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The Wide Awakes: The Forgotten Force that Spurred the Civil War

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The Wide Awakes: The Forgotten Force that Spurred the Civil War

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, June 26, 2024 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0580
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(Image courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing)

At the start of the 1860 presidential campaign, a handful of fired-up young Northerners appeared as bodyguards to defend anti-slavery stump speakers from frequent attacks. The group called themselves the Wide Awakes. Soon, hundreds of thousands of young white and Black men and a number of women were organizing boisterous, uniformed, torch-bearing brigades of their own.

Drawing on his new book, Wide Awake: The Forgotten Force That Elected Lincoln and Spurred the Civil War, Smithsonian historian Jon Grinspan examines exactly how the nation crossed the threshold from a political campaign into a war.

He traces how the Wide Awakes—mostly working-class white and Black Americans in their twenties­—became one of the largest, most spectacular, and most influential political movements in our history. To some, it demonstrated the power of a rising majority to push back against slavery. To others, it looked like a paramilitary force training to invade the South. Within a year, the nation would be at war with itself—and many on both sides would point to the Wide Awakes as the mechanism that got them there.

Copies of Wide Awake (Bloomsbury Publishing) are available for purchase.

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Additional Content

Learn more about this subject in a featured Smithsonian magazine article entitled The Club of Cape-Wearing Activitists Who Helped Elect Lincoln—and Spark the Civil War.

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