How did the Democratic and Republican Party come to be represented by the symbols of the donkey and the elephant? The 1828 presidential election was one of the most hotly contested political races in American history. John Quincy Adams was running against Andrew Jackson. In 1824 Jackson lost a very close election to Adams. Jackson won 99 votes in the electoral college to Adams 84. Because of the closeness of the vote the election would have to be decided in the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, was also a candidate for president who had placed fourth in the voting. Clay hated Jackson and he gave his support to Adams. As a result Adams was elected president. Adams then named Clay as his Secretary of State. The position of Secretary of State had been a stepping stone to the White House for the last four presidents. Jackson and his supporters accused Adams and Clay of making a "corrupt bargain". This set the stage for the hostility of the 1828 election and the reputation of it being one of the dirtiest campaigns in American history.
Jackson and his supporters called Adams corrupt, spoiled, and a “libertine” – someone who lacked moral restraint, usually in reference to sexual matters. Adams attacked Jackson's military record, violent temper,and his disrespect for authority. The Adams campaign also accused Rachel Jackson of being a bigamist and a whore since she married Jackson while legally married to another man. This was personal to Jackson. He had fought men and even killed a man in a duel defending his wife's honor. The election of 1828 was so personal that it contributed to the death of Rachel of a heart attack on December 22,1828. Just over two months before Jackson was inaugurated. They called Jackson a jack-ass and compared him to a stubborn dumb donkey. Jackson was known for his slogan " Let the people rule". The Adams campaign claimed that if the people ruled a bunch of jackasses would be ruling the country. Jackson saw this as an opportunity to turn the jackass into a positive symbol. In campaign speeches he declared the jackass to be persistent, loyal, and able to carry a heavy load. The jackass also symbolized simplistic virtues, humble origins, and an ode to the common man. This characterized Jackson as the champion of the common man. The donkey continued to be known as the symbol of the Democratic Party because of the 1828 campaign throughout the 1800's.
The elephant as the Republican symbol first appeared in the 1864 election involving Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan. It appeared in a pro-Lincoln newspaper named Father Abraham. Like the mainstream media today it was nothing but political propaganda. A large percentage of news outlets throughout history have been political propaganda. Father Abraham depicted an Elephant with a banner draped over it celebrating Union victories. When a soldier fought in his first battle he would many times say that he had "seen the elephant". The donkey and the elephant were insured a place in history throughout all time in regards to symbolizing the two political parties by Thomas Nast. He was a famous political cartoonist of the late 1800's that popularized the modern conception of Santa Claus. Nast started working for Harpers Weekly in 1861 as a combat artist. In 1862 he introduced his version of Santa Claus. The jolly old fat man in a red suit that we know today. After the war he popularized the donkey and elephant as the symbols of the Democrat and Republican Party in his political cartoons in such a way that would insure their permanence in American political culture for all time.