Sunday, August 01, 2010

An American Guesser

clipped from
Georgia $20 bill

In December 1775, "An American Guesser" anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal:

"I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines
now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this
modest motto under it, 'Don't tread on me.' As I know
it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every
country, I supposed this may have been intended for the
arms of America."

First, it occurred to him that "the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America."

The rattlesnake also has sharp eyes, and "may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance." Furthermore,

"She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever
surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and
true courage. ... she never wounds 'till she has generously
given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against
the danger of treading on her."

Many scholars now agree that this "American Guesser" was Benjamin Franklin.

Don't tread on me.