Why is the symbol of the US Democratic Party a donkey and that of the Republican Party an elephant?

Both animals have been associated for years with America’s major parties in part because of Thomas Nast

Political parties are usually known by their initials, by the members of their parties and even by the symbol or logo, imagotypes or isologos that represent them. In the United States, the two major parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, whose leaders represented them in the last US elections were Joe Biden and Donald Trump, are represented, respectively, by a donkey and an elephant. Both illustrations tend to appear frequently, especially when elections are close. Well known, they are pillars of the visual culture of the North American country for various reasons, in which Thomas Nast, a non-conformist cartoonist and one of the most severe satirists, plays an important role.

Like Santa Claus or Uncle Sam, the donkey and the elephant are especially recognized and an emblem for the United States. Two animals that both nationally and internationally are related to the politics of the North American country.

According to American historians, Nast grew up in New York City in the 1840s and 1850s and was brutally bullied by other children. At the end of the 19th century, the cartoonist worked for the cartoon Third Term Panic (‘Panic to a third term’), in which he criticized the political situation at that time and the intentions of the Republican president Ulises S. Grant to run for office by third time, something that was not illegal although it was frowned upon. The information was taken by the New York newspaper, which was related to the Democratic Party.

Thus Nast drew the Herald as a donkey wrapped in a lion’s skin , scaring the other animals with wild stories. Among those animals, was the elephant, which he called “The Republican Vote”, which seems to be about to fall off a cliff. It should be noted that the Democratic Party adopted its traditional donkey – which his opponents considered an ass – thanks to Andrew Jackson, presidential candidate in 1829 and later president in 1837, based on his stubbornness and narrow-mindedness.

Instead of rejecting the label, Jackson, a hero of the War of 1812 who later served in the United States House of Representatives and Senate,  had fun and included an image of the animal (donkey) on his posters. campaign” , explained the History channel about their origins. Jackson had then defeated John Quincy Adams and became the first Democratic president in United States history.

The Republican elephant, for its part, is also believed to have first appeared during an election campaign by Abraham Lincoln in 1860, as a symbol of strength, according to the BBC. Thus, the expression “to see the elephant” was used to “mean and experience combat”.

Nast envisioned the Republican Party as a frightened, weak creature constantly headed in the wrong direction, its size more of a liability than an asset. More often than not, the cartoonist’s cartoons depict elephants and donkeys on the brink of chaos, a fair enough assessment of Republican and Democratic leaders during the Gilded Age.

His work led him to be recognized, in particular, for being the “elaborator” of these two symbols and that these have come to this day thanks to the cartoonist’s particular and humorous way of understanding American politics . The truth is that the citizens of the country adore these political symbols, and these icons, it can be said, carry more weight even than the candidates. Whether by tradition, affinity or because “an image is worth a thousand words”, these symbols are here to stay in the country’s politics.

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