The elephant. The donkey. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. The elephant has been known to run at the sight of the mouse while the donkey is well, an ass. So how did these two unlikely animals become the symbols of American government?
It all started back in 1828 when Democrat Andrew Jackson was running for president. Jackson’s campaign slogan was “Let the People Rule”; however, his opponents labeled him a populist…and a jackass. Instead of being offended, Jackson took the comparison in stride and used it as a campaign symbol. When he was president, his opponents used the animal to mock his stubbornness.
But the Elephant and the Donkey officially became intertwined by Thomas Nast, a cartoonist “Harper’s Weekly” magazine on this date, November 7th, in 1874. Nast’s cartoon, “Third Term Panic”, shows a donkey in a lion’s skin, labeled “Caeserism.” Nast was referring to Democrat President Taft who had served two terms and was considering a third; thus, implying Traft was seeking total power or Ceasarism. The donkey is scaring away many animals, including an elephant labeled “The Republican Vote.” The cartoon is modeled after Aesop’s fable, which says a fool may disguise his appearance but his words will give him away.
The caption read, “‘An Ass, having put on the Lion’s skin, roamed about in the Forest, and amused himself by frightening all the foolish Animals he met with in his wanderings.’ — Shakespeare or Bacon.’”
Nast eventually shortened “The Republican Vote” to just “Republican”, other cartoonists followed suit, and the symbols of both parties were born!
Happy 244th birthday to these political party animals!