I cast my vote at the courthouse last week, just in case I get stuck working on Election Day. I voted the straight ticket, so I filled in the little oval right next to the Democratic Party rooster. In virtually every other state, the Democratic emblem is the donkey, while the Republicans use the elephant. Not in Indiana. It’s the rooster and the eagle here.
The rooster as party emblem goes back to 1840, during the presidential campaign between Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig William Henry Harrison. It was a tight race in Indiana, and both parties were calling out their best speakers to speak, or in the lingo of the time, to “crow” for their candidates. Joseph Chapman, a Democratic state representative from Greenfield, in Hancock County, was one such speaker. George Pattison, editor of the Indianapolis Constitution, sent a letter to the postmaster of Greenfield, which read in part, “Tell Chapman to Crow.”
Somehow the letter got into the hands of Whigs, who used the line to ridicule the Democrats. But the Whig effort backfired, and soon Democrats were chanting “Crow Chapman Crow. While Harrison won the election, the slogan stuck. Sometime later the Indiana Democratic Party adopted the rooster as its emblem.
After the Whig Party imploded in the 1850s, Northern Whigs and Free-Soil Democrats (those who opposed the expansion of slavery), formed the Republican Party. When Indiana Democrats urged voters to “vote for the big chick,” Republicans adopted the eagle, and the slogan, “Vote for the bird on the dollar.”
Thus, the Indiana rooster and eagle. The rooster emblem spread to other states, especially in the South, where it had more sinister legacy. The Alabama “white rooster” became a symbol of white supremacy. In the 1968 election, the Alabama ballot listed Hubert Humphrey under the Democratic donkey, but George Wallace, the segregationist candidate of the American Independent Party, had the rooster. In 1996 the Alabama Democratic Party formally adopted the donkey as its emblem due to the rooster’s racist associations.
But the Indiana rooster had no such legacy, so it remains the symbol of Indiana Democracy. Still, the reason for party emblems is mainly to aid illiterate voters. Illiteracy is much less common now than it was in the 1840s, but it still exists. For that reason I’ve argued that the donkey and elephant--universally recognized emblems--ought to be used on the Indiana ballot. It doesn’t seem likely to happen. Hoosiers are pretty stubborn.