This Day in Dayton, 4 October

On October 5, 1860, the Dayton Wide-Awake club paraded in Tippecanoe County in support of Lincoln’s candidacy. In Indiana in 1860, state elections were held in October. Wide-Awakes were political clubs organized to demonstrate popular support for Lincoln’s candidacy. The men wore uniforms and paraded with a military style. To popularize the epithet “the Railsplitter” that was applied to Lincoln, they sometimes carried long rails with a lamp at the end. They also might carry flares or an American flag with the names of the Republican nominees imprinted on it. Bruce Catton (THE CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR, Vol. 1 THE COMING FURY, p. 89) quotes this description from Chicago paper:

The uniform of the privates is a black enameled circular cape, quite full and of good length, and glazed military fatigue cap with a brass or silver eagle in front. Some companies are uniformed with blue, red, drab and gray silver caps and capes and relieve the monotony of the darker uniforms. The captains and non-commissioned officers are distinguished by an Inverness overcoat, with black cape and undress military caps . . . The measured tread, steady front and unbroken lines speak of strict attention to drill, and the effective manner in which the various bodies are managed by their officers shows conclusively that men of military experience control their movements (from William E. Baringer, CAMPAIGN TECHNIQUE IN ILLINOIS—1860, Illinois State Historical Society Transactions for the Year 1932, p. 249.)

These clubs often traveled to other cities to march in large parades containing elaborate floats representing the log cabin, the flat boat, rail fences, and campaign slogans and issues. Each club had its own band. Historian Bruce Catton suggests that the military aspect of these clubs was a telling indication of the coming conflict, as telling as the preparations being made in the South to secede if the Republican candidate were elected. At any rate, they contributed to the wild enthusiasm and chaos of the campaign.

That October 5 the Dayton club participated with other clubs in the county in a large parade in Lafayette. Wide-Awakes from all but one of the townships competed for a prize to go to the largest club; the prize was won by Randolph township. The city papers mounted printing presses on wagons and carried them in the parades, distributing flyers along the way. An evening parade and torchlight procession climaxed the day (DeHart p. 170).

Susan ClawsonComment