The Democrat Jack-Ass is Born Amidst Hatred

Today in History, January 15: 1870 –

“A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion” “And Such a Lion! and Such a Jackass!”

Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast publishes a cartoon which popularizes the Jackass as the symbol for the Democrat party.

A German immigrant, Nast is considered by many to be the father of the modern political cartoon. In addition to the Democrat Jackass, he popularized the Republican Elephant and our conception of Santa Claus. I use the term popularize because he wasn’t the first to use any of these symbols, but he made them known to everyone.

The Jack-ass originally became known as a Democrat symbol when someone called President Andrew Jackson a jack-ass, and he decided to “own it.”

Among other things Nast was an abolitionist and a patriot. Which is why Northern Copperheads angered him so. Copperheads were Northern Democrats that were sympathetic to the Confederate (Southern Democrats) cause. Nast considered them racists and traitors.

Edwin M. Stanton had been part of President Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals”, the Secretary of War who prosecuted the Civil War from Washington and had become respectful and loyal to Lincoln. When Stanton died suddenly on Christmas Eve 1869, the Copperhead Papers in the North continued their criticism of him, speaking ill of the dead.

This was the inspiration for Nast’s cartoon.

This isn’t to say Stanton was a lovable character.  He angered many in D.C. and in the Army.  General William T. Sherman refused to shake his hand at a military review at the close of the war due to Stanton’s treatment of him.  Stanton was an opportunist, but he worked hard at his job.


Today in History, August 12: 1867 – “Hon. EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
Sir: By virtue of the power and authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States, you are hereby suspended from office as Secretary of War, and will cease to exercise any and all functions pertaining to the same.
You will at once transfer to General Ulysses S. Grant, who has this day been authorized and empowered to act as Secretary of War ad interim, all records, books, and other property now in your custody and charge.
ANDREW JOHNSON”
Volatile politics is nothing new in America. For his second term, President Lincoln had chosen Democrat Andrew Johnson as his vice President because he was from a border state, loyal to the Union, but a Southerner. 

 When Johnson assumed office after Lincoln’s assassination, he did not enforce reconstruction in the South as strongly as Lincoln’s contemporaries in the cabinet and the Congress wanted. The battle was ongoing, with Congress passing the Tenure of Office Act to prevent Johnson from firing cabinet members that did not agree with him. 

 Most prominent was Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. On this date Johnson suspended Stanton and replaced him with the popular Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who resigned the position once Congress reconvened and voted not to remove Stanton. Stanton refused to leave, to the point that in February of 1868 when Johnson formally fired him, Stanton barricaded himself in his office in the War Department. 

 The “radical” Republicans in the House voted to impeach Johnson over the ordeal, but the Senate, after a lengthy trial, kept him in office.