What does ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ mean?

In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’What does ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ mean?’’ We will analyze the meaning of this phrase, as well as its origins and the use of the Gadsden flag nowadays.

What does ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ mean?

‘Don’t tread on me’ means “to step, walk, or trample so as to press, crush, or injure something. This is a flag that has deep significance to the early United States. The phrase “Don’t tread on me” represents the rattling of a snake.

Throughout history, the number of flags and banners that have been flown by countries, armies and entities of all kinds is considerable, as can be expected.

And, consequently, the range of designs, with their different motifs, coats of arms and color combinations is also vast. But probably one of the most peculiar models is the one that, on a single background of intense yellow, shows the legend Don’t tread on me with a disconcerting rattlesnake ready to bite on it: it is the so-called Gadsden Flag.

Many people have seen this flag, but little do they know about its history and importance. This is the Gadsden flag.

As noted above, the flag features a rattlesnake, the symbolism for using such a snake is one of Benjamin Franklin’s many ingenious decisions. Ben Franklin was known for his humorous satire.

The British had been sending convicted criminals to the Americas. Then, in 1751, Ben suggested that, in exchange for this, the colonists send rattlesnakes to Britain. The snake went on to feature in Franklin’s “Unite or Die” cartoon. However, the flag design was not by Franklin.

The name “Gadsden” comes from its designer, General Christopher Gadsden, general of the American colonies and delegate to the Continental Congress.

This flag was later given to Eskes Hopkins, newly appointed commander and chief of the Continental Navy. Hopkins raised this flag on his first mission. Many Marines also wore bright yellow drums, portraying the rattlesnake ready to strike, with the motto “DON’T TREAD ON ME.”

Many other flags have been inspired by the Gadsden flag. Several flags with similar meaning and history also feature a rattlesnake. The “Navy Jack” features a snake and also the phrase “DONT TREAD ON ME.” The snake, however, is not curled up and the background has the red and white stripes of the American flag.

What is the origin of the Gadsden Flag?

We are talking about a historical flag whose origin dates back to 1775, in the context of the outbreak of the War of Independence: it was designed by General Christopher Gadsden for the Continental Marines, following an idea proposed by Benjamin Franklin in a newspaper articl.

The text said that this ophidian would be a good reason to represent the new country because it never attacks first and besides presenting a harmless appearance a priori always warns by waving its rattlesnake, but once in battle it does not give up either and its bite, however small, is deadly.

Franklin thus recovered an idea put forward twenty years earlier to protest against London’s decision to send convicts to its colonies, suggesting in exchange to send rattlesnakes to Great Britain.

Since this type of reptile was common in almost all of North America, it became a recurring motif even – sometimes chopped up – to represent the Thirteen Colonies, following the coastal profile with the head in New England, the tail in South Carolina and a slogan that read Join or Die.

Later, other more obvious icons became popular, such as an Indian or the white-headed eagle, but initially the snake had almost absolute prominence and when Gadsden proposed it for the flag of the US Marines, the Continental Congress approved the idea and also adopted a variant for its War Office with the phrase This we’ll defend.

What does 'Don't Tread on Me' mean?

Symbolism and meaning of the Gadsden flag today

This is a flag that has deep significance to the early United States. The phrase “Don’t tread on me” represents the rattling of a snake.

When a snake vibrates it serves as a warning to you to back off. Of course, the snake will only bite when it feels threatened. This is the spirit of America. The warning to tyrants not to trample on people. What happens when you step on a snake? It will bite quickly, with deadly force.

But Gadsden’s flag still lives. Today, many libertarians have some connection to this symbol. The flag was also the symbol of the “tea party movement.”

The flag was also featured in the celebration after the death of Osama Bin Laden. Metallica even had a song “Dont Tread on Me” to honor the flag. Some people consider this flag important, if not more important, than the Star-Spangled Banner.

Sadly, however, despite being a symbol of the early United States, tyrants and progressives want to destroy that symbology. Having such a flag in the United States can mean getting on an FBI watch list as a suspected terrorist.

The Gadsden flag in the United States is now considered a threat. But that’s not all: progressives want “hate speech” banned. Christopher Gadsden owned slaves.

So, some assume the flag must be associated with slavery. Ironically, it would be a great flag to protest slavery. Ultimately, it is about American pride and standing up for freedom.

The use of the Gadsden Flag fell into oblivion with the official adoption of the Betsy Ross Flag (the Stars and Stripes) and it was even questioned whether it had ever really been used, but for some time now, especially since the US Navy recovered it after an investigation on the occasion of its second centenary, the Secretary of State of the Navy decreed that the oldest ship of the fleet always flies it as the flag of prow (currently the USS Enterprise does it).

After the attacks of September 11, the military joined and other groups continue the trend, as it is often seen in places like Charleston (because Gadsden presented it there) and especially in the car license plates of several U.S. states, apart from anarcho-capitalist groups, sports and the Tea Party mentioned above.

In conclusion, many may try to step on the Gadsden flag, giving it false history and meaning. True patriots, however, will raise this flag with pride.

Frequently Asked Question: What does ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ mean?

What is the Don’t Tread on Me flag represent?

‘Don’t Tread On Me’ is an expression of freedom and liberty that first originated on the Gadsden Flag.

Where did the Don’t Tread on Me flag come from?

The Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context.

What is the snake with Don’t tread on me?

On the yellow flag, there is a coiled rattlesnake in a defensive position.


Don’t Tread On Me Flag Meaning. (2021). Retrieved from Patriot Home & Yard website: https://patriothomeandyard.com/blog/dont-tread-on-me-flag-meaning/

What is the Don’t Tread on Me Flag? (2021). Retrieved from wethepeopleholsters.com website: https://wethepeopleholsters.com/blogs/news/what-is-the-dont-tread-on-me-flag