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National Wide Awakes Day – October 3, 2023

National Wide Awakes Day is held every October 3. It celebrates the Wide Awakes, a youth organization and, later, paramilitary organization fostered by the Republican Party, specifically the Lincoln campaign, during the United States’ all-important presidential election in 1860. It was an open-source network of people who believed in the emancipation of all, abolition, and workers’ rights. Despite adversity, false accusations, and several conspiracies to bring them down, the group’s revolutionary members continued to march on.

History of National Wide Awakes Day

In early March 1860, Abraham Lincoln passionately spoke against the spread of slavery and the importance of workers’ rights, including their right to strike in Hartford, Connecticut. Five store clerks founded a Republican group called the Wide Awakes and decided to carry torches along a parade for Lincoln, who was delighted by the torchlight escort back to his hotel after his speech and helped popularize the group. Over the coming weeks, the Lincoln campaign developed Wide Awakes across the country and used them to spearhead large voter registration drives because they knew that new and young voters tend to embrace new and young parties.

By the middle of the 1860 campaign, members of the Republican Party bragged that they had Wide Awake chapters in every county of all free northern states. By the time Lincoln was elected president, the Wide Awakes organization had grown to 500,000 members, and the group had remained active for several decades. On October 3, 1860, the Wide Awakes, dressed in oilcloth cloaks and bearing lanterns, marched in massive torchlight parades in the name of emancipation around the country, including cities like Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and Lower Manhattan.

The group’s activities included popular social events, an aura of competitive fraternity, and even promotional comic books. It introduced many people, mostly the youth, to political participation and hailed itself as the newfound voice of younger voters. Later, the structured, militant Wide Awakes attracted the generation that the partisan instability of the 1850s had profoundly shaken. In addition, the group offered young northerners a much-needed political identity.

National Wide Awakes Day timeline

1850s
Partisan Instability

Younger voters are disillusioned by partisan instability.

1860
The Year of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln is elected president.

1861
The Civil War

The American Civil War erupts between the Union and the Confederacy.

1865
The War Ends

Confederate General Lee surrenders to Union General Grant.

National Wide Awakes Day FAQs

Why were they called the Wide Awakes?

They were called the Wide Awakes because of their youth, enthusiasm, and torch-lit, nighttime marches. They were truly the “wokest” members of their generation.

What percentage of the vote did Lincoln get in 1860?

He won the Electoral College with less than 40% of the popular vote nationwide. This was done by carrying states above the Mason–Dixon line and north of the Ohio River, California, and Oregon.

What was the last state to rejoin the Union?

Georgia became the last former Confederate state to be brought back into the Union in 1870 after it agreed to seat some black members in the state Legislature. They cited Republican and northern hostility to slavery as compelling reasons for secession.

How to Observe National Wide Awakes Day

  1. Celebrate freedom

    Go out with your friends and celebrate the freedom that past Americans fought so hard for. Let the world know you’re proud to be an American!

  2. Honor the struggle

    Take a moment to remember the many people who lost their lives in the Civil War. It is one of the most important periods in American history, and without it, the country may have become a very different nation.

  3. Pay your respects to Abe

    Educate yourself about Abraham Lincoln and how he accomplished all that he did. Read up about the Republican Party’s long journey from the 1860s to becoming what it is today.

5 Facts About Abraham Lincoln That Will Blow Your Mind

  1. He held many jobs

    As a young adult, he worked as a flatboat navigator, storekeeper, soldier, surveyor, and postmaster.

  2. A tragic fate

    He became the first president to be assassinated when he was shot in 1865.

  3. He was a cat lover

    The Lincoln family ate with their cat at the White House dinner table.

  4. More than just fashion

    He sometimes kept essential documents under the famous, tall, black hats he wore.

  5. The tallest president

    Towering over others at 6’4”, he is the tallest U.S. president.

Why National Wide Awakes Day is Important

  1. It celebrates emancipation

    The Wide Awakes organization supported Lincoln’s emancipation plans and was among the earliest groups to call for and defend this change. They even marched in favor of it in many cities.

  2. It was a youth organization

    The youth are the future of the nation and an extremely important demographic when it comes to politics. The day could inspire new and young voters to take an active interest in politics.

  3. A crucial part of history

    Although Lincoln’s presidential election is among the most important historical events, not many have heard of the Wide Awakes group supporting him. The day helps educate more and more people about U.S. history.

National Wide Awakes Day dates

YearDateDay
2023October 3Tuesday
2024October 3Thursday
2025October 3Friday
2026October 3Saturday
2027October 3Sunday

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