Republican Elephant

The elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party, and its origins date back to the 19th century. The symbol was popularized by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s.

  1. Thomas Nast’s Cartoon: The first significant use of the elephant to represent the Republican Party appeared in a cartoon published in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874. Nast’s cartoon depicted a donkey (representing the Democratic Party) dressed as a lion, scaring away all the animals at the zoo, including an elephant labeled “The Republican Vote.” This illustration was meant to comment on the political climate and the anxiety of the time.
  2. Symbolism of the Elephant: The elephant was chosen for its qualities of strength, dignity, and intelligence. It was intended to symbolize the strength and steadfastness of the Republican Party.

Democratic Donkey

The donkey is the symbol of the Democratic Party, and its association with the party also dates back to the 19th century, with roots that go even further back.

  1. Andrew Jackson’s Campaign: The use of the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party can be traced back to Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1828. Jackson’s opponents called him a “jackass,” a term he embraced by using the image of a donkey in his campaign posters to symbolize his strong will and determination.
  2. Thomas Nast’s Influence: Thomas Nast also played a role in popularizing the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party through his cartoons. One notable cartoon from 1870 depicted a donkey kicking a dead lion, representing the defunct Copperhead movement, an anti-war faction of Democrats during the Civil War.

Historical Context and Evolution

  • 19th Century Politics: The 19th century was a time of intense political rivalry and change in the United States. Symbols like the elephant and donkey emerged from the rich tradition of political satire and cartooning, becoming shorthand representations of the parties.
  • Adoption and Use: Over time, both parties officially adopted these symbols, which are now widely recognized and used in various political contexts, from campaign materials to media coverage.


The elephant and donkey symbols for the Republican and Democratic parties originated in the 19th century and were popularized by political cartoonist Thomas Nast. The elephant symbolizes the strength and dignity of the Republican Party, while the donkey represents the determination and populist roots of the Democratic Party. These symbols have become enduring representations of the two major political parties in the United States.