On March 20, 1854, the Republican Party was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin. The history of the Republican Party is long, but the story that the elephant is the animal that represents our party isn’t as long as one would expect and it all starts with a cartoon.

Thomas Nast, known as the father of the modern political cartoon, is credited with giving both of the parties their respective animals. It was first shown as a cartoon in Harper’s Magazine. President Lincoln even championed Nast by calling him his “best recruiting general” for his re-election campaign. 

In 1874, Nast released a cartoon that showed an elephant charging at the donkey. Surrounding the donkey was a bunch of chaos. The elephant, representing the Republican Party, was the larger creature who could calm the storm and return peace instead of chaos. 

From Smithsonian Magazine, “The Third-Term Panic”

Some people speculate that Nast chose an elephant because of the phrase “seeing the elephant.” This is a war reference to seeing the enemy. Others speculate that the elephant came from Nast picking a large, powerful animal, but will lose control when frightened. 

Nast’s consistent use of the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party in his cartoon led to the Republican Party adopting the symbol. 

Caroline C.
FFL Cabinet Member
Follow Caroline on Twitter!