Why is the Elephant a Symbol of the Republican Party?

A Republican Party pin.
A Republican Party pin.

The Republican Party, or the Grand Old Party, is one of the two most successful and major political parties in the US (the other party is the Democratic Party). The party was founded in 1854 by those who were opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed for slavery to be expanded into other territories within the US. Since its founding, a total of 19 people have been elected president on a Republican ticket, including the incumbent president, Donald Trump. The Republican Party is headquartered in Washington DC’s 310 First Street SE and has a membership of over 30 million people.

Party Symbol

Like most, if not all, political parties around the world, the Republican Party has a party symbol which is associated with its ideologies and beliefs. The party’s traditional symbol is an elephant. However, an alternate symbol for the party in states such as New York, Indiana, and Ohio is the bald eagle while log cabin is used in Kentucky. Generally, the party is synonymous with the elephant. According to the Republicans, an elephant is strong and dignified, which is part of what the party advocate for. For a long time, the party did not have consistent colors. However, the color red became associated with the Republicans after the 2000 election. The red color was used by the major media houses on electoral maps to represent the states won by the Republican candidate while the Democratic Party was represented by a blue color. Since then the Republican Party has always been represented by the red color. The color is also included on the party symbol.

How the Elephant became a Party Symbol

The elephant was not intentionally decided or chosen to represent the Republican Party. The symbol was first used as a political symbol in 1864 during Lincoln’s campaign and also in 1872 by the Harper’s. However, Thomas Nest is credited with popularizing the symbol. He first published it in Harper’s Weekly in 1874 under the title “The Third Panic”.In his drawing, Nast depicted a donkey clothed in a lion’s skin scaring and chasing away the animals in the zoo, including the elephant which was labeled “the Republican vote.” The elephant was shown as standing near a pit. The cartoon portrayed Nast’s frustration with the Republican, the party that he had supported since its emergence in New York. He felt that the party was straying away from social liberalism.

In March 1877, following a controversial presidential election, Nast published another article depicting a battered and bruised elephant crouching at the tombstone of the Democratic Party. He believed that the Republican’s victory in the presidential election was both bitter and damaging. In 1884, Nast drew another cartoon of a “scared elephant” believing that the Republican Party was not as bold as it was in the past years. In the following years, most cartoons used the animal to represent the Republican Party. The party eventually adopted the animal its official party symbol, saying that the elephant is strong and dignified. Nast is also associated with the creating of the donkey which is the Democratic Party symbol and the modern image of Santa Claus of Father Christmas.


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