Join Or Die: Political Cartoon from the 18th Century

Join Or Die

Title: Join or Died

Creator: Benjamin Franklin

Date: May 9, 1754

Format: Cartoon

Originally Published: Pennsylvania Gazette

Where it is Now: Library of Congress


In 1754 Benjamin Franklin ran the Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper he had started in the hopes of making the colonists more informed regarding the political climate of the time. His Join or Die cartoon was one of the first of its kind to be published in the colonies, and has been redrawn on multiple occasions since its debut.  In this illustration, Franklin’s opinion on solidarity as a necessity for the survival of the colonies becomes very clear.  In the 18th Century, it was superstition that a snake diced into pieces, when reunited, would return to life; hence, the inspiration behind this cartoon. Franklin understood that the colonies were each their own separate entity and neither wanted to become reliant on another, but in this illustration he emphasizes that they must “Join, or Die”: death referring to the loss of freedom at the hands of the British or French. It may be argued that the cartoon itself is of cartographic significance, as the colonies are organized in geographical order. In comparing the snake to a map, the gaps between the colonies are emphasized to an even greater extent, showing how invaluable solidarity truly is.


4 thoughts on “Join Or Die: Political Cartoon from the 18th Century”

  1. This image created by Ben Franklin is so powerful in the fact that he was clearly disobeying the British empire. If someone in America were to write this about the current American, they would be shunned from society. However, Franklin believed in his rights so much that he was willing to die for it. His family and friends could have been killed, but his rights outweighed the costs.

  2. I know this picture is referring to the colonies in early American colonization times of the 1700’s, but I couldn’t help myself of associating it with what is going on in the middle east right now. (Even though it is not US related, our military is so important for the rest of the world that I think this is a valid connection), in relation to no religious tolerance in those areas. If you aren’t the same religion as they want you to be, you’re dead. Simple as that.

  3. This picture is very powerful and definitely had an impact on the colonies. The disjointedness of the picture and face of the sliced up snake is a very strong image. The purpose of lighting a fire under the different colonies was definitely achieved and the image is still used today to promote ideals and liberty.

  4. The sacrifice that Ben Franklin made by creating this poster not only could’ve costed him his rank in society it could’ve resulted in his elimination from society. As I look back on it in the present day it’s quite straightforward and somewhat disturbing due to the fact that it blatantly says or DIE in capital letters. If this crisis was happening right now i probably would’ve joined without a doubt because of the overwhelming and unbearable thought of being killed. Do you think if this was happening right now you would join or choose not to join?

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