Ben Franklin's Mic Drop

Ben Franklin's Mic Drop

January 12, 2017 1 Comment

This is a fascinating, and, perhaps, little known account that I read in the "Journal of the American Revolution" about the revered Benjamin Franklin. Few could form the words that could, at once, sooth and scold the targeted reader like those from Franklin's quill. Enjoy!

"[Benjamin] Franklin wrote a satirical article entitled “Rattle-Snakes for Felons.” For years England had been shipping convicted criminals to her American colonies, which she justified as a way to help them grow in population. Franklin wrote that

'such a tender parental concern in our Mother Country for the welfare of her children calls aloud for the highest returns of gratitude … In some of the uninhabited parts of these provinces there are numbers of these venomous reptiles we call rattle-snakes: felons-convict from the beginning of the world. These, whenever we meet with them, we put to death, by virtue of an old law: Thou shalt bruise his head. But as this is a sanguinary law, and may seem too cruel; and as however mischievous those creatures are to us, they may possibly change their natures if they were to change the climate; I would humbly propose that this general sentence of death be changed for transportation.

In the spring of the year, when they first creep out of their holes, they are feeble, heavy, slow and easily taken; and if a small bounty were allowed per head, some thousands might be collected annually and transported to Britain. There I would propose to have them carefully distributed in St. James Park, in the Spring Gardens and other places of pleasure about London; in the gardens of all the nobility and gentry throughout the nation; but particularly in the gardens of the prime ministers, the lords of trade, and members of Parliament, for to them we are most particularly obliged.'

"He closed his article by writing, 'Rattlesnakes seem the most suitable returns for the human serpents sent us by our Mother Country.'

"Three years later, the colonies’ western frontiers were under attack by the French and Indians. Representatives of the seven most northern colonies gathered in Albany on June 19. Their purpose was twofold: to secure a peace treaty with the Iroquois Nation and possibly garner their support in fighting the French and to form 'under one government as far as might be necessary for defense.' Franklin, one of the Pennsylvania delegates who had been appointed on April 8, presented a plan that would address the second purpose. It was unanimously approved, but when the delegates returned to their colonies, not one legislature would ratify it. Franklin had to be thinking about his plan long before he left for Albany because an article dated May 9 appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette calling for the colonies to unite against French aggression. The article was accompanied by an illustration depicting the colonies as a segmented snake and bearing the caption, 'JOIN, or DIE.' At the time there was a common superstition that if the segments of a snake were put back together before sunset it would come back to life. This was probably one of the inspirations for the illustration." (emphasis added).

Check out the original site for more info at :

1 Response

Bill Bryant
Bill Bryant

April 21, 2018

Very interesting story, and I love your website!

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