This Day in History – January 15th, 1870

Thomas NastSatiric cartoonist Thomas “Father of the American Cartoon” Nast (September 27th, 1840 – December 7th, 1902) is a figure who should be more widely remembered. In addition to giving us the modern version of Santa Claus, later appropriated by Coca Cola, he also gave us the caricature of Uncle Sam that seems timeless; Nast did not invent Uncle Sam, but the iconic look is from his cartoons. It is, however, his contribution to politics that really elevates Nast’s place in history as he gave both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party their symbolic animal icons.

During the 19th century, the Republican Party of America represented social progress and Harper’s Weekly and Nast’s cartoons played a very significant role in the election of Ulysses Grant in 1868 and 1872. Nast was passionately opposed to the Democratic Party of his time, which represented more the interests of the rich, and on January 15th, 1870Harper’s Weekly published Nast’s “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion.”

Democraticjackass

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.”

Nast Elephant

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.”

It seems most peculiar that the Democratic Party adopted the donkey as its symbol considering how its origin comes from such a point of criticism . . . but a lot can change over a century later.

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