The Gadsden flag is an historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the snake is the legend "Don't Tread on Me." The flag was designed by and is named after, American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden. Throughout history, the Gadsden flag has been used as a symbol of rebellion against governmental tyranny and today stands as a powerful symbol against government oppression including taxation, and wasteful spending.
The Gadsden Flag was created by South Carolina Congressman Christopher Gadsden for the first Commander-in-Chief of the United States Navy. The yellow flag with a rattlesnake and the words "Don't Tread On Me," was flown on the USS Alfred and hoisted by Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones. It was also the first flag of the United States Marines.
Considered one of the first flags of the United States, the Gadsden flag was later replaced by the current Stars and Stripes flag. Since the Revolution, the flag has seen resurgences as a symbol of American patriotism, disagreement with government, or support for civil liberties.
Why is there a snake on the Gadsden flag?
Let's let Benjamin Franklin answer this one:
"I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"