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    First publication of the "Join, or Die" editorial cartoon

    [Benjamin Franklin] The Pennsylvania Gazette. Four pages, 14.75" x 21.75", May 9, 1754 ("Numb. 1324"), printed in three columns. In this newspaper is the earliest publication of the first and most celebrated editorial cartoon in American history: Benjamin Franklin's woodcut illustration of a snake severed into eight sections (colonies) reading, "Join, or Die." Beginning at its head, the eight sections are labeled "N.E." (New England), "N.Y." (New York), "N.J." (New Jersey), "P." (Pennsylvania), "M." (Maryland), "V." (Vermont), "N.C." (North Carolina), and "S.C." (South Carolina). (The individual names of the four New England colonies were not used; Delaware and Georgia were omitted.) Franklin used the illustration, along with his accompanying editorial, to vividly explain the importance of colonial unity in 1754 shortly before the French and Indian War. The four pages are toned. Paper has been professionally restored to the head of the snake.

    This is a very rare and historic newspaper; no separate copy of this issue has been offered at auction before now and we know of only one other surviving copy, which is held at the Library of Congress. (The copy offered here and the one held at the Library of Congress are missing advertising pages five and six). Similarly in 2007, Christie's sold the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, which was printed in the July 6, 1776, edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post, for $360,000.

    In the late 1740s, the French in New France became concerned with the growing influx of British traders and colonists west of the Allegheny Mountains. In response, the French sought to build several forts along the Ohio River to discourage the British colonists from their westward migration. In April 1754, a young Major George Washington was given command of a small detachment and sent across the Allegheny Mountains to protect Virginian settlers who had built a fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, the beginning of the Ohio River. When Washington arrived, however, he found that a much larger French force had already arrived and taken control of the fort. When Benjamin Franklin received the news about Major Washington's findings, he devised the "Join, or Die" illustration and wrote an editorial for the May 9 edition of his own Pennsylvania Gazette, a prominent American newspaper which he had purchased earlier in 1729. The editorial, which appears above the illustration on page two of this newspaper, is an argument designed to reinforce the message of the severed snake by convincing the British colonies to overcome their predicament as the "disunited State of the British Colonies" and to unify against the French. It reads in part:

    "Friday last an Express arrived here from Major [George] Washington, with Advice, that Mr. Ward, Ensign of Capt. Trent's Company, was compelled to surrender his small Fort in the Forks of Monongahela to the French, on the 17th past. . . . The Indian Chiefs, however, have dispatch'd Messages to Pennsylvania, and Virginia, desiring that the English would not be discouraged, but send out their Warriors to join them, and drive the French out of the Country before they fortify; otherwise the Trade will be lost, and, to their great Grief, an eternal Separation made between the Indians and their Brethren the English. 'Tis farther said, that besides the French that came down from Menango, another Body of near 400, is coming up the Ohio; and that 600 French Indians . . . are coming down Siota River, from the Lake, to join them; and many more French are expected from Canada; the Design being to establish themselves, settle their Indians, and build Forts just on the Back of our Settlements in all our Colonies; from which Forts, as they did from Crown-Point, they may send out their Parties to kill and scalp the Inhabitants, and ruin the Frontier Counties. Accordingly we hear, that the Back Settlers in Virginia, are so terrify'd by the Murdering and Scalping of the Family last Winter, and the Taking of this Fort, that they begin already to abandon their Plantations, and remove to Places of more Safety. The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies, and the extreme Difficulty of bringing so many different Governments and Assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures for our common Defence and Security; while our Enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one Direction, with one Council, and one Purse."

    After the editorial and editorial cartoon ran in the newspaper on May 9, a conference of colonial delegates was called to meet in Albany, New York, on June 19 to discuss ways for the thirteen colonies to establish a united front against the belligerent French and Indian nations. Franklin was appointed a delegate and, hoping that his editorial pieces had generated a new spirit of solidarity, created the Albany Plan to present to the delegation. The visionary plan called for a type of federal government which would tend to colonial defense and expansion. But colonial cooperation at the time did not come easily, even in the face of a strong enemy, and the delegation rejected the plan. The movement for unity among the colonies, begun so earnestly by Benjamin Franklin through this newspaper, would have to wait for the American Revolutionary War to be fulfilled. The image of the severed snake remained important in eighteenth-century America. It was later reused (and slightly modified) as a symbol of colonial unity against British oppression during the years leading up to the American Revolution.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2011
    13th-14th Tuesday-Wednesday
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