Behind Our Designs—JOIN, or DIE

Taken from the original illustration in Franklin’s Pennsylvania GAZETTE of May 9, 1754.  Originally, it was used as a warning to the colonies, urging them to unite in defense of the French and their native American allies. It was later used as an appeal to the colonies during the Revolutionary War and changed to "UNITE, or DIE."  The rattlesnake segments are labeled "S.C., N.C., V., M., P., N.J., N.Y., and N.E.". Four colonies at the time were co-operating as New England (N.E.).

Our thanks to Ryan Strauss for sharing his extensive research into this with us.

Franklin’s political cartoon accompanied an editorial he wrote. Bonhams / Skinner provides additional background in their 2018 auction listing for the newspaper where this appeared.

Franklin’s editorial was inspired by a letter received from Major George Washington regarding the French capture of Pennsylvania frontier Fort Prince George, at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Allegheny County. Ensign Edward Ward was left without command and forced to surrender the fort on April 18, 1754. Taking this news as a starting point, Franklin then lays out the formidable nature of the French invasion.

“The confidence of the French in this undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited state of the British Colonies, and the extreme difficulty of bringing so many different governments and assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual measures for our common defence and security; while our enemies have the very great advantage of being under one direction, with one council, and one purse.”

Franklin’s commentary and cartoon presage the as-yet uncontemplated revolution to come. Join, or Die is the first graphic conception of separate colonies compelled to unite as a group. When the British imposed the Stamp Act in the 1760s, Franklin’s image persisted as a sturdy representation of colonial unity. The enduring theme of state unity served the country during the American Revolution and more than one hundred years later during the Civil War.

The newspaper sold for $30,750.

Shop our “JOIN, or DIE” Collection

Our original design adapts Ben Franklin’s famous illustration, “JOIN, or DIE,” on a range of items. The original illustration in Franklin’s The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754, was a warning to the colonies, urging them to unite against the French and Native American allies, and later used as an appeal to the states during the Revolutionary War.  The rattlesnake segments are labeled,  S.C., N.C., V., M., P., N.J., N.Y., and N.E.

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