On May 9, 1754, the first political cartoon was published by Benjamin Franklin in his Pennsylvania Gazette. Most likely designed by Franklin himself, the snake cut into pieces represents Britain’s American colonies. The cartoon was a reminder that the colonies must unite to defend themselves as they entered the French and Indian War. The snake may have been chosen because of a popular superstition that a snake cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were joined before sunset. As the Revolutionary War approached, the cartoon became an American symbol for unity and love of liberty.
Political cartoons have become an increasingly appreciated teaching tool over the past decade. In 2005, Mount Vernon invited some of the nation’s most popular political cartoonists to draw cartoons to be displayed in our new Donald W. Reynolds Education Center. The high school lesson plan, “Using Political Cartoons to Understand Historical Events,” has students guess their own captions to accompany these cartoons. How do you use political cartoons in your classroom?