Join or Die!

Detail from The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia: B. Franklin, May 9, 1754).

“Join, or Die.” With those words Benjamin Franklin urged American colonists to set aside their differences and come together for a common cause, to unite against the French and Indian threat.  In May of 1754 the Pennsylvania Gazette published an image of a snake cut into eight segments with Join or Die printed beneath it. The message was clear. If the colonists couldn’t find a way to set aside their regional differences they would die apart, rather than survive together.  In the 1760’s the image surfaced once again, this time as a rallying cry against the British. We all know how that turned out.

In 2018 those words again have a new meaning.  The Philadelphia 76ers, winners of 52 games (!), recently unveiled their playoff logo and something about it looks familiar.  Encircling the classic Liberty Bell logo is Franklin’s Join or Die snake.  It’s a rallying cry for everyone in Philadelphia to come together and cheer on the local squad. In recent seasons the Sixers have done a great job of embracing the past of the city and putting it front and center. Dribblin’ Ben Franklin, the bi-centennial Liberty Bell, the beautiful red, white, and blue colors and thirteen stars for the original colonies have all been featured prominently by the franchise. But with Join or Die the team has dug a little deeper and found something unique and iconic for what is a very exciting time in Sixers history. However, no longer is the city looking to join with Boston and Washington, this time those (otherwise fine) cities are the enemy. And the call to arms is being answered by Croatians and Cameroonians, Turks and Italians, Australians and Philadelphians. It should come as no surprise that something created over 250 years ago by Ben Franklin still resonates today.

For the duration of the NBA Playoffs the Library Company of Philadelphia will have on display in the Logan Room an original copy of the 1754 Philadelphia Gazette cartoon.  The Library Company is open Monday through Friday, 9:00AM-4:30PM, and is free to the public. 

Francis X. Dolan
Operations and Facilities Manager

(Thanks to Connie King for research assistance)