We see them all the time, the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey, but who invented these symbols for the two major parties in the United States? Well, it won’t be a surprise to students of editorial cartoons. It was Thomas Nast.
Nast didn’t create the donkey, though he popularized it. The donkey came about from Andrew Jackson‘s 1828 Democratic presidential campaign. Jackson’s opponents called him a jackass, but instead of being offended, Jackson made it a symbol of his campaign and it stuck to the party. The man had a sense of humor.
Nast created the elephant when he drew the Democratic donkey dressed in a lion’s skin scaring away all the animals in the zoo except the elephant, who wasn’t afraid. Nast, being a die-hard Republican, labeled the elephant “The Republican Vote.” The symbol has a special fondness for me because it was used for the first time in a November 7, 1874 cartoon, which happens to be my birthday. No, I wasn’t born in 1874. It was much later.
Nast chose the elephant because of its great size and intelligence. The party is still large, but I often wonder when I listen to their overall campaign, what happened to the intelligence?