THE SOURCE: “‘Young Men for War’: The Wide Awakes and Lincoln’s 1860 Presidential Campaign” by Jon Grinspan, in The Journal of American History, Sept. 2009.
Any student of American history knows that soon after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, hostilities broke out and the nation plunged into civil war. Jon Grinspan, a doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia, writes that historians have not paid enough attention to the role played by a movement called the Wide Awakes in setting the scene for these events.
The Wide Awakes emerged out of a hard-fought political contest for the governorship of Connecticut, considered “a presidential election in miniature.” In March 1860, several young textile clerks and rifle makers organized a group to escort Republican speakers through the dangerous streets of Democratic Hartford. They wore black capes covered with shiny enamel to protect their clothes from oil dripping from the torches they carried. Soon the organization’s headquarters teemed with young Republican men. When the Republican gubernatorial candidate squeaked out a victory by a few hundred votes, many chalked up the win to the fervor whipped up by the WideAwakes.
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