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Why is the Elephant a Symbol of the Republican Party?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many attribute the first use of the elephant as a symbol of the Republican Party in the US to the political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902). He can certainly be credited with giving both the Democratic and Republican parties their mascots, and assigned the donkey to the Democratic Party. Nast’s depiction of the unofficial mascot of the Democratic Party was never meant to be flattering, but nevertheless, the Democrats took on what was initially an insult and made it their own.

As symbol of the Republican party, the elephant represented Nast’s political sentiments toward his own party, and also some of his despair that some of the qualities associated with that party seemed to be waning. Nast also wasn’t the first to use this symbol. His first drawing of the elephant occurred in 1874, but some of Lincoln’s campaign materials had a picture of an elephant too, and another cartoon depicting the party as an elephant was popularly viewed in 1872.

Nast’s initial drawing occurred in a cartoon titled “The Third Panic,” and it depicts the elephant as bounding into a pit across broken boards with the words inflation, reform, and repudiation written on them. Nast’s drawing represents his view of the party’s decline, especially in light of a financial panic at the time. According to Nast, the Republicans were falling victim to scare tactics of the Democrats and abandoning their party’s platform.

Prior to Nast’s use of the elephant, the eagle had been a common symbol of the Republican party, but in part due to Nast’ prowess as a cartoonist, the elephant replaced the eagle in short order, and the Republican party officially adopted the large animal as its symbol. Though Nast’s depiction was not that flattering and emphasized his own worries about a changing party, the elephant was still a large animal, and thought to have both dignity and strength. These qualities were considered admirable.

Today’s most common representation of the elephant incorporates the colors and stars of the American flag. This symbol of the Republican Party is not quite as realistically drawn as the counterpart Democrat donkey. Yet it is still quite recognizable as the political pachyderm symbolizing strength, wisdom, long memory and the like.

It’s not a stretch to associate the elephant with many Republican platforms, though it can be said that Nast’s political fears did materialize. In a way, especially moving into the Great Depression and thereafter the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the parties dynamically changed. There is almost a total flip of platforms in the modern parties, though not an exchange of symbols.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Bhutan — On Sep 29, 2010

SurfNturf-Right now the Republican Party 2010 really has an opportunity to shine in the mid-term elections.

The country is moving right and there is an inevitable conservative ascendency which is evident in many of the current elections.

Many of the Bush Republicans are viewed as moderate, and referred to as “Establishment Republicans” who have moved away from classic Republican principles.

A perfect example was when Karl Rove, the Political Advisor of George W Bush criticized the voters of Delaware for selecting Christine O’Donnell as the Republican Senatorial candidate in Delaware which was vacated by Biden.

The other Republican candidate was viewed as moderate and had a substantial history with the people of Delaware. The problem was that his voting record was extremely liberal in a time when the country is decidedly more conservative.

Only time will tell if O’Donnell will be vindicated, but at least the Republican Party is going back to its roots of Reagan Conservatism.

By surfNturf — On Sep 29, 2010

Sneakers41- A democratic vs. republican views is very different.

The National Democrat party has opposing views to that of the Republicans.

They believe in strong governmental intervention in order to develop programs to help the disadvantaged.

They believe in higher taxes on businesses as well as the general public in order to fund these programs.

Currently for example, unemployment benefits have lasted 99 weeks. The Democrats wanted to help those in need, but critics say that while many are unable to find work, some people stopped looking until their check is about to run out.

By sneakers41 — On Sep 29, 2010

A republican versus democrat is based on political ideology. Republicans believe in small government which essentially means little governmental intervention.

They generally believe that supply side economics is the way to grow the economy. For instance, the Republicans feel that if you give businesses tax breaks it allows them to grow and hire more workers.

They feel that this stimulates the economy because people have jobs and money to spend. They also believe in lower taxes.

They believe that if people would keep more of the money that they make they will also have more to spend and will also spur the economy on. The Republican National Party platform also shows a strong stance on foreign policy with an active military.

On social issues, traditional Republicans believe in reducing welfare programs and instead offering people job training skills in effort to get a job and feel good about them.

In the 90’s Mayor Giuliani developed many Welfare to Work programs that allowed people to be self sufficient.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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