I’m not sure if all of you are aware, but this is an election year.
Or rather, it feels like it’s already been several election years……………
Has anybody ever wondered why we have Democrats and Republicans anyway? Where did they come from and why do they fight so much?
On March 4, 1789, the Constitution of the United States formally took effect, and for the first four Congresses (1789 – 1797) there were no political parties other than the loosely aligned “Administration” and “Opposition” factions. George Washington’s presidency was an era of “factions” rather than official “parties.”
By 1797 with the Inauguration of President John Adams, two major political parties had formed… those who supported the policies of the outgoing President George Washington (the “Federalists”) and then everyone else who had opposed him his entire presidency (the “Republicans”, or later named, the “Democratic Republicans”).
By 1829, the parties were now calling themselves the “Democratic Republicans” (We heart Democracy!) and the “National Republicans” or “Whigs” (We heart Nationalizing Policies!), and by 1833… we have the Democrats and Republicans as we know them today.
Basically, our government has been fighting since George Washington. They’ve just gotten extremely good at it.
Why the Donkey and Elephant?
The more IMPORTANT question is where in the world did we get a donkey and an elephant to represent our governmental parties?
The donkey was first associated with Democrat Andrew Jackson’s 1828 presidential campaign. His opponents called him a jackass (a donkey), and Jackson decided to use the image of the strong-willed animal on his campaign posters.
In those days, editorial cartoons were becoming very popular. Thomas Nast was one of the best known illustrators and cartoonists of the second half of the nineteenth century. Born in Germany, Nast came to the United States at 6 years old in 1846, and at 22 years old, he became a full time illustrator for Harper’s Weekly. He took Andrew Jackson’s donkey idea and used it for his cartoons to represent Democrats which made it famous.
But What About the Elephant?
In a cartoon that appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1874, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion’s skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That’s all it took for the elephant to become associated with the Republican Party.
Democrats today say the donkey is smart and brave, while Republicans say the elephant is strong and dignified.
Ironically, neither of which ACTUALLY represents the way either party behaves.
Thomas Nast Created the Santa Claus We Know Today
Nast has been credited with creating the modern American version of Santa Claus as a fat, jolly, white bearded guy in a fur trimmed red suit. Undoubtedly influenced by Clement Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (“The Night Before Christmas”), Nast added his own spin on the Santa lore. He was the first to establish Santa’s home as the North Pole and gave Santa a toy workshop with tiny elves.
Why do we refer to the U.S. as “Uncle Sam?”
The origin of the term Uncle Sam is usually associated with a businessman from Troy, New York, Samuel Wilson, known affectionately as “Uncle Sam” Wilson. The barrels of beef that he supplied the army during the War of 1812 were stamped “U.S.” to indicate government property. That identification is said to have led to the widespread use of the nickname Uncle Sam for the United States.
A British humor magazine called Punch first represented Uncle Sam as a lean whiskered gentleman wearing a top hat and striped pants in their political cartoons.
In the 1870s, Thomas Nast crystallized the figure of Uncle Sam with his illustrations and by 1900, Uncle Sam was here to stay.