But the party animals I’m referring to are the mascots of the two political parties of the Republicans and the Democrats. The elephant is the well-known symbol of the Republicans, and the donkey is like-wise the symbol of the Democrats. So where did these two figures come from? And why were these two creatures the chosen beasts-of-choice? This is where the story has some interesting twists and turns.
You have to go way back to the earlier part of the 1800s to discover the first uses of these animals in representing their party’s image before the American public. When Andrew Jackson was running for the presidency in 1828, his opponents referred to him as a “jackass.” As often is the case in history, the derogatory name used by ones opponents becomes the name of the movement. Seizing on the pejorative term, Jackson, a Democrat, selected the donkey as his symbol, admiring its strong-willed temperament. The donkey was so effectively embraced by Jackson that he used it to represent the Democratic Party on posters in 1837. Jackson was also known for being stubborn and hard-headed – traits usually associated with a donkey. I guess you could say that Andrew Jackson rode this imagery all the way to the presidency. Besides the posters of 1837, a cartoon was published depicting Jackson, now retired, seated on a stubborn donkey, attempting unsuccessfully to get the donkey to go a certain direction. Jackson considered himself the self-acclaimed leader of the Democratic Party. The cartoon was entitled, “A Modern Balaam and his Ass.”
As for the elephant, the Republicans adopted this caricature as their party symbol after it had been used by political cartoonist, Thomas Nast in 1874. Nast, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, created a cartoon in which he attempted to put the Republicans in a bad light due to the suggestion that Republican President Ulysses S. Grant might consider running for an unprecedented third term as president. The character in the cartoon representing the Republican vote was an elephant. The media, along with a complicit and anxious Democratic Party, lambasted the Republicans, effectively causing many Republican voters to shy away from voting for Grant. The cartoon also featured a donkey antagonizing a hapless pachyderm. The images were quickly picked up by the media, and subsequently the American public, and have been the main identifiers of the two parties ever since.
“The Democratic donkey represents hard work, diligence, humbleness and a dedication to the USA. The Republicans however, strongly disagree and consider the donkey a symbol of stubbornness.
“On the other hand, the Republican elephant represents intelligence, dignity and is considered as the symbol of strength (as it is seen as the only animal that stood up to a lion). In contrast to this, the Democrats see the elephant as comparable to a circus animal.” http://blog.logodesignguru.com/democratic-republican-logo-designs/
Artist and cartoonist, Thomas Nast, was born in 1840 in Germany. He came to the United States, settling in New York City, where he soon assimilated into the American way of life. Besides being credited with creating the donkey and elephant symbols for the two dominant political parties, he became equally as famous for two other cartoon characters that are loved and revered by young and old alike not only in America, but throughout the world. Nast did not live long enough to see the impact of these two images, as he passed away in 1902.
What are the famous cartoon characters Mr. Nast created that live on today, you ask? Why, the first one was a red-cheeked, jolly fat man known as Santa Claus! Prior to Nast’s depiction of Santa as we think of him today, artistic drawings of Santa showed a slender character without the jovialness of our current Santa.
The second cartoon character that is part of our American image and legacy is that of the tall, dignified elderly gentleman we have come to call, Uncle Sam.
So, whichever party you affiliate with, or you remain party-neutral, you now know about the origins of the Republican and Democratic Party logos. And you have the added bonus of knowing that Thomas Nast (re)created the images of Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.