On This Date In History: Did you ever wonder how the Democratic Party adopted the Donkey as its symbol and the Republicans got the Elephant? Well, it all goes back to the latter half of the 19th Century and a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly named Thomas Nast. Harper’s Weekly was a political magazine that reached its zenith at the outset of the Civil War with a circulation of over 200,000. Nast was a feared and popular political cartoonist that came on board in 1862. President Lincoln’s Secretary of War was Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton is widely quoted as having said “now he belongs to the ages” at Lincoln’s deathbed upon Lincoln’s passing. The rest of what he is quoted as saying was “there lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.” I’m not sure why that part is generally lost to history except that maybe it would make the quote too long. We like short, catchy phrases in America. It’s also interesting to note that just prior to Lincoln’s death, Stanton had advocated the execution of a man named George Vaughn for spying. Lincoln instead issued Vaughn a pardon…one hour before the 16th President was assassinated.
Anyway, Stanton was a holdover Secretary of War when Andrew Johnson took over. Remember, Johnson was a slave holding Democrat whom Lincoln put on the 1864 ticket in order to woo pro-Union Democrats. Johnson’s reconstruction policies were not in tune with the group of Republicans known as Radical Republicans. Stanton eventually openly challenged Johnson on his policies. The Republican Congress had unconstitutionally passed a law that said the President couldn’t remove a cabinet official without prior congressional approval. Johnson challenged that by firing Stanton. That action led to his impeachment, the only presidential impeachment until Bill Clinton. In both cases, neither man was convicted and removed from office. Keep in mind that impeachment proceedings are largely political and not criminal.
So, Stanton survived but he died in 1869 and I guess the Democrats continued to attack him even in death. So, cartoonist Nash created the drawing above on this date in 1870 depicting the “Copperhead” Democrats, or southern Democrats as the donkey kicking the dead lion, Stanton. The eagle on top depicts the Federal dominion over the South….it was still Reconstruction. But, Nast was not the first to use the donkey to symbolize the Democratic Party. It’s origins actually go back to the time of President Andrew Jackson, whose detractors referred to him as “jackass” for his sloganeering and populist platform.
Later, toward the end of President Grant’s second term, there was talk of a third term. This flies in the face of what we’ve been taught in school that Grant was terrible. Truth is he was very popular and might have won a third term. In 1880, he came reasonably close to gaining nomination for a third term as he concluded a world tour. One of his last stops was on December 11, 1879 in Louisville. The New York Herald newspaper vigorously opposed a third term so Nast created a cartoon with a Donkey in a lion’s skin (labeled Caesarism) chasing away other small animals. Those animals were labeled as with other newspaper’s names. Going nuts in the picture is an elephant labeled “Republican Vote” and he’s perched over a deep gorge labeled as “chaos”. Nast was not happy with what he perceived to be the Republican Party’s fear of charges that Grant was trying to become a tyrant, or another Caesar.
For some reason, the Donkey and Elephant stuck as icons for the opposing parties. Probably due to the popularity of Nast and partly due to lack of creativity on the part of others. So, if someone sticks you with a nickname that you didn’t necessarily ask for, just remember it happened to the two political parties who have dominated the electorate since 1860. May you have such a long and prosperous life.
Weather Bottom Line: Okay…I busted for a few hours. For 4 hours we were above freezing and even made it up to the average high for the time of year of 40. But, we quickly tumbled into the 20′s and will continue to do so. Thursday morning lows in the mid to high single digits is pretty tough to do with winds blowing some 10-20 mph and that just shows how the depth of the cold in this airmass. Thursday I bet we don’t get out of the lower teens. Then Friday I still go along with a low near zero with some folks being below zero. Friday’s highs still look like we stay in the teens but maybe the upper half of the teens. Another little clipper comes down on Saturday and I suppose that since we got up to 40 with this one then maybe on Saturday before the clipper moves through we move to just a degree or two above freezing. It comes through with not much moisture so don’t expect much snow. Sunday will have a reinforcing shot of cold air but not as cold as this blob that we have now. Mid 30′s probably on Monday and Tuesday and then the big ridge out west broadens and our temperatures start to moderate, but don’t look for a rapid warm up. Snow lovers…sorry…the pattern just doesn’t let itself to a good snow. Maybe next time if we can get the subtropical jetstream in the act. There’s still time. I think we had our 10 inch snow last year in March.