Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Transmission

Why The Donkey Vs. The Elephant?

"The Third-Term Panic," by Thomas Nast, was originally published in "Harper's Magazine" in 1874 and is considered the point when the donkey and elephant came to symbolize the two parties.
"The Third-Term Panic," by Thomas Nast, was originally published in "Harper's Magazine" in 1874 and is considered the point when the donkey and elephant came to symbolize the two parties.
In U.S. politics, the Democratic Party has been represented by a donkey and the Republican Party by an elephant for decades. But few people know how long they've symbolized the two big parties, or where the symbols even came from.

The donkey's first use in political parlance to represent the Democratic Party came in 1828, during the presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a popular war hero (after victories in the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War) and ran a campaign under the slogan "Let the People Rule."

Jackson's opponents attacked him as a populist and branded him a "jackass." But Jackson liked the comparison and used the jackass/donkey as a campaign symbol. Opponents later used the jackass/donkey to represent Jackson's stubbornness in office.

But the person who is most responsible for making the donkey a symbol of the Democrats and the elephant a symbol of the Republicans was a cartoonist for "Harper's Weekly" magazine, Thomas Nast.

He first used the donkey in 1870 to represent an antiwar faction he disagreed with, and the next year he used the image of an elephant in a cartoon warning Republicans that their infighting would hurt them in upcoming elections.

But it was his November 7, 1874 cartoon titled "Third Term Panic" that would forever link the animals as symbols of each party.

At the time, Republican Ulysses S. Grant had served two terms as president and was considering running for a third. In the cartoon, a donkey wearing a lion's skin labeled "Caeserism" frightens off other animals, including an elephant identified as "The Republican Vote."

The caption reads: "'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 was referring to a series of editorials in the "New York Herald" attacking President Grant for seeking a third term and for what it called his "Caeserism," or undemocratic attempt to seize imperial power. The cartoon's imagery is from Aesop's fable "The Ass in the Lion's Skin," with the moral being that a fool may disguise his appearance but his words will give him away.

Nast continued to use the elephant to symbolize the "Republican vote" until eventually it simply became "Republicans." Soon other political cartoonists followed suit and the donkey and elephant became widely used as the symbols of the two parties.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
November 06, 2012 15:20
I always wondered why the Democrats had not apparently bothered enough to remove such unappealing character - the Ass - as the unofficial symbol of their party. Or perhaps there was such an effort and it failed? The article could have explored this issue in more detail.

by: Sgt. Barefoot from: USA
November 07, 2012 21:20
Faced today with Liberals placing the cart before the Donkey, The Obama presidency, is like a footrace to keep a fresh carrot. No sticks, just feed the donkey! The "cart" (economic recovery) hasn't moved, and the "donkey" sits on a pile of "dung' (the deficit)!

Elephants are characterized to stampede at the sight of a mouse, simple enough reason why Democrats can't seem to work with Republicans.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

Most Popular