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Why do they call it that? Political party mascots and symbols: Republican Party and its elephant

7:16 AM, Oct 24, 2012   |    comments
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Why does the Grand Old Party use a big ol' elephant as its symbol? And why use the name Republicans?

Why do they call it the Republican Party?

Sdudla and his friends live at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo near Seminole Heights. As elephants, they've been adopted as symbols of the Republican Party. But why?

First, imagine a massive elephant like Sdudla as a cartoon.

In the 1800's, political cartoons were popular and powerful -- and full of animals.

"Animal symbols. You would see a number of animals scurrying about. They each represented something. They're saying different things -- little labels on them," USF history professor John Belohlavek explained.

"You'd have the fox -- for example -- representing Martin Van Buren. You would have the rooster, you would see the alligator. Obviously, the electorate at the time knew exactly what you were talking about here."

Belohlavek says the Shakespeare of political cartoons was Thomas Nast.

"Somebody who is a professional, who does this as a career with a national publication," he said.

The elephant was smart, stubborn, thick-skinned, and tough to move; the pachyderm was perfect for this party.

"Republicans had used elephant before Nast did," Belohlavek said. "Because of Nast's reputation, he continued to use the elephant, and the elephant clearly caught on."

"The Republican Party has formally accepted the elephant as its symbol."

Ok -- but the name Republicans -- the one that showed up all over Tampa Bay in August -- where did it come from?

Brace yourself for a shock. The first folks to use the name Republicans... are now the Democrats. Seriously!

You can follow along with the money in your wallet, because all of the folks involved here have ended up on our country's cash.

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.

That is the Democratic Party that's still going today.

Years later, when Abraham Lincoln ($5 bill) and his buddies formed a whole new political party -- they needed a name.

So they went with Republicans. It had a nice ring to it, and after President Jackson, no one had really used that name in years.

Lincoln's Republican party is still around today.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

To keep things balanced, we also covered the Democratic Party and the donkey. We aired the pieces in the order that the parties held their conventions.

To see that story and many more in this Emmy-nominated series, visit our "Why do they call it that?" website at wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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