How the First American Meme Became an Embattled Symbol of Liberty

Peter Ansoff,

Release Date
August 23, 2022



Ever since Benjamin Franklin used the rattlesnake to represent the 13 Colonies, its meaning has been debated, most notably as part of the Gadsden Flag, which includes those four iconic words: Don’t Tread on Me.

But what was its original intent? Who used it first, and what were they seeking to portray?

We tried to answer those questions, and for additional context, brought in Peter Ansoff, President of the North American Vexillological Association — the world’s largest organization of flag enthusiasts and scholars.

Relying on primary sources and proprietary research, Peter describes the (probable) first time the Gadsden Flag flew; the uniquely American roots of the rattlesnake; the ebbs and flows of the rattlesnake as a symbol; and how both have been used in more recent political movements.

Let us know in the comments: What do the rattlesnake and the Gadsden Flag mean to you? And if you learned something from this video, be sure to LIKE it, and SUBSCRIBE to our channel.

0:00 The First American Meme
1:06 Rattlesnakes — and Ben Franklin’s Fascination with Them
2:38 The World’s Leading Flag Expert on the Origins of the Gadsdenn Flag
4:30 “Distinctively American”
5:12 Post-Revolution Limbo
6:50 Tug of War: What the Flag “Really” Means
7:37 Resistance — but to What?
8:04 Possible Alternatives/The Eye of the Beholder
9:21 What the Rattlesnake Means to Us