Today we’re uncovering the reason why the Democrat Party uses elephants as their logo and the Republican Party uses donkeys. Everyone has seen these symbols before, yet few know what they truly mean. From political ads to cartoons, these signs are present everywhere. We are here to find out the story behind the logo and the significance it holds today. Facts Verse Presents: Why Republicans are Elephants and Democrats are Donkeys.
The elephant and donkey are symbols that have been around for many years, beginning in the 19th century to be exact. The first drawings are traced all the way back to 1828 where a presidential campaign for Andrew Jackson featured less than flattering images. Opponents of Jackson described him as a donkey. In an attempt to defend himself against this title, Jackson decided to make light of it by including a donkey on his campaign posters. Jackson was one of four nominees. He won the most votes due to the fact that none of the candidates had the majority electrical college vote.
In this instance, the U.S. House of Representatives was in charge of selecting the next president. They selected Adams, however, Jackson did not rest. Jackson initiated his own party. This party was known as the “Democrats.” Even after being labeled a “jackass,” he decided to take the title in stride because donkeys are strong and hardworking animals. He won against John Quincy Adams and was elected the first U.S. Democratic president. The donkey is seen as tough, courageous, clever, and at times- stubborn. To this day, the donkey is not officially recognized as the animal for the Democratic Party. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt grew up with a pet donkey as a child. Democrats are the party with longevity in America. Many have compared this to a donkey’s self-preservation, concluding the animal is a good fit for the group.
When it comes to the Republican Party, elephants are strong and dignified. They are powerful if provoked, similar to how the Republican Party was viewed during the 1800s. Thomas Nast was the first to create the association. He drew the republican party as an elephant in an iconic cartoon. Newspapers at the time took notice and adopted the narrative themselves. They started using the elephant to describe Republicans in their own press releases.
The President of Sri Lanka gifted a young elephant to President Reagan in 1984, over a century after the cartoon debut. President Ford and First Lady Betty Ford had a room in their home dedicated to elephants. The couple was gifted elephant accessories, decorations, and furnishings by GOP supporters. The GOP stands for “Grand Old Party.” The original acronym stood for “Gallant Old Party.” A common belief is the name was shortened to “GOP” when a popular newspaper at the time ran out of space. GOP was initiated in 1854. Shortly following the party’s initiation, Republican President Abraham Lincoln was elected into office. Many know the GOP under a different name, “The Party of Lincoln.” This title was gifted after Lincoln won. Ever since Lincoln served his terms, 17 Republican presidents have been elected into office.
However, very few cartoonists have had as massive an impact as Thomas Nast. Nast began his career as a political cartoonist in 1862. He was hired by Harper’s Weekly to create meaningful political cartoons. He used harsh satire to convey a particular idea or message. Nast’s work is best remembered for topics such as the Tammany Hall, Civil War, immigration, and reconstruction.
Nast was born as a military baby in Landau, Germany. Nast’s father was a trombonist for the Bavarian band. His parents, Appolonia and Joseph, had 4 children, two of whom died before Thomas’s birth. Nast’s father had different political views than those of the Bavarian government. As a result, tensions between them grew. By 1846, Nast’s father left Landau and decided to join a French warship and an American warship later on. He sent his wife Appolonia, son Thomas and daughter Andie to live in New York City. When his term was completed, he reunited with them. Nast went to school in New York City and left at the age of 14 to study with Theodore Kaufmann. Nast also attended the National Academy of Design. By 1856, he was hired by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. His drawings were first published by Harper’s Weekly in 1859. His drawings showcased police brutality and corruption. Amazingly enough, Nast was only 18 years old by this point.
In fact, most of Nast’s cartoons regularly featured American Indians and Chinese Americans in a positive light, a contrast to mainstream belief at the time. He ridiculed slavery and called for its abolishment through his cartoons. He strongly opposed racial segregation and abhorred KKK violence. In fact, in support of Black Americans, Nast created a cartoon with the words “Worse Than Slavery” to showcase lynching and arson. He supported the oppressed and sided with victims. However, during the later years of his career, his work incorporated racial stereotypes against blacks.
Let’s take a look into the creations of Nast and exactly where he drew his unique inspiration from. Popular historians believe Nast was brutally bullied as a child. He grew up in New York City during the 1840s and 1850s. Historians have come to this conclusion based on the consistent themes in his work. For example, almost all of his cartoons showcase a hatred for bullies and strong compassion for the victims.
Republicans had been referred to as elephants prior to Nast’s cartoons. The GOP had been associated with the slogan “see the elephant.” This was slang during the Civil War period. This phrase meant “fight bravely.”
The initial “Republican” party which criticized Andrew Jackson was not associated with the party formed decades later, also known as the “Republican Party.” The campaign against Jackson, funded by Adams, is still regarded as one of the worst campaign tricks of all time. Many of Adam’s peers and co-workers described him as spoiled, corrupt and someone who did not have morals. As a result, Adam’s camp criticized and attacked Jackson’s wife for marrying him before being officially divorced from her previous husband. Comparing Jackson to the donkey was the tipping point which normalized the use of donkeys for the Democratic Party, thanks to Jackson’s clever ad. In fact, because Jackson believed the people should rule, his opponent propagated the idea that a bunch of “donkeys” would be ruling the country. This was meant as an insult, directed at Jackson.
The Republican Party is best known for being conservative in regard to its economical and social policies/values. The Democratic Party is best known for being liberal in regard to civil and social equality. While there are major differences between Republicans and Democrats in America, there are certain topics both parties agree upon.
During one of his most popular cartoons entitled “Third Term Panic,” the Republic elephant was popularized. Prior to the midterms, news publication, New York Herald, stated President Grant was debating running for a third term. Presidents were allowed to run for third terms prior to the 22nd amendment, however, it was criticized. Nast supported Lincoln and decided to create a cartoon portraying the New York Herald as a donkey, in lion’s skin. This “lion” was scaring other animals into believing President Grant would become a dictator in his third term. The elephant in the cartoon is headed for a cliff and labeled, “The Republican Vote.” This was a sign of Nast’s feelings regarding the Republican Party at the time of release.
Nast was best known for creating in-depth images, which at some times resembled a circus. He was also known for modernizing Shakespeare’s poems and including them for political purposes. He merged two seemingly different worlds together without a hitch. However, his satire proved to be objective, as he openly criticized his own side. He conveyed the Republican Party as a weak, clumsy creature always headed for disaster. Often times the size of the elephant was too massive for its own good. However, his portals of the Democratic Party weren’t more complimentary. The cartoon he drew in 1879 showed a donkey hanging by its tail, about to fall into “Financial Chaos.” Most of Nast’s cartoons showed the animals seconds away from demise. With the ups and downs of the Gilded Age, his perceptions were spot-on.
By the 1880s, Thomas Nast had become the most feared artist in the political arena. Both parties had their fair share of critics against Nast. Unfortunately, Nast was headed for his own demise by the late 1880s. He lost his wealth in a Ponzi scheme. Many viewed this as an ironic and unfortunate turn of events, seeing as though Nast’s cartoons warned the public against such schemes. By 1890, Nast tried to rebuild his empire. He published a Christmas illustrations book, however, it did not yield the outcome he desired. According to reports, he spent the last 10 years of his life in poor health. Much of his prized work was behind him, however, his impact was felt across the country.
There was a time where American politics were nonexistent. In fact, during George Washington’s presidency, there was neither Republican nor Democrat affiliation. The parties didn’t exist at the time. Washington despised the idea of party affiliation so much so that he ridiculed them during a farewell speech. He believed parties distracted the public councils with mischief. The presidents following Washington formed political parties, something he certainly would not have approved.
While most people only know of the Republican and Democratic parties, there are many “third parties.” These include the Green Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Independent American Party, Libertarian Party, and many more. A third-party candidate only needs 5% of the vote in order to be eligible for federal election funds.
When it comes to American politics today, the elephant and donkey are a staple and have taken on a life of their own since a simple 1800’s cartoon. Nast’s hard work is the reason we associate these symbols with either party today.
Thank you for tuning into this exciting, informative, and historical video. We hope you learned the history behind the classic elephant and donkey symbols. Now that you know where these symbols came from, you have a better understanding of American politics. You can share this video with friends and family to help them learn too! Make sure to give this video a ‘thumbs up’ if you enjoyed and subscribe here for more. We want to know your opinion! What do you think of the elephant and donkey? Do you think they should represent the Republican and Democratic parties? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Thanks again and we’ll see you in the next one.