The symbol of the Republican Party was created by cartoonist Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper’s Weekly on Nov. 7, 1874.
The New York Herald perpetuated a circulation-builder hoax in 1874 … called the Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874. They ran a story, totally untrue, that the animals in the zoo had broken loose and were roaming the wilds of New York’s Central Park in search of prey.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two examples of the Herald hoax and put them together in a cartoon for Harper’s Weekly. He showed an ass (symbolizing the Herald) wearing a lion’s skin (the scary prospect of Caesarism for a third term for Pres. Grant) frightening away the animals in the forest (Central Park).
One of the foolish animals in the cartoon was an elephant, representing the Republican vote – not the party, the Republican vote – which was being frightened away from its normal ties by the phony scare of Caesarism. In a subsequent cartoon on Nov. 21, 1874, after the election in which the Republicans did badly, Nast followed up the idea by showing the elephant in a trap, illustrating the way the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance.
Other cartoonists picked up the symbol, and the elephant soon ceased to be the vote and became the party itself: the jackass, now referred to as the donkey, made a natural transition from representing the Herald to representing the Democratic party that had frightened the elephant.
Caption: “An Ass, having put on the Lion’s skin, roamed about in the Forest, and amused himself by frightening all the foolish Animals he met with in his wanderings.”–