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Elephant is the traditional symbol for the Republican Party. It first appeared in a cartoon in the 7 November 1874 edition of Harper's Weekly by the artist Thomas Nast. Nast drew an ass wearing a lion's skin to represent the Herald, frightening away the animals in the forest. Among them was an elephant labelled "Republican Vote", tripping up in its haste to escape the blown-up scare.
After that year's mid-term elections, in which the Republicans did particularly badly, Nast pictured an elephant in a trap to illustrate how the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance. The image was picked up by other cartoonists and quickly came to symbolise the party, not just Republican voters.