If you think presidential campaigns of this age are nasty, imagine the environment in the 1830s, when Andrew Jackson’s political opponents called him a “jackass” for his populist views. Jackson, for his part, embraced the label, going so far as to feature it in their campaign materials. The nomenclature didn’t quite stick, however, and was largely forgotten until cartoonist Thomas Nast, for reasons entirely unrelated, brought it back.
On this day, January 15th, in 1870, an issue of Harper’s magazine featured a cartoon by Thomas Nast. Called “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion,” it symbolized the willingness of democratic papers of the South (depicted by the donkey) to attack a late member of President Lincoln’s cabinet.
Four years later, Nast came up with the first symbolization of Republicans as an elephant. A Harper’s cartoon entitled “Third Term Panic” referenced the (to Nast, overheated) rhetoric of the New York Herald newspaper, which he depicted as an ass in lion’s clothing, scaring away the other forest animals. One of the animals, a trumpeting elephant, on which is written “republican vote” stands near the edge of a pit – a reminder of what could happen to the party in the coming presidential elections.