Roosters & eagles
We were asked last week why the West Virginia sample ballot in The Morgan Messenger showed an eagle as the symbol of the Republican Party and a rooster as the symbol of the Democratic Party. After all, most people associate the elephant with Republicans and the donkey with Democrats.
A little research uncovered that the Democratic rooster — not the chicken, as detractors sometimes describe it — dates to an 1840 campaign in Indiana. Legislative candidate Joseph Chapman was nicknamed “Crowing Joe” for his constant oratory claiming a Democratic tide in an election dominated by the opposing Whig Party. Despite widespread Whig victory that year, Crowing Joe won his seat and national Democrats chose the rooster as their symbol.
Democrats in West Virginia used to be encouraged to “Scratch the Rooster.” This meant putting an “x” below the rooster sign on the ballot to vote a straight ticket.
The donkey also began as an attack on a Democratic candidate. When Andrew Jackson ran for president in 1828, he was called a “jackass,” as a play on his name, by supporters of opponent John Quincy Adams. Jackson, however, liked the image of the stubborn animal and the Democratic donkey was born.
The rooster and donkey vied with each other until the 1940s when the donkey won out. Bill Cox, an early country singer from Charleston, recorded a ditty called “The Democratic Donkey” after President Franklin Roosevelt was reelected in 1936. So, the donkey was well-established, but the ballot symbol never changed.
As for the Republican eagle, no one’s exactly sure why it was the original image of the GOP (Grand Old Party). Most likely, the anti-slavery activists who founded the party in 1854 wanted to convey patriotism and national unity and adopted the eagle since it was the national emblem. Besides, the Democrats had already claimed the rooster.
The Republican elephant is another case of a party accepting a symbol that was first used for ridicule. In 1874, the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast depicted Republican voters as a frightened elephant running away from a Democratic donkey wearing a lion’s skin. Others picked up on the idea and, in one of those political reinventions, the elephant was soon transformed into a proud party symbol.
So, the eagle and the rooster have long traditions, even if they aren’t today’s most common party symbols. We guess that any change would be up to the state’s Republican and Democratic party officials, but we’d just as soon keep things as they’ve always been.