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Monday, August 13, 2007

America's First political cartoon




The Pennsylvania gazette, 1754 May 9.

Benjamin Franklin's warning to the British colonies in America "join or die" exhorting them to unite against the French and the Natives, shows a segmented snake, "S.C., N.C., V., M., R., N.J., N.Y., [and] N.E."
'NY' (New York ), 'NJ' (New Jersey), 'P' (Pennsylvania), 'M' (Maryland), 'V' (Virginia), 'NC' (North Carolina) and 'SC' (South Carolina).

On May 9, 1754, Join, or Die, considered the first American political cartoon, was printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette. The impetus for the cartoon, which is believed to have been devised by Benjamin Franklin, was concern about increasing French pressure along the western frontier of the colonies. "Join or Die", the cartoon depicts the early American colonies as a snake divided into several segments with every segment labelled as one of the colonies.

The division of these segments clearly shows the colonies were divided over the war. The caption implies that the colonies should unite or be killed by the French and Indian attackers.

Historical Perspective
In mid 1700's the Atlantic coast British colonies became over crowded. This led them to look beyond the Appalachian Mountains where the land was soil-rich. Native Americans who inhabited this land felt threatened because of this thought.The French, who also laid claim to the land, set up forts to guard it. In the 1754, the French and Indian War began.
American and British troops fought Native American and French soldiers. However, at the start of the war, many of the colonies were divided at the outlook of war. Franklin's cartoon urged them to unify against the Indian and French force and battle against them.

Benjamin Franklin published this woodcut in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which represents America as a snake severed into various provinces. Prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Franklin hoped to persuade the American colonies to unite their governments to protect themselves from the French and their Native American allies under a plan later known as "The Albany Plan," which was ultimately rejected. The image, the first to address unification of the colonies, would later be used as a symbol of the American Revolution with the motto: "Don't Tread On Me."


Benjamin Franklin's political cartoon was the first in America and one of the first of its kind. It had a large effect on people's views of the French-Indian War and a larger effect on the American Revolutionary War. Never before had such a cartoon made such an impact on America and even now 'Join, or Die' is possibly one of the most influential cartoons in American history.

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the tenth son of Josiah, a candle purveyor, and Abiah Folger. Educated at Boston Grammar School, Benjamin apprenticed with his father, and then his half-brother, Peter, a controversial printer in Boston. Young Franklin struck out on his own in 1723 eventually finding employment as a journeyman printer in Philadelphia. By 1730, he controlled his own printing shop and published The Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper, had fathered a son, William, and married Deborah Read Rogers.

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