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Jon Grinspan: "Wide Awake"

At the start of the 1860 presidential campaign, a handful of fired-up young Northerners appeared as bodyguards to defend anti-slavery stump speakers from frequent attacks. The group called themselves the Wide Awakes. Soon, hundreds of thousands of young White and Black men, and a number of women, were organizing boisterous, uniformed, torch-bearing brigades of their own. These Wide Awakes--mostly working-class Americans in their twenties--became one of the largest, most spectacular, and most influential political movements in our history. To some, it demonstrated the power of a rising majority to push back against slavery. To others, it looked like a paramilitary force training to invade the South. Within a year, the nation would be at war with itself, and many on both sides would point to the Wide Awakes as the mechanism that got them there.

In this gripping narrative, Smithsonian historian Jon Grinspan examines how exactly our nation crossed the threshold from a political campaign into a war. Perfect for readers of Lincoln on the Verge and The Field of Blood, Wide Awake bears witness to the power of protest, the fight for majority rule, and the defense of free speech. At its core, Wide Awake illuminates a question American democracy keeps posing, about the precarious relationship between violent rhetoric and violent actions.

About the Author: 

Jon Grinspan is Curator of Political History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He is the author of the award-winning The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the 19th Century. He frequently contributes to the New York Times, and has been featured in The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. ​​​​​​

About the Program: 

  • Registration opens on Monday, March 18 at 12pm. 
  • To attend in person please register here
  • Doors will open to registered attendees at 6 pm. 
  • Free parking vouchers are available to program attendees who park at the Franklin Street Garage (15 W. Franklin Street) after 4pm.  Ask Pratt event staff for your parking voucher prior to or after the program. 
  • This free event will be presented in-person and virtually.   

Virtual Meeting Information

There is no registration required for virtual attendance, simply visit the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Facebook or Youtube page. 

Thursday, May 23 at 7:00pm to 8:00pm

Central Library, Wheeler Auditorium
400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201

Event Type

Writers LIVE!, Virtual Event

Age Group

Adults

Compass Category

Writers LIVE at the Library

Event Publisher

Cleve Corner, Manager of Speaker & Author Engagement

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