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Advice | Wide Awakes marched for democracy in 1860

Jon Grinspan is curator of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and author of Wide Awake: The Forgotten Force that Elected Lincoln and Spurred the Civil War.

They called themselves the Wide Awakes: one of America’s largest, strangest, and most consequential political organizations, now all but forgotten. In Boston, many had escaped slavery. In St. Louis, many were radical German immigrants. In D.C., their meetings mixed Yankee federal clerks with sons of Southern families. In Connecticut, where they started, they were working-class kids with dark political backstories. And in 1860, this diverse coalition of young Americans crossed the line against slavery and helped elect Abraham Lincoln.