- Gaining the largest number of votes cast by voters is gaining a what?
- What are the symbols of the republican and democratic parties?
Contents: Why an Elephant?, Origin of "GOP",
Origin of the Republican Party, Fun Facts
Why an Elephant?
The symbol of the elephant first appeared in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874
in a cartoon by Thomas Nast.
Two unconnected events led to the birth of the Republican Elephant. In the political
arena of the time, Ulysses S. Grant was midway through his second term as President and considering a third term. The New
York Herald and illustrated journalists were depicting Grant wearing a crown raising the cry of "Caesarism." The Democrats
had taken up the issue during the mid-term elections in order to disaffect Republican voters.
At the same time, in a completely non-political arena, the Herald
was involving itself in a delightful hoax known as the Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874. They ran a story, totally untrue,
claiming that the animals of the zoo had broken loose and were roaming New York’s Central Park in search of prey.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two events and put them together in a
cartoon for Harper’s Weekly. He showed an ass (symbolizing the Herald) wearing a lion’s skin (the
scary prospect of Caesarism) frightening away the animals in the forest (Central Park). The caption quoted a familiar fable:
"An ass having put on a lion’s skin roamed about in the forest and amused himself by frightening
all the foolish animals he met within his wanderings."
--From William Safire’s
New Language of Politics, Revised edition, Collier Books, New York, 1972.
One of the foolish animals in the cartoon
was an elephant, representing the Republican vote- not the party. It showed the Republican vote being frightened away from
its normal ties by the phony scare of Caesarism. In a subsequent cartoon, after the election in which the Republicans did
badly, Nast showed the elephant in a trap, illustrating how the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance.
Other cartoonists picked up the symbol and it soon ceased to represent the voters, but came to represent the Party itself.
The jackass, now referred to as the donkey, made a natural transition from representing the Herald to representing the Democrats
who had frightened the elephant.
When Andrew Jackson ran for president in 1828, his opponents tried to label him a "jackass" for his populist views and
his slogan, "Let the people rule." Jackson, however, picked up on their name calling and turned it to his own advantage by
using the donkey on his campaign posters. During his presidency, the donkey was used to represent Jackson's stubbornness when
he vetoed re-chartering the National Bank.
The first time the donkey was used in a political cartoon to represent the Democratic party,
it was again in conjunction with Jackson. Although in 1837 Jackson was retired, he still thought of himself as the Party's
leader and was shown trying to get the donkey to go where he wanted it to go. The cartoon was titled "A Modern Baalim and
Interestingly enough, the person credited with getting the donkey widely accepted as the Democratic party's symbol probably
had no knowledge of the prior associations. Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist, came to the United States with his
parents in 1840 when he was six. He first used the donkey in an 1870 Harper's Weekly cartoon to represent the "Copperhead
Press" kicking a dead lion, symbolizing Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had recently died. Nast intended
the donkey to represent an anti-war faction with whom he disagreed, but the symbol caught the public's fancy and the cartoonist
continued using it to indicate some Democratic editors and newspapers.
Later, Nast used the donkey to portray what he called "Caesarism" showing the alleged Democratic uneasiness over a possible
third term for Ulysses S. Grant. In conjunction with this issue, Nast helped associate the elephant with the Republican party.
Although the elephant had been connected with the Republican party in cartoons that appeared in 1860 and 1872, it was Nast's
cartoon in 1874 published by Harper's Weekly that made the pachyderm stick as the Republican's symbol. A cartoon titled
"The Third Term Panic," showed animals representing various issues running away from a donkey wearing a lion's skin tagged
"Caesarism." The elephant labeled "The Republican Vote," was about to run into a pit containing inflation, chaos, repudiation,
By 1880 the donkey was well established as a mascot for the Democratic party. A cartoon
about the Garfield-Hancock campaign in the New York Daily Graphic showed the Democratic candidate mounted on a donkey,
leading a procession of crusaders.
Over the years, the donkey and the elephant have become the accepted symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Although the Democrats have never officially adopted the donkey as a party symbol, we have used various donkey designs on
publications over the years. The Republicans have actually adopted the elephant as their official symbol and use their design
The Democrats think of the elephant as bungling, stupid, pompous and conservative -- but the Republicans think it is
dignified, strong and intelligent. On the other hand, the Republicans regard the donkey as stubborn, silly and ridiculous
-- but the Democrats claim it is humble, homely, smart, courageous and loveable.
1. Adlai Stevenson provided one of the most clever descriptions
of the Republican's symbol when he said, "The elephant has a thick skin, a head full of ivory, and as everyone who has seen
a circus parade knows, proceeds best by grasping the tail of its predecessor