Political symbolism in France and the USA

Political symbolism in France and the USA explained: Left, right, blue, red, donkey, elephant, Democrats, Republicans ?

Why do we use the terms LEFT AND RIGHT to designate political ideas in France or associate the colors blue and red with political parties?

First it is interesting to note that in France blue is the color of the more conservative party – the right and red the less conservative or left. In the United States the colors are inversed red being conservative and blue being less so and so the press speaks of blue or red states according to their voters penchant.

Also we must remember that a democrat with a small “d” is one who is an advocate of democracy and a republican is one who believes in a republican form of government. In others words most of us are both democrat and republican!

Here’s a short description and history of some political symbolism in France and the USA.

Droite-Gauche: Using left of right to designated an ideology is a usage that dates from the time when France was a kingdom, the right of the sovereign was reserved for the clergy and nobility, his left to the members of the Third Estate. Then on September 11, 1789, the Constitutional Assembly was held. During debate on the royal veto, the Chairman had asked the defenders of national sovereignty, the «patriots» to sit on his left, and the representatives of the privileged orders, the «monarchists» to sit on his right. This division was repeated in 1791 when the National Assembly was replaced by a Legislative Assembly. «Innovators» sat on the left, «moderates» gathered in the center, while the «conscientious defenders of the constitution» found themselves sitting on the right, where the defenders of the Ancien Régime had previously gathered. At this time, the terms «left» and «right» did not refer to political ideology but only to seating in the legislature. It was with the establishment of the Third Republic in 1871 that the terms were adopted by political parties: the Republican Left, the Center Right, and the Center Left (1871) and the Extreme Left (1876) and Radical Left (1881). In the early twentieth century the terms left and right came to be associated with specific political ideologies and were used to describe citizens’ political beliefs.

political symbolism

The DEMOCRATIC DONKEY and the REPUBLICAN ELEPHANT : When Andrew Jackson was called a « jackass » by his opponent while running for president in 1828, he successfully used the donkey in his campaign posters. The animal was also used to represent the president’s stubbornness. When the donkey was later reused in cartoons to represent Jackson’s unwillingness to relinquish control of the party despite his retirement, the donkey began to take it’s place as the official symbol of the Democratic party.

Yet another cartoon, drawn by Thomas Nast in connection with the possibility of a third term for president Ulysses S. Grant, depicts a donkey wearing a lion’s skin frightening away animals, including an elephant, in a forest. This was a reference to a hoax perpetrated by the Herald, which claimed that animals had escaped from the zoo and were terrorizing New York’s Central Park. It showed the alleged Democratic uneasiness over a possible third term for Ulysses S. Grant and at the same time helped associate the elephant with the Republican party. Today the Republican logo puts forth the letters GOP (Grand Old Party) more so than the elephant. The Democratic party has moved the donkey completely to the sidelines and uses a circled D.

political symbolism

THE SOCIALIST ROSE : In the classic rose and fist representation, red symbolizes the blood spilt by workers of the world in the fight for their emancipation and was directly inherited from the red banner flown at the Paris Commune, the original base symbol of the workers’ cause. After the 1886 Haymarket Massacre, socialists and trade unionists began wearing red roses or carnations to show solidarity with the eight labour leaders convicted of inciting to riot. After World War II, the red rose officially became a symbol of socialism. The socialist symbol of a hand holding a rose represents the strength of the fist and the softness of the rose.

political symbolism

Les REPUBLICAINS : The Republicain’s logo, is formed by their initials: a letter “l” on top of the letter “R” subtly forming a bleu, blanc, rouge French flag. The colors are obvious choices as the flag motif. The words “les Républicains” are blue, giving an overall dominance of blue to the logo. Blue symbolizes wisdom, fidelity and confidence. The red “l” serves as a central pillar. The short foot of the “R” leads the eye to view the whole form as the Hexagon of France.

political symbolismLa République en Marche logo is blue, has inclusive lettering and words and a hemicycle (parliamentary seating chart).

The Front National is now called Le Rassemblement National and their logo changed slightly. The same blue and red flame, once copied from the Italian Social Movement (Facist) Party, is now enclosed in an open circle. As one of their deputies says “It’s change and continuity”.


On ne fait pas de politique avec de la morale, mais on n’en fait pas davantage sans.
— André Malraux

Dans le sport, on gagne un grand tournoi ou une grande course pour soi. En politique, on atteint son but pour les autres.
— François Bayrou

La politique, c’est comme l’amour, il faut des grands sentiments et des petites intentions.
— Michèle Barzach

Qu’on soit de droite ou qu’on soit de gauche, on est toujours hémiplégique.
— Raymond Aron

Les couleurs politiques sont comme les couleurs du peintre, elles n’ont qu’une surface mince et cachent toutes la même toile.
— Alphonse Karr

Aujourd’hui on est de drauche ou de goit.
— Franz-Olivier Giesbert