Where did the symbols of the donkey and elephant for the two political parties of the US originate?

Donkey and Elephant Symbols

The Republican elephant was created by cartoonist Thomas Nast and appeared in _Harper's Weekly_, Nov. 7, 1874. Before then, an 1860 issue of _Railsplitter_ and an 1872 _Harper's Weekly_ also had cartoons connecting Republicans with elephants.

In New York, in 1874, there was a story written as a hoax by the _New York Herald_ saying that the animals of the Central Park Zoo had broken loose and were running wild in Central Park. The same Thomas Nast used the jackass in a cartoon using it to depict the _Herald_. This ultimately shifted to represent the Democratic party and the name changed to donkey.


Just corrected the reference to the initial appearance of the Thomas Nast cartoon in Harper's Weekly - Nov. 7, 1874, not 1974.

From Yahoo:

We've always thought it a little strange that our nation's most prominent political parties are represented by two less-than-majestic animals. There must be a good reason why the Republicans use a pachyderm and the Democrats use an ass so we set out to find it.

We started our search by typing "republican elephant" into the search field. Although we didn't receive any Yahoo! category matches, we did receive 4,710 relevant web pages.

The first search result took us to "Origin Of The Republican Elephant," a web page on the Republican National Committee web site.

According to the site, the symbol of the party was born in the imagination of cartoonist Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper's Weekly on November 7, 1874. The entire explanation is rather convoluted, but the whole story is outlined in the article.

Interestingly, Nast is also the person credited with gaining wide-spread acceptance of the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic party, although he was not the first to use the symbol.

The Republican National Committee web site provided a stellar answer, so we decided to use its counterpart, The Democratic National Committee web site to find the origin of the donkey. When we arrived at the site, we immediately searched for "donkey" and were presented with a number of pages. We clicked on the first document listed, "The Democratic Donkey," and found some interesting history behind its use.

  • When Andrew Jackson ran for president in 1828, his opponents tried to label him a "jackass" for his populist views and his slogan, "Let the people rule." Jackson turned it to his advantage by using the donkey on his campaign posters.
  • In 1837, the donkey was used in a political cartoon for the first time to represent the Democratic party, again in conjunction with Jackson. Jackson was retired, but still considered himself the party's leader. The cartoon, titled "A Modern Baalim and his Ass," showed Jackson trying to get the donkey to go where he wanted it to go.
  • Twice in the early 1870s, Thomas Nast used the donkey to represent the Democrats. He first used the animal in an 1870 Harper's Weekly cartoon to represent the "Copperhead Press" kicking a dead lion. He later used the donkey to portray what he called "Caesarism" showing the alleged Democratic uneasiness over a possible third term for Ulysses S. Grant. This later cartoon also marked the first use of the Republican elephant.

The donkey and the elephant have become the accepted symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties, even though the Democrats have never officially adopted the donkey as a party symbol. The Republicans, however, have actually adopted the elephant as their official symbol.