THE ELEPHANT AND THE DONKEY
Thomas Nast was America’s most influential political cartoonist from the Civil War to about the turn of the last century. Nast, a staunch Republican, often used the jackass to portray what he thought of the Democrats: hardheaded, and downright stubborn. The symbol stuck, and Demoncrats made the best of it, by referring to their mascot as a donkey, rather than an ass.
In 1874 and a few weeks before the election, Nast drew a cartoon of a rogue elephant for Harper’s Magazine. The rogue elephant represented the Republican voters, who Nast felt were being panicked by the Democrats. At the time Democrats were spreading rumors that the then running Republican president Ulysses S. Grant had been thinking of running for a 3rd term. Nast’s rogue elephant was a rebuke at Harper’s Magazine’s editor James Gorden Benett, who in a series of articles had criticized Grant. The Republicans adopted the elephant as their symbol, as many thought fitting the image of a tough and thick skinned animal.
Nast was so influential that it is said that Van Gogh had a collection of Nast illustrations in a bound volume which he referred to from time to time.
The issues of the late 1800′s have long gone, but the donkey and elephant are still here, and remain our political reference point whenever we see them.