Essays on American Antebellum Politics, 1840-1860

By William E. Gienapp; Thomas B. Alexander et al. | Go to book overview

WILLIAM E. GIENAPP


"Politics Seem To Enter into Everything": Political Culture in the North, 1840-1860

DESPITE the sweltering August sun, the roads to Springfield were jammed. For several days, in response to a call by Republican leaders, people converged on the Illinois capital to honor Abraham Lincoln, the party's candidate for president and the town's most illustrious citizen. Advertisements for this grand ratification meeting, scheduled for August 8, 1860, had been circulated throughout the state, but the response surprised even the organizers. Participants came not only from central Illinois, but also from distant counties and even neighboring states. Rough-hewn farmers temporarily abandoned their wheat fields to join residents of countless small prairie towns in plodding over the rugged country roads to the capital; there they mingled with celebrants from the state's major cities, many of whom arrived on special trains totaling 180 cars that rolled into town on the morning of the rally. At least 50,000 men, women, and children gathered for the occasion.

It was not a day that those present would soon forget. In the morning a parade of wagons, floats, marching teams, equestrian groups, glee clubs, bands, and county and town delegations replete with cannons, flags, and banners filed by Lincoln's house. The procession stretched almost eight miles. That afternoon speakers from five separate platforms addressed the throng assembled at the state fairgrounds. Singing and cheering rent the air from morning until night. Darkness brought fireworks and a dazzling torchlight display by the Wide Awake clubs, followed by still more speeches. The activity did not subside until well after midnight, when the weary thousands dispersed to begin their journeys home. "The streets were all ablaze with light and enthusiasm," the local Republican newspaper excitedly proclaimed afterward. The day had been a "magnificent spectacle of triumph and joy."1

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1
Illinois State Journal, August 9, 1860; William Hawley Smith, "Old-Time Campaigning and the Story of a Lincoln Campaign Song", Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

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