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A: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Benjamin Franklin Publishes the First American Political Cartoon: "JOIN, or DIE."

5/9/1754

In the May 9, 1754 issue of his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, printer, publisher, writer, scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin published a political cartoon by Franklin showing eight American colonies as separated parts of a coiled snake with the caption, "JOIN, or DIE."

Franklin labeled eight separate sections of the snake with abbreviations for New York, New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Vermont, North Carolina and South Carolina.

"There was, at the time, a long-held superstition (with roots in the legend of Osiris) that held that a snake cut to pieces would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset. Separate, they are inert and impotent. United, they are active, and powerful. Delaware and Georgia were omitted, for reasons that remain unclear" (http://www.booktryst.com/2011/08/first-and-most-important-american.html, accessed 08-17-2011).

Franklin's accompanying text rallied the American colonies to unite and defend against the French in the French and Indian War. This was the first time that the colonies were asked to act as one.

James Parker republished Franklin's cartoon in the single September 21, 1765 issue of the Constitutional Courant attacking the Stamp Act. calling for the unification of the colonies in their struggle for justice from Great Britain. In 1774 Paul Revere altered the cartoon to fit the masthead of the Massachusetts Spy, and the cartoon became a symbol of colonial freedom during the American Revolutionary War.  Suitably redrawn, it returned to service for both the Union and the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

The original May 9, 1754 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette is one of the rarest of early Americana, with the copy at the Library of Congress the only copy recorded in institutions.  A copy sold at Skinner's auction house in Boston in 2018 for $30,750.

 

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