The Torchlight Parade

Grand Procession of Wide-Awakes

Grand Procession of Wide-Awakes

Torchlight parade for Abraham Lincoln, New York City, October 3, 1860, published in Harper’s Weekly

The successful presidential campaign of Republican Abraham Lincoln perfected the nighttime torchlight parade as an entertainment of unprecedented scale that attracted the attention of men, women, and children. The concept originated in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1858, and was revived for Lincoln’s campaign by the city’s young Republicans.

Tailored oil-resistant enameled cloth capes distinguished the marchers, some of whom were too young to vote. Their example spread from Hartford to cities in the northeastern United States, which contributed traveling companies totaling some ten thousand uniformed men with torches to a Grand Procession in New York City on October 3, 1860. The martial spectacle—including fireworks, Lincoln “Wide Awake” transparencies, and floats—created envy among the city’s Democrats, and panic among southern sympathizers who regarded the torch-lit parade as a provocation.

Lincoln Wide-Awake

Tintype picturing Lincoln “Wide Awake” marcher wearing oilcloth cape and cap, holding pole and torch, 1860

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Campaign Torches and Lanterns, 1860–1896

Campaign parade torch, 1860

Campaign parade torch, 1860

Campaign parade torch, 1868

Campaign parade lantern, 1900

Campaign parade lantern, 1900

Gifts of George L. and Mary E. Compton, Mrs. Joseph Adkinson, Mr. George H. Watson, and Ralph E. Becker Collection of Political Americana

Campaign torches and lanterns, lit for a magazine photo shoot, 1960

Campaign torches and lanterns, lit for a magazine photo shoot, 1960