“Join, or Die:” America’s First Meme

Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 version of the iconic reptile.

The “Join, or Die” snake is one of America’s most recognizable, beloved and replicated icons. Emblazoned on flags and t-shirts, pillow cases and iPhone cases, and even on tv show title cards and in comic books, the image is upheld today as a both specifically as an emblem of American independence, and generally as bid for unity against a common oppression. But the world’s most adored reptile didn’t start this way.

Created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, the “Join, or Die” snake originally signified loyalty to the English empire. It wasn’t a call to action, but an order to fall into line. It was only later that “Join, or Die” evolved into a revolutionary rallying cry — and when it did, it became America’s first meme, too.

Continue reading

The Incredible Arthur Ellerman

The Ellerman crew circa 1917. Based on his football background, I think Arthur’s standing second from right.


A history book’s minor character becomes the author’s editorial sidepiece, resulting in an essay that includes log cabins, net neutrality, research methods, Twin Peaks, romance, politics and one very good dog.

Continue reading

Meghan Markle Tops Donald Trump

An estimated 29 million Americans tuned in early Saturday morning to watch Meghan Markle marry Prince Harry. That’s about 5 million more than in England itself, and about six million more Americans than who watched Will and Kate Middleton marry seven years ago.

Why did so many more viewers tune in to this wedding versus the last? Are there more televisions now than there were then? Is it that we love Harry more than Will; because we’re all fans of Suits, the show on which Markle starred; or is it because Meghan’s biracial and her entry into the British royal family is a watershed historical moment?

Sure, all of that makes sense, but it seems to me that so many Americans are enthusiastic about Meghan Markle becoming the Duchess of Sussex because we like seeing a polished and seemingly empathetic American representing us on the international stage. With the buffoon president’s steady stream of racist, hateful rhetoric, general dishonesty and pungent nastiness sullying our national name, it’s nice to have an American standing with/for dignity and grace —and not just an American, but a biracial woman whose path — and the once-stodgy royal family’s embrace of — is the emotional and sociopolitical opposite of all President Trump represents.

Meghan Markle is the face of America’s future; Donald Trump and his reactionary racism are its past.

(PS: I was going to have a photo of Trump next to fresh-faced Markle for juxtaposition purposes, but it just didn’t feel right having his ugly mug next to such beauty.)

‘Ultra Rich’ In America, 1883-Today

Hundreds of the planet’s richest and glitziest will gather today to kick off the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That said, this week’s etymological adventure revolves around the term “ultra-rich.”

Continue reading

Make FDR’s Four Freedoms a Reality

While weekend postings are rare around these parts, today’s the 77th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech, the president’s 1941 State of the Union speech that gave hope to millions living in the shadow of World War II, inspired generations of civil rights leaders in the decades ahead and which spurred painter Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” quadriptych, each of the four images illustrating life filled with free speech, free worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

With our country’s most sanctified institutions and beliefs under assault, with inequality running rampant and national stress levels through the roof, I’ve included the relevant text of that landmark speech after the jump. May Roosevelt’s word come true some day soon.

Continue reading

4 Timeless Notes From an 1837 U.S. History

Something of a follow-up to that last post, research for book 2 recently led me to Samuel Goodrich’s 1837 title, Peter Parley’s Universal History on the Basis of Geography, a world history that includes some general but timeless thoughts on sustaining the integrity and wherewithal of the U.S. Government.

They seem particularly pertinent to today’s unprecedented times.

  1. We live in a fine country, we have a good form of government, but these will not insure happiness. If the people become indolent, or if they become wicked, ruin and desolation will visit this land. Government may be compared to a house; those who live in it must take good care of it.


  1. …In short, the whole establishment must be taken care of by people who are worthy of being trusted, people who are skillful, and who cannot be tempted to neglect their duty.


  1. If the house is entrusted to careless, ignorant or faithless people, it may take fire, and the inhabitants be burned up. Or it may decay and fall down upon the heads of those who dwell in it…. It may thus become a miserable and comfortless habitation….


  1. It is so with government. If careless, ignorant or faithless rulers are chosen to take care of the country, wars and commotions may follow; poverty and vice may spread over the land; ignorance and misery may take the place of knowledge and prosperity. Thus, the government, which, like a house, is designed to protect us, when ill managed, like a house on fire, or borne down by the tempest, may be the cause of our ruin.