1860 – When good men stood up for what was right.
A Wide Awakes parade in Lower Manhattan, one of a series of political rallies held in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston during the first week of October 1860. (Harpers Weekly, Jim Hoft image)
The Wide Awakes were a Republican group of young men organized to escort and protect Republican speakers during the highly contentious election of 1860. The men would wear uniforms hats and march with lanterns to protect Republican speakers in northern states from unruly political opponents.
The organization of mostly young working-class men did not sit home or cower from the political violence of the day.
The Wide Awakes had chapters in several free Union states including Ohio, New York, Connecticut, Illinois and Iowa, to name a few.
The members escorted Republican speakers, surrounding them and protecting them from the violence of the slave supporters and Democrats. In many cases, rowdies ambushed Wide Awake parades, hurling bricks and screaming, “Kill the damn Wide Awakes.” This is similar to the tactics of the American left today with their Antifa and BLM shock troops with the support of the intelligence agencies.
Oscar Lawrence Jackson, a twenty-year-old who lectured to open-air audiences in rural Ohio, recorded an incident in which drunken Democrats tried to shout down his speech. “It came near taking a serious turn,” Jackson wrote, “as the ‘Wide Awakes’ were prepared and would have shot and sliced them like dogs if any one of us had been struck.”
A young Iowan Wide Awake in full uniform demonstrates for the 1860 Republican candidates Abraham Lincoln (for president), Hannibal Hamlin (for vice president), and Samuel R. Curtis (for congressman). His stern expression reflects the dire, militaristic seriousness that often replaced exuberant hoopla in the Wide Awake ranks. Reprinted from “‘The Prairies A-Blaze’: Iowa Wide-Awakes Carry Torches for Lincoln,” Iowa Heritage Illustrated, 77 (Spring 1996). Courtesy Floyd and Marion Rinhart Collection, The Ohio State University Libraries.
The Wide Awake Generation
Via OAH.org archive.
In August 1860 former presidential candidate William H. Seward traveled to the Midwest to stump for Abraham Lincoln, the very man who had defeated his campaign for the Republican nomination. In new hamlets and budding cities from Michigan to Kansas, tumultuous throngs of Wide Awakes greeted Seward’s entourage with parades, fireworks, and banquets. Seward noticed more than just the stunning number of Wide Awakes who packed prairie arenas to hear him speak; in their young faces he recognized a grand generational stirring. When fifty companies converged on Detroit to receive him—a rally so large that Wide Awakes made up 10 percent of the city’s total population that day—Seward declared, “The reason we didn’t get an honest President in 1856, was because the old men of the last generation were not Wide-Awake, and the young men of this generation hadn’t got their eyes open. Now the old men are folding their arms and going to sleep, and the young men throughout the land are Wide Awake.”
The rosters show that three-quarters of the clubs’ members were between fifteen and forty years old, and more than one-quarter would have been below voting age in the last presidential election. There were more members under twenty-one than over fifty…
… Established party leaders also looked askance at the Wide Awakes because of their non-elite roots. Though the movement incorporated members from most sections of society, wage laborers and farmers predominated. Some Republican leaders even complained about the absence of “the intelligent classes” in the Wide Awake ranks, which they claimed were made up of “the mechanic, or laborer, or clerk.” Census records from Ohio and Connecticut indicate many farmers, factory workers, and carpenters in the Wide Awakes, in addition to some middle-class young men employed as store clerks or railroad ticket agents.
Information for this post came from a previous report by Jon Grinspan.
This 1860 photograph of the founding Wide Awake club in Hartford, Connecticut, shows the paramilitary theme of the organization. Henry Sperry, the twenty-three-year-old publicist for the movement nationwide, stands on the far left, and James S. Chalker, a textile salesman who marketed Wide Awake uniforms, stands third from the right in the back row. Reprinted from Julius G. Rathbun, “‘The Wide Awakes’: The Great Political Organization of 1860,” Connecticut Quarterly, 1 (Oct. 1895). – via Jon Grinspan