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Benjamin Franklin and the snake that would not die

Karen Severud Cook


ON 9 May 1754 an article was published in Benjamin Franklin's newspaper. The Pennsylvania Gazette, calling for the British colonies on North America's eastern seaboard to unite against the threat of French aggression from the western interior. This rousing exhortation was echoed by an accompanying illustration depicting the British colonies as a snake cut into segments and was captioned, 'JOIN, or DIE' (fig. i). Although often cited as the first political cartoon pubhshed in an American newspaper, this illustration has rarely received more than passing mention. The frequent inaccuracies in such citations inspired (or rather irritated) Albert Matthews to write the only detailed historical study of the original snake cartoon and its subsequent variants. Even Matthews, however, failed to make the important observation that the snake cartoon is a map.

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