In the middle of the eighteenth century, the French and their Native American allies were in a hostile argument with Britain regarding who owned the vast land west of the Appalachian Mountains. Also at this time, the American colonies were under direct rule of British Parliament and had many responsibilities to fulfill within this country’s mercantile system. Famous colonist, Benjamin Franklin realized the escalation of his mother country’s controversy and determined that the thirteen colonies would soon have to make a decision about which side to fight beside if combat were to ensue. Additionally, he reasoned that said verdict must be unanimous because if the colonies were not in complete harmony, then they would fragment and lose control of power in the Americas. In response to this rhetorical exigence, Franklin published the famous “Join or Die” political cartoon in 1754 as part of the Pennsylvania Gazette; he knew that the most widely read newspaper of the times would surely reel in an enormous audience. He was also particular about the fashion in which he posted “Join or Die.” Franklin illustrated the piece anonymously because the writer was not of significance in this rhetorical situation; all that mattered was the message that all colonies must fight together as one English entity during the upcoming war. The historic “Join or Die” campaign persuaded the American colonists to unite with one another and England during the onset of the French and Indian War by utilizing an influential slogan, characters that directly represent the target audience, and a symbolic setting of a snake’s body.
Franklin initially grasped his spectators’ attention by employing an influential slogan- “Join or Die.” The first portion of the motto, “Join,” was particularly powerful because it appealed to ethos. By using this solitary word, Franklin showed that it was the colonists’ ethical duty to come together because they were all sent to the Americas under the same leader and for the same economic function. Consequently, that makes them obligated to “join” the English side as one unit. Similarly, Franklin created the second portion, “Die,” equally as compelling by appealing to logos. The single word accomplished this task by implying that the French had Indian allies in very close proximity to the colonists and these ruthless natives would surely attack their eastern region after annexing the land west of the Appalachians. Additionally, the word explains that if this were to happen, then the Native Americans and their French companions would have too much firepower to be stopped with a mere thirteen separated colonies. Therefore, the only logical thing for colonists to do was join forces with each other and Britain for protection, or they would undoubtedly “die” in battle. The “Join or Die” motto’s effectiveness is also attributed to Franklin’s style of presentation. He uses only three total words in the cartoon to depict the absolute significance of each of them. Additionally, Franklin places them beneath a bold line with all capitalized letters in order to stress the importance of taking part in the civic engagement duty.
Consequently, the same audience that was just attracted to the “Join or Die” slogan would feel a deep connection to the cartoon upon analysis because the characters within it directly represented their homes. The image in “Join or Die” is a snake that is cut into eight distinct slices. Despite the fact there were only eight sections, each piece of the snake signified one of the thirteen American colonies. One colony absent from Franklin’s illustration was Delaware because it was part Pennsylvania at the time of its publication. Correspondingly, Georgia was omitted because it was a relatively new colony and was considered a “defenseless frontier area that could contribute nothing to common security” (Newbold qtd. in Gevinson). Lastly, the New England region was depicted as one segment, rather than four different colonies. Franklin’s choice of place was also significant to his colonial audience because the characters were aligned within the snake according to geographic location. Since the tail was pointing south, the colony closest to the tail was South Carolina- the southernmost colony along the American east coastline. Likewise, the head is facing north, so the segment nearest the head was labeled New England- the northern most colonies geographically. By viewing the close propinquity of the colonies in the drawing, the colonists realized that it would be beneficial to put the pieces of the snake together and form one dominant reptile to fight with Britain against the French and Native Americans. Clearly, seeing their own region and its potential as a team in Franklin’s cartoon persuaded the colonists to unite.
Likewise, Franklin structured his campaign portrait in the form of a snake to symbolize a superstition that would certainly persuade his audience upon examination. In 1754 a common myth was that if a snake had been cut to pieces, it could only come back to life if the segments were reassembled before sunset. Such an allegory signified the colonists’ situation exactly because they were being divided over the debate of which side to ally during the upcoming French and Indian War, if they decided to intervene at all. By making this connection, Franklin was appealing to pathos and trying to evoke fear in the readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. He determined that viewers would obtain a new sense of urgency regarding this upcoming war and realize that they must act immediately to put their segmented pieces back together. By doing so Franklin convinced the colonists that if they wait until the sun sets on peaceful discussions and the French and Indian war begins without them on Britain’s side, they will all “die.”
Clearly in terms of effect, the “Join or Die” campaign was a successful rhetorical piece because the American colonists banded together and fought a seven-year long war against the French and their Indian allies after the political cartoon was published. Many individuals in the thirteen colonies were mesmerized when the Pennsylvania Gazette released Benjamin Franklin’s masterpiece, which caused them to unite with their fellow colonists and their British leaders in this aggressive feud. In regards to ethics, “Join or Die” played a major role in the unraveling of American history. For instance, at the end of the French and Indian War the two sides met and negotiated many deals at a conference in 1763. The British and its colonies in America received many beneficial compromises at this assembly because it appeared that they had the upper hand when fighting came to a close at the end of those long seven years. For example, they received control of Canada form France and Florida from Spain. Additionally, they strengthened colonial dominance in the Americas by seizing the Mississippi Valley and using it for westward expansion. All of these important landmarks that eventually encompassed the United States would not have been annexed if the thirteen colonies did not decide to unite with one another and England in the French and Indian War.
Correspondingly, “Join or Die” also highlights ethics by its repeated use in America from the time of its creation until modernity. For instance, Franklin’s campaign was so persuasive on eighteenth century individuals during the onset of war, that it was manifested once again during the approach of another landmark war. Before the American Revolution, “Join or Die” could frequently be seen on posters and throughout newspapers as a rallying cry for Patriots who, ironically, wanted to rebel together against their British leaders. Similarly in contemporary culture, “Join or Die” is portrayed in many forms as a means of banding together as a team. For example, The Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer team has a Latin motto stating “Invgite aut Perite,” which roughly translates to “Join or Die.” Evidently, Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” campaign proves to be the epitome of a convincing piece by using various rhetorical strategies to persuade not only colonists in the eighteenth century, but also people in today’s society.
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