On November 7th, the Americans elect a new Congress. During the election campaign you come across the elephant, the Republican party symbol and, on the other hand, the donkey, the symbol of the Democratic Party, everywhere in the media, but also on the websites of the parties themselves. In fact, both parties have chosen these animals as their more or less official mascots. But Why are Democrats donkeys and Republicans elephants?
You have to look back almost 200 years to solve the riddle. The year is 1828 and there is an election campaign. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Jackson was often referred to as a ‘jackass’ by his opponents.
The ‘donkey’ was forgotten again. The German-born cartoonist Thomas Nast picked up the democratic donkey in 1870 and popularized it magazine ‘Harper’s Weekly’. The cartoon, published on January 15 of that year, shows a donkey kicking a dead lion. The donkey represents the Lincoln and war critical press of the northern states known as the Copperhead Press, the lion personifies Edwin M. Stanton, popular minister of war under Lincoln, who died on Christmas Eve 1868.
Nast also invented the Republican elephant. In a cartoon from 1874, a donkey in a lion costume frightens all the other animals in the zoo, including an elephant, and is labeled as ‘Republican voters’. The elephant threatens to fall into a trap of inflation and rejection. In later drawings, Nast placed the elephant in exactly this pit.
Thomas Nast was born in Landau, Germany, in 1840 and his family moved to America when he was six years old. His father quickly recognized the artistic abilities of his offspring and promoted his talent. At the age of 15, Nast was given the task of producing illustrations for ‘Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper’. A few years ago, the historian Michael Martin described Nast as the most important American caricaturist of the 19th century.
Because Nast lives on to this day, not only through the heraldic animals of the parties. With one of his drawings, Nast also provided a prototype of Santa Claus as a fat, bearded grandfather. And the symbol of capitalism, the dollar sign, became world-famous through Nast’s caricatures. Now you knew why democrats are donkeys and republicans elephants.