The Democratic donkey dates back to the 1820s, when President Andrew Jackson was called a jackass by an opponent. It later became the symbol of the party when editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast began using it in his work.

The Republican elephant first appeared in 1874 in a cartoon, also drawn by Nast.

Today, it’s difficult to go more than a day or two without seeing those two symbols prolifically portrayed in editorial cartoons in newspapers throughout the nation. Except, that is, in the New York Times, which this week announced it will stop publishing daily political cartoons in its international edition. The Times earlier dropped cartoons in its domestic edition.

The newspaper specifically cites a controversy over a cartoon that erupted earlier this year.

We hope this does not permeate elsewhere, since we are convinced editorial cartoons are essential in opening dialogue and creating a better understanding of issues.

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The Herald has a history with exceptional cartoonists. Paul Duginski, who today is a graphics and data journalist at the Los Angeles Times, drew editorial cartoons for the Herald in the 1970s. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Times, the Twin Cities newspapers, the Sacramento Bee and USA Today.

In the 1960s, the Herald had Stuart McDonald. Now living in Indiana, McDonald was a Grand Forks businessman and state legislator. In 2004, he donated his collection of cartoons to UND.

It’s been a tough few years for editorial cartoonists. Rob Rogers, a cartoonist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette whose syndicated work regularly appeared in the Herald, was fired by his newspaper last year. Pulitzer Prize winners Steve Benson and Nick Anderson both were recently laid off by their employers.

Editorial cartoons date back to at least the 1800s. A few years ago, the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks hosted the work of French commentary artist Honore Duamier, who in the mid-1800s took on all sorts of political issues, including his own country’s royalty.

Editorial cartoons often provide sharp, quick wit about contemporary political issues that matter. As with all items on a newspaper’s editorial page, they are intended to make readers think deeper about issues and start a dialogue. Often, they evoke letters to the editor, another bastion of the opinion page and which serve to further continue conversations about happenings in a community.

But sometimes they offend, which apparently is what led to Rogers’ firing. And as newspapers seek to find savings throughout their operations, some cartoonists -- considered a luxury -- are losing their jobs.

The Herald gets its cartoons through two syndicated services, and a month ago added another national cartoonist, Joe Heller.

The additional artists help the Herald -- which publishes two cartoons a day -- find artwork that straddles both sides of the political aisle. If we choose one cartoon that is harsh toward one political party, we try to pair it with a cartoon equally harsh toward the other.

We sometimes take heat for the cartoons we run, but the intent is to add readability to our opinion page and open conversations with our readers.

Sometimes, the cartoons prompt laughter; sometimes, we wince. Always, we appreciate their role in the newspaper and in the American political conversation.

In conjunction with today’s editorial, the Herald publishes two pieces from former Herald cartoonist Stuart McDonald, courtesy of UND Special Collections. One is titled “Feathers in our caps” and the other is “Crop erosion.” McDonald’s art appeared in the Herald in the 1960s.

Feathers in our cap, by Stuart McDonald
Feathers in our cap, by Stuart McDonald

Crop erosion, by Stuart McDonald
Crop erosion, by Stuart McDonald