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Wide Awakes
Wide Awakes

The electoral politics of antebellum America gave rise to many forms of mass participation. While elections saw voter turnout of 80% and higher, many individuals organized other aspects of their lives around politics as well. Most voters maintained close ties and strict loyalty to their party, links that were often passed down through families and cultivated in specific ethnic and religious communities. In this period political parties often served as social clubs and centers of recreational activity as well as electoral organizations. In this context there arose organizations like the Republican "Wide Awakes." These groups, usually made up of young, unmarried men, marched in support of their candidate in solemn, torchlit spectacles. Other times they gathered to sing political songs and rally the party faithful to the polls. Many groups were originally formed for the purpose of poll watching, to defend against hated Democrats' presumed attempts at voting irregularities. In this spirit Democrats also organized groups of young men to patrol the streets on election night, and the rival bands often met in alleys and barrooms.

For more information about politics in the 19th century, please look at Lincoln/Net's Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840-1860 Web site

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©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project