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150 Years Ago: Thomas Nast & Democrat Donkey

On January 15, 1870 Thomas Nast drew his first Democratic Donkey cartoon. The repeated use of the image by the Dean of American Editorial Cartooning insured that the symbol would become lasting. By the 1880s it was understood by all that The Donkey equaled The Democrats.

The above cartoon is often called the first use of the donkey as a stand-in for Democrats; as is often the case (think Yellow Kid as the first comic strip) it is not.

 

The donkey equals Democrats meme started with Andrew Jackson running for president. Wits of the era couldn’t resist the Jackson/jackass similarity. What they didn’t count on was Jackson embracing the idea. Soon cartoons of a jackass with Jackson’s face started appearing and continued throughout his two terms (1829-1837).


above 1830s

 

By the end of the Jackson presidency he would be shown riding the jackass instead of being the jackass, and the donkey was on its way to symbolize the Democratic Party.


above 1837

 

Through the years leading up to The Civil War the imagery persisted.


above 1844

 


above 1856

 


above 1860

 

So while Thomas Nast did not created the imagery, it is undeniable that he fostered its use to such a degree that the donkey and the Democratic Party became permanently linked.

 

Less than five years later his Republican as elephant cartoon would appear.
Though, again, the connection had been made years before Nast.

above 1874


above 1860

 

 

Further reading:

The Smithsonian Magazine

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

American Heritage

HarpWeek

Modern Farmer

Roosevelt House

The Roanoke Times

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