Ask Harley

The United States has two main political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. It is customary to represent the Democrats by a donkey and the Republicans by an elephant.

How did these customs originate?

There is no exact origin for the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant. There were introduced at separate times and, over the years, evolved into well-known political symbols.

The donkey: In the 1828 presidential campaign, Andrew Jackson's opponents labeled him a jackass (a male donkey). Jackson, a Democrat, turned the insult to his own use and began to use a donkey on his campaign posters. Later, after his election, the donkey was used to symbolize Jackson's stubbornness.

The elephant: In 1874, a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, published a cartoon for the New Yorker magazine in which an elephant, representing Republican voters, was running into a tar pit of inflation and chaos. The cartoon also featured a Democratic donkey.