January 15

This Day in History

General Interest

Jan 15, 1870:

First appearance of the Democratic donkey

On January 14, 1870, the first recorded use of a donkey to represent the Democratic Party appears in Harper's Weekly. Drawn by political illustrator Thomas Nast, the cartoon is entitled "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion." The jackass (donkey) is tagged "Copperhead Papers," referring to the Democrat-dominated newspapers of the South, and the dead lion represents the late Edwin McMasters Stanton, President Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war during the final three years of the Civil War. In the background is an eagle perched on a rock, representing the postwar federal domination in the South, and in the far background is the U.S. Capitol.

Four years later, Nash originated the use of an elephant to symbolize the Republican Party in a Harper's Weekly cartoon entitled "The Third-Term Panic." The cartoon referred to the disparaging response by The New York Herald to the possibility that Republican President Ulysses S. Grant might seek a third-term. The New York Herald is depicted as a donkey wearing lion's skin labeled "Caesarism." This bogus lion is frightening several timid animals identified with the names of opposing newspapers, such as The New York Times and The New York Tribune, while a berserk elephant, labeled "Republican vote," is tottering above a chasm labeled "Chaos" as it tosses to the right and the left the few remaining platform planks holding its weight. The caption of the cartoon reads: "An Ass having put on the Lion's skin, roamed about the Forest, and amused himself by frightening all the foolish Animals he met with in his wanderings."

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