous with American independence and resistance.

Don't Tread on Me

Throughout history, the Gadsden Flag has been a symbol of defiance and determination.

From its origins in the American Revolution, where it adorned the mastheads of naval vessels, to its presence in contemporary protest movements, the flag continues to embody the spirit of resistance.

The Gadsden Flag's Modern Relevance

Today, the Gadsden Flag remains a potent symbol of American independence and resistance.

Its presence in modern-day protests and movements underscores the nation's unwavering resolve to protect its liberties, echoing the same tenacious spirit that Franklin observed in the rattlesnake centuries ago.


Benjamin Franklin
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While Benjamin Franklin's admiration for the rattlesnake as a symbol of American strength is well-known, his personal fascination with the serpent extended beyond the metaphorical.

It is said that Franklin even kept a pet rattlesnake as a close companion.

A Fearless and Unusual Friend

In a testament to his fearless and unconventional nature, Franklin reportedly carried his pet rattlesnake in his pocket.

This eccentric habit underscores his unique character, as well as his deep-rooted affinity for the serpent that symbolized the American spirit.

In a letter to his wife, Deborah, Franklin shared details about his slithery companion, revealing how the rattlesnake served as a source of amusement and conversation among his acquaintances.


rattlesnake venom
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Benjamin Franklin, a man of science and discovery, considered the rattlesnake not only as a symbol of American identity but also as a potential source of medicinal benefits.

He speculated that the venom of this creature could be harnessed for therapeutic purposes.

Franklin's Theories on Venom as Medicine

Franklin posited that small doses of rattlesnake venom could be utilized in the treatment of various health conditions, such as epilepsy and paralysis.

Though these theories were never scientifically validated, they showcase his innovative thinking and relentless curiosity.

While Franklin's ideas on the medicinal use of rattlesnake venom may seem outlandish to contemporary observers, it is essential to remember that scientific understanding was limited in his time.


Benjamin Franklin
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The enduring relationship between Benjamin Franklin and the rattlesnake has become an indelible part of American history and popular culture.

The serpent continues to symbolize the spirit of independence and resistance that Franklin so deeply admired.

The Rattlesnake in Contemporary Organizations and Institutions

Various contemporary organizations and institutions maintain the use of the rattlesnake as a symbol, drawing on the inspiration of Franklin's appreciation for the creature.

Its presence in modern-day contexts serves as a tribute to Franklin's vision and the spirit of American resistance.

From Political Cartoons to Currency

The rattlesnake's symbolic power persists across various mediums, from political cartoons to flags and even on American currency.

Its presence in these different forms is a testament to the lasting influence of Franklin's admiration for the serpent and its association with the American spirit.