The quote "Don't tread on me" comes from the Gadsden flag, which features the phrase underneath a coiled rattlesnake on a yellow field; the quote and image combine to warn others against taking advantage of Americans. "Don't tread on me" warns that should the American people be provoked, they are likely to strike back as a rattlesnake would if stepped upon. The flag was developed during the American Revolutionary War and was originally directed at the British.
The Gadsden flag was designed by and named for General Christopher Gadsden, who served as the general of South Carolina's military forces during the American Revolutionary War. The snake became a popular symbol during the revolutionary era, due in part to Benjamin Franklin's publications. The first-ever political cartoon published in America features a woodcut done by Franklin; in it, a snake is separated into eight sections to symbolize eight colonies with the phrase "Join or die" inscribed below. In another piece of political satire, Franklin joked that Americans should send rattlesnakes to the British in return for Great Britain's policy of sending convicted criminals to the Americas.
The Gadsden flag has been associated with such political ideologies and movements as libertarianism and the Tea Party.