Why do they call it that? Political party mascots and symbols: Democratic Party and the donkey

7:53 AM, Oct 24, 2012   |    comments
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Why do we show donkeys when we talk about the Democratic Party? And where did that name -- Democrats -- come from?

Why do they call it the Democratic Party?

Poor Teaspoon and Half Pint. They're donkeys, and they put in such a good effort pulling carts and greeting kids at Sugar Hawk Stables in Lithia.

But nobody gives donkeys much credit. Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone called a "jackass" as a compliment?

That is not new. Almost 200 years ago, "jackass" meant just about the same thing. And political cartoonists put that insulting identity to good use.

"You had animals representing the political parties back in the 1820's," said USF history professor John Belohlavek.

"The jackass was used -- the donkey was used -- to represent the Jacksonians because of the stubborn nature of Andrew Jackson."

President Andrew Jackson was the leader of the Democratic Party. So the idea of donkey-equals-Democrat was floating around.

Then the Shakespeare of political cartoons, Thomas Nast, picked it up. After a Nast image with a kicking Democrat donkey circulated around the world, the connection was locked in.

"He used the jackass to represent a wing of the Democratic Party," Belohlavek said.

That stubborn, easily agitated animal soon represented the party as a whole.

But even though you see donkeys and Democrats all over the place these days, the Democratic Party has still never accepted this animal as its official symbol.

Guess it's not quite as flattering an emblem as the elephant of the Republicans.

So, what about that name, Democratic Party? Well, get this -- when the Democrats started out, they called themselves... Republicans!

I'm not making this up! The guys on your money were there -- they'll back me up.

After George Washington ($1 bill), Thomas Jefferson ($2 bill) and his pals formed a political party.

They called themselves Republicans, playing up America's elected republic form of government, instead of the old monarchy with a king.

President number seven came along -- Andrew Jackson ($20 bill) -- and his supporters switched their name from Republicans to a new name: Democrats.

As Democrats, they're also using a term that's all about America's elected government. That is the Democratic Party that's still going today.

The name Republican faded away until Abraham Lincoln ($5 bill) and his friends needed a name for their brand new political party.

Lincoln's people picked up the old, unused name of Republicans -- and that party is also still around today.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

To keep things balanced, we also covered the Republican Party and the elephant. We ran the pieces in the order that the parties held their conventions.

You can watch both stories by going to our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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