When Abraham Lincoln campaigned in Hartford, Connecticut, in March 1860, he was met by a new uniformed group—the Wide Awakes.

The Club of Cape-Wearing Activists Who Helped Elect Lincoln—and Spark the Civil War

The untold story of the Wide Awakes, the young Americans who took up the torch for their antislavery cause and stirred the nation


The Father-Daughter Team Who Reformed America

Meet the duo who helped achieve the most important labor and civil rights victories of their age

America’s public, partisan and passionate campaigns fired up uniformed young men who participated in torchlit marches, a style pioneered by the Republican Wide Awakes stumping for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (above: a procession stomped through Lower Manhattan’s Printing House Square).

The Little-Known Story of 19th-Century America's Partisan Warfare

In a new book, Smithsonian curator Jon Grinspan examines the history of America's furious and fractious politics

An oil-cloth cape worn by a young Republican during a late-night, torch-lit campaign march ahead of the 1880 presidential election.

When Young Americans Marched for Democracy Wearing Capes

In 1880, a new generation helped decide the closest popular vote in U.S. history

Boss Tweed and the Tammany Ring, caricatured by Thomas Nast, c. 1870

To Stop an Endless Cycle of Corruption, History Says Fix the System, Not the Politician

A turn-of-the-century muckraker named Lincoln Steffens understood the true problem with a "throw the bums out" strategy

Wide Awake Republican political club from 1860, comprised of young men who dressed in uniforms and marched at night by torchlight for Lincoln.

Whigs Swigged Cider and Other Voter Indicators of the Past

Throughout most of American history, what someone wore indicated their political affiliations as loudly as a Prius or a Hummer might today

Members of Coxey's Army, 1894

How a Ragtag Band of Reformers Organized the First Protest March on Washington, D.C.

The first March on Washington was a madcap affair, but in May of 1894, some 10,000 citizens descended on D.C., asking for a jobs bill

Redpath lectures lasted well into the 20th-century (above, 1913), but when James Redpath started them in the late 1860s, he sought out speakers who could electrify an audience.

Before SXSW and Ted, A Manic Visionary Revolutionized the American Lecture Circuit

Meet James Redpath, the man who coached national celebrities on how to bring a crowd to its feet

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