In 1754, Benjamin Franklin first popularized the rattlesnake as a symbol of national unity during the French and Indian War. By 1774, it had become the formal symbol of the Freedom Revolution when Paul Revere added it to the masthead of his newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy, and showed the snake fighting a British imperial Dragon. In 1775, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden incorporated a coiled rattlesnake with thirteen rattles (symbolizing the colonies) above the motto "Don't Tread on Me" on an early American flag.
Historians believe Franklin anonymously published the following of several arguments why the rattlesnake should be chosen as the symbol for America (rather than the eagle, which he amusingly opined was "a bird of bad moral character"). "She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage... she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."
with Boston Tea Party (reverse)
In 1773, hardliners in the British government imposed a symbolic but much-hated "stamp tax" on the restive American colonies. And while the Stamp Tax was small in comparison to today's massive load of taxes imposed from Washington, it quickly became the rallying point that animated and inspired the Sons of Liberty. On December 17, 1773, after 7,000 angry colonists milled around the Boston wharf where British merchant ships were to unload imported tea, a smaller group of 200 chose to act. The Sons of Liberty, some dressed as Indians, forced their way onto three British ships and unceremoniously tossed 342 crates of tea into Boston Harbor.
This small act of clever defiance -- coupled with the rattlesnake -- became twin icons of Americans' yearning for Freedom in the face of distant, corrupt, and non-responsive government.
Benjamin Franklin's humorous but powerfully symbolic approach to tweaking officialdom is as infuriating to those who wish to control others now as it was then. The spectacle of modern-day defenders of Freedom proudly emulating and popularizing the Boston Tea Party and related symbols is deeply embarrassing to Washington, DC's ruling class. Grab your Don't tread on me coin today!