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The Gadsden Flag

September 29, 2017

An old symbol that has moved through American history in curious ways is the Gadsden Flag of 1775. In many ways, its cultural currency today couldn't be further from its historical meaning to the Patriots, who associated the image with unity, eternity, vigilance, and prudence.

 The flag was designed by South Carolina native and friend of Samuel Adams the Continental Army Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Gadsden as the motto for the Continental Marines. It is thought to have been inspired by the 1754 "Join, or Die" cartoon by Benjamin Franklin – which has cultural salience far beyond the Gadsden flag during the Revolutionary War.


Today the flag is closely associated with nativist and libertarian interpretations of America's founding ideas. This cooptation of an ethos of unity ("we hang together, or we hang alone") for a fiercely guarded individualism marks an important transition of the democratic spirit over the last 250 years.



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