The Torchlight Parade
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.
Campaign Torches and Lanterns, 1860–1896
Gifts of George L. and Mary E. Compton, Mrs. Joseph Adkinson, Mr. George H. Watson, and Ralph E. Becker Collection of Political Americana