Why Is a Donkey the Democratic Symbol?

by Georgia Alton
The donkey has commonly symbolized the Democratic Party since the 19th century.

The donkey has commonly symbolized the Democratic Party since the 19th century.

Although the Democratic Party in the United States has never officially adopted the donkey as its symbol, political cartoonists have associated Democrats with the donkey since the mid-19th century. Both Democrats and Republicans have used the association between the donkey and Democrats to their political advantage in campaigns.

Origin

President Andrew Jackson

During Andrew Jackson's campaign to become president in 1828, his opponents called him a "jackass." Jackson considered himself a man of the people and accused John Quincy Adams of being an elitist. When Adams' campaign called Jackson a jackass, he embraced the imagery, putting donkeys on campaign posters and touting his "stubbornness" as an asset in battling corruption and elitism.

Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast

A political cartoonist used a donkey to represent the Democratic party in 1837, but Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist in the 1870s and 1880s, cemented the relationship between the Democratic party and the donkey in his cartoons for Harper's Weekly.

Meaning

According to the Democratic Party website, Democrats celebrate the donkey for its determined and brave nature, while the Republicans see the donkey as intractable and foolish.

Modern uses

Donkey

For the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the Democrats chose a live donkey named Mordecai to be their mascot.

Alternatives

Rooster

Since the mid-1800s, Democrats, both locally and nationally, have used other symbols, such as the rooster and the tiger, but none have had the staying power of the donkey.

About the Author

Georgia Alton holds a Doctor of Philosophy in history from Emory University. Her specialty is 20th-century U.S. history. Alton has written articles on subjects like World War I and colonial America for ABC-CLIO encyclopedias. She also works as a freelance writer with articles on eHow, Answerbag and Brighthub.

Photo Credits

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