Thomas Nast and his Elephant

Cast Bronze Trumpeting Elephant Bookends (LEO Design)

Thomas Nast was the popular and powerful cartoonist, lecturer, and political thinker of the American 19th century.  He did much of his work for Harper’s Weekly in New York City. On this day in 1874, Nast introduced the Elephant as the symbol for the Republican party—a mascot which survives to this day.

Nast has been called “The Father of the American Cartoon” and he had considerable influence in New York City and national politics.  He was constantly attacking—and helped bring-down—Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall political machine, a ring of city government officials who controlled the city and skimmed millions of dollars through kick-backs and fraudulent contracts.  At the national level, Nast hobnobbed with presidents and was instrumental in the elections of Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland.  Interestingly, upon the election of President Grant, Mark Twain wrote, ” Nast, you more than any other man have won a prodigious victory for Grant—I mean, rather, for Civilization and Progress.”

A staunch Republican, Nast used his cartoons to attack the Irish and Roman Catholicism. He portrayed the first as lazy, drunken, violent gang members and considered Catholicism a threat to American values.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Nast Consul General of Ecuador, South America in 1902.  The artist died of the Yellow Fever later that year.


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