Don’t Tread on Me: What does it Mean?

By | February 10, 2021

[February 10, 2021]  “Look at that, it’s weird,” my best childhood friend Wilson was transfixed.  Hanging behind the bar in the small town we grew up in was a Gadsden flag with the words Don’t Tread on Me in bold letters.  We were attempting to sell empty coke bottles1 to the bartender when the sheriff arrived and escorted us outside.

The “incident” (as my mama called it) with the sheriff would not go unnoticed.  Later that day, one of the town’s tough-looking war veterans approached us as we walked along, offering to do odd jobs.  He said that he’d heard about us looking at the “THE Flag.”  Go figure, we thought we were in real deep trouble by that time, and he scared us.

I don’t remember much about the veteran, but I recall he gave us a fast education.  Wilson and I would talk about this day many years later.  The vet told us about what the flag symbolized, at least what it meant to him.  He told us that the flag represented the strong protecting the weak, a common theme in the Bible.  We were hooked.  Was that the real meaning behind the flag?

Growing up in rural Louisiana, we were familiar with the Rattlesnake.  I think, truthfully, this is what drew our attention to the flag, not so much the motto scrawled below it.  Even as a young boy, I knew the Rattlesnake would guard his ground and, if you are smart, you will back away slowly.  Rattlesnakes are dangerous only if provoked but are nasty once they bite.  Avoid all rattlesnakes.

The historic First Navy Jack “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. This powerful American symbol was used by the Continental Navy in 1775 and is being used again by the U.S. Navy in the War on Terrorism.

I guess that is what this vet was trying to tell us.  Don’t Tread on Me, was more than a few words on a yellow flag; it had real meaning to those who had fought for our country.  More than anything, the words compared to the Biblical phrase, “the meek shall inherit the Earth.”  Meek refers to someone who is capable of force and decides to use that strength only when needed to protect others.2

The ancient Spartans would have said, molon labe (come and take [them]); a common expression of defiance.  The ancient Romans would have said, Si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war); a warning for interlopers to back off.  Put plainly, Don’t Tread on Me is a statement of resistance, the readiness to use force against those that would do us harm.3

Today, the Gadsden flag and Don’t Tread on Me is a rallying cry for liberty and freedom and strength in the face of oppressors of that liberty and freedom.

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  1. Finding Coke Bottles and Lessons in Leadership | (theleadermaker.com)
  2. If You Want Peace, Prepare for War | (theleadermake.com)
  3. In another example, in Texas, we say in Dutch (actually German) “Das gept es nur Texas” (Don’t mess with Texas!).
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Don’t Tread on Me: What does it Mean?

  1. Not for Joe

    We should all take this theme to heart. Tyranny is coming to America thanks to Joe Biden. 🇺🇸

    Reply
  2. Dennis Mathes

    Another excellent, well-time article from Gen. Satterfield to make my day. I read this article as a patriot. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to me. However, there are many who are anti-American who think they are the best judges of what is good and bad. They are the very same who got a trophy for coming in last in sports. I pity them. Read Gen. Satterfield’s blog on “Everyone Gets a Trophy”. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Stephen Wallace

      Thx Dennis. If we claim we should act as patriots, then the first thing to do is get up our courage. Today, I’m sad to report most Americans are pussy cowards. 🇺🇸

      Reply
    2. Bryan Z. Lee

      Yep, and being a symbol of resistance, don’t tread on me has become the rallying cry of those who desire freedom. While an American symbol, more peoples are finding the flag and the phrase useful to communicate their desires for real freedom.

      Reply
  3. Eric Coda

    “Put plainly, Don’t Tread on Me is a statement of resistance, the readiness to use force against those that would do us harm.” I like the idea that ties this to the Biblical “meek” that has often been misinterpreted to mean just roll over and let the bad guys kill you. There is nothing further from the truth. The Bible is often misrepresented and misinterpreted. Let’s not let that stop us; look for better reviews and better understanding of these ancient ideas.

    Reply
    1. Jonnie the Bart

      Right, Eric. These ideas that are the best and have the most utility tend to float to the top. Just like great stories that are compelling, they become popular because it somehow strikes a chord within us as humans.

      Reply
    2. Jeff Blackwater

      I think in the past, Gen. Satterfield has noted Dr. Jordan Peterson who regularly speaks on this very subject. He calls them Meta Stories or Meta Ideas. Those ideas that have such great staying power because of their usefulness and psychological impact stay with us forever.

      Reply
  4. corralesdon

    As a US Navy vet, I say thank you Gen. Satterfield for a pix of the Navy’s first navy jack.

    Reply
  5. British Citizen

    This is a great leadership website. I’m relatively new to the scene but have grown to love this site. Keep up the good works, Gen. S.

    Reply
  6. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Good research here and I like the comparisons to the old and very ancient Greeks and Romans. Looks like this idea of “Don’t Tread On Me,” is neither new nor original but nevertheless very compelling. Remember however that it takes a bit our courage to resist. Courage matters a great deal. I also recommend the article in Gen. Satterfield’s Daily Favorites: https://quillette.com/2021/02/05/more-weight-an-academics-guide-to-surviving-campus-witch-hunts/ This is about a professor at the Univ of Chicago that successfully fended off cancel culture and how he did it.

    Reply
  7. old warrior

    Looks like you got yourself into some trouble growing up. Do I detect an independence streak in you, Gen. Satterfield? I think you grew up knowing how to kick some real butt.

    Reply
    1. Rev. Michael Cain

      old warrior, you are just too much. i laughed when i read your comment. 😂

      Reply
      1. JT Patterson

        Me too, old warrior’s comments are always shocking and great at the same time.

        Reply
      2. Tracey Brockman

        Yo da man, old warrior. I laughed out loud. I do think that Gen. Satterfield surely got a kick out of it as well.

        Reply
        1. Drew Dill

          It is always great to read a funny comment here. That is just another reason I come to this leadership forum.

          Reply
  8. Max Foster

    Great article. Whenever I read these words “don’t tread on me,” I think of those who resist tyranny like those of us today who are resisting cancel culture, progressivism (which is really the opposite), socialism and communism. Those ideologies are highly destructive and need to be properly resisted.

    Reply
    1. Gil Johnson

      Spot-on comment, as usual, Max. Thanks. I too believe that proper resistance and showing courage are needed to resist the stupidity of these ideologies that are highly destructive (except making you feel good for a few seconds).

      Reply
      1. Omaha Man

        It’s like believing that the govt is here to help. Gee, didn’t Ronald Reagan say something about this one time?

        Reply
    2. Linux Man

      Well said, Max. The point that resistance (don’t tread on me) has been around for so long is because it fits nicely into the good moral sense that many individuals have. They grew up properly and not overly protected by their helicopter parents.

      Reply
      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Yes, Linux Man. How we are raised matters a great deal as it helps form our good, moral character (a long-running theme of Gen. Satterfield).

        Reply
        1. Ted Smeeterivich

          Resist the Democrat Party, progressive idiots, Marxists, and all the other morons out there pulling America down into the gutter.

          Reply

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