Why Do a Donkey and an Elephant Represent Democrats and Republicans?

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why do a donkey in an elephant represent

Democrats and Republicans the donkey is

stereotypically bumbling slow and

stubborn the elephant big and clumsy

being compared to one of these animals

is not exactly flattering in this sense

yet for well over a century they have

been the popular symbols of America's

major political parties the donkey for

the Democrats and the elephant's for the

Republicans so how did the donkey and

the elephant enter into the political

lexicon as one could imagine it all

started out with an insult the 1828

presidential election between Republican

not to be confused with the modern

Republican Party which was formed a few

decades later John Quincy Adams and

Democrat Andrew Jackson is still

considered one of the dirtiest campaigns

ever run in American politics Jackson

and his supporters called Adams corrupt

spoiled and a libertine someone who

lacked moral restraints usually in

reference to sexual matters

Adams supporters attacked Jackson's

military record his violent temper his

disrespect for authority and most

unfairly his wife for marrying Jackson

before she was properly divorced earlier

Jackson killed a man for issuing this

same insult they also called Jackson a

jackass comparing him to a stubborn dumb

donkey Jackson was famously known as a

populist and his slogan let the people

rule reinforce this Republicans claimed

that if the people ruled it would be a

bunch of jackasses ruling the country

but Andrew Jackson the savvy politician

he was turns the jackass into a positive

symbol he pointed out the virtues of

being a jackass in campaign addresses

persistence loyalty and the ability to

carry a heavy load it also symbolized

humble origins and simplistic virtues

and ode to the common man

this helps Jackson further differentiate

himself from the aristocratic Adams

Jackson wanted to be the president of

choice for everyday citizens he soon put

the donkey on his campaign posters and

referenced it in speeches Jackson

continued to be associated with a donkey

even after his presidency when an 1837

political cartoon depicted him


to lead a donkey who refused to follow

this was to show that the Democratic

Party the donkey would not be led by the

previous president Jackson from here the

donkey only made rare appearances as the

symbol for the Democrats until later in

the century the elephant as the

Republican symbol now referring to the

modern Republican Party first made an

appearance during the 1864 presidential

election in a pro Lincoln newspaper

father Abraham really it was more

political propaganda than newspaper

though of course the same could be said

for a large percentage of news outlets

throughout history and even today when

it comes to matters of politics father

Abraham depicted an elephant carrying a

banner and celebrating Union victories

in the war at the time the well-known

slang phrase seeing the elephant meant

to engage in combat so how did these two

animals go from here to popularly

representing the Democrats and the

Republicans this is thanks to famed

political cartoonist Thomas Nast Nast

started becoming famous at the onset of

the civil war in 1861 he was working for

Harper's Weekly at the time and

illustrated over 55 engravings of

battles and war scenes in December of

1862 at last debuted his version of

Santa Claus the jolly old fat man in a

red suit we now know today prior to

Nast's depiction of st. Nick he was

always shown as more of a religious

figure and much less jolly do note here

that Nast's legacy also includes

popularizing the aid Lincoln look of

Uncle Sam and popularizing Columbia the

iconic image of America as a woman later

in the political arena he called out

boss tweeds political machine helped get

Ulysses Grant elected president and

brought to light the savagery of the Ku

Klux Klan's campaigns against

african-americans he also bears mentions

popularized the donkey as the symbol for

the Democrats and the elephants as the

Republican symbol in a cartoon called

a live jackass kicking a dead lion that

ran in an 1870 issue of Harper's Weekly

he used the donkey to represent the

Copperhead Democrats a faction of

northern Democrats that were in

opposition to the Civil War in Ursa

donkey is kicking a dead lion who was a

stand-in for the recently deceased

Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton last

afford Copperhead Demick

we're anti-union and believed the

press's treatment of staunton was

disrespectful in 1871 the Republican

elephant made another appearance this

time in a Nast cartoon in Harper's

Weekly to remind Republicans that their

intra-party fighting could cause them to

lose the election but the 1874 cartoon

entitled third term panic really

solidified the symbolism for both

animals ulysses s grant whom Nast was a

supporter and good friend of had been

president for two terms elected in 1868

and again in 1872 and was contemplating

a run for a third term it wouldn't be

until 1951 in the 22nd amendment that a

term limit was placed on the presidency

thanks in no small part to FDR's four

term run the New York Herald very much

opposed grants political run and wrote

several articles complaining of Cesar

ISM meaning military or imperial

dictatorship in third term panic it

shows a donkey wearing the skin of a

lion with Cesar ISM emblazoned on it

scaring off other animals including a

wobbly unbalanced elephant labeled as

the Republican boat about to fall into a

pit labeled inflation and chaos though

grant didn't end up running masks

cartoon didn't do enough to prevent the

herald Caesar ISM claims from working

the Republicans ended up losing control

of the house in the election and Nast

showed his disappointment with another

cartoon in November of that year an

elephant caught in a trap that was set

by a donkey

thanks to Nast by 1880 the donkey and

the elephants became the accepted

symbols used by other political

cartoonists and writers for the two

political parties and the association

has stuck around since and now for some

bonus facts Thomas Nast was a functional

illiterate he couldn't read or write

which probably explained why he drew

pictures and could connect with others

so well through his drawings as his

cartoons progressed they began to

incorporate words which were written in

by his editor or wife in fact when he

first married he had his wife read to

him while he drew later in life when he

had more money

he hired scholars to read him from

science physics and history books as

well as Shakespeare and Twain so really

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