How the Democrats and Republicans got their mascots

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – In American history, one thing has at least remained constant with the country's two main political parties – their mascots.

A cartoonist is credited more than a century ago with popularizing the symbols of the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant, which both still carry meaning today.

The donkey first became associated with the Democrats when Andrew Jackson ran for president in 1828.

Jackson's opponents often chided him for his stubborn, obstinate demeanor, likening his name to a less than polite name for a donkey.

Jackson, however, ran with it and branded the donkey differently, saying the animal represents a steadfastness and determination.

The donkey became even more synonymous with the Democrats in the late 1800s, when political illustrator Thomas Nast regularly portrayed the party and its politicians as donkeys.

Nast, a staunch Republican, drew a cartoon entitled "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion" in 1870. Nast wrote the words "Copperhead Papers" on the donkey, referring to the Southern newspapers that sided with the Democrats, with the dead lion representing Edwin Stanton, President Lincoln's secretary of war during the final three years of the Civil War.

Four years later, Nast related the elephant to the Republicans.

In a cartoon entitled "The Third-Term Panic," the artist drew a donkey wearing a lion's costume to symbolize fear sparked by the left-leaning newspapers that Ulysses S. Grant would run for a third presidential term.

The elephant in that particular cartoon represented the Republican vote and is seen running scared.

Since those renderings were done, the images of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant have somehow stuck.

Today's political parties are less concerned about the commentary of the past and would rather voters focus on the character traits that the elephant and donkey have come to symbolize.

Taylor Riddle, the Craighead County Democratic Committee's field director, says the donkey represents the diligence of his party and hopes voters agree on Election Day.

"Donkeys are believed to carry a lot of weight and to be hard workers," Riddle said. "To me that reflects the people of Arkansas."

Brian Richardson, a fellow Democrat, echoed that sentiment.

"Donkeys are good weight carriers," said Richardson, who serves as Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington's manager for his U.S. Congressional campaign. "They (donkeys) carry the weight of the working class of Arkansas on their shoulders."

Local Republicans, however, say the Democrats are stubborn, which is the same criticism leveled against Jackson 184 years ago.

"One of the biggest characteristics of the elephant is integrity," said Anna Broadaway, who has volunteered for the local GOP organization.

Broadaway and other volunteers said Monday that integrity and strength not only reflect an elephant's disposition but also represent their party's slate of candidates this year.

"The elephant is kind of like a symbol of honesty," said Mitchell Bivens, a member of the College Republicans at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. "I feel like the Republican Party does a good job of showing that."

That's a claim that, of course, the Democrats disagrees with.

"You know the old term that elephants don't ever forget. Well, I don't necessarily know if that's true," Richardson said, "because a lot of times it appears that the Republican Party forgets the people they were sent to serve."

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