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Wide Awake Organization


The Wide Awakes was a paramilitary campaign organization affiliated with the Republican Party during the 1860 election    Wikipedia article


Wide Awakes, members of an organization with strong paramilitary overtones, could be a menacing sight: they wore military-style caps and shrouded themselves in long black capes made of a shiny fabric that reflected the flames of the torches they carried. Some strapped axes to their backs, in tribute to their rail-splitting hero.


Similar disturbances happened almost daily in various cities.




10 05       They have a Wide Awake organization in Jefferson numbering some 60 members.  There is also one, just started, in Fort Atkinson with about 30 members.  Why can't we have something of this kind here?   WR


10 19       Wide Awake Demonstration   /   Emil Rothe

It having been generally understood that honorable Galusha A. Grow, of Pennsylvania was to speak for the Republican cause in this city last Monday evening, the Wide Awakes from Juneau, Horicon, Burnett, Hustisford, Fort Atkinson, Lake Mills, Jefferson and Aztalan, some five hundred in all, turned out and honored us with a visit.  We regret to state that they were not allowed to come and depart in peace as was their wish and as they would have done had they been permitted to do so.  A gang of loafers and rowdies belonging to the Democratic Party, to their shame, be it said, had unparalleled meanness to throw brickbats and other missiles at the procession as it passed through the streets, at different times, and in every other possible manner interfered with their progress and insulted them.  It is a disgrace upon Watertown, upon her officers and upon her people, that such an outrage upon peaceable and well disposed citizens should have been committed.  Those engaged in it will live long enough to yet rue the day that they were engaged in it, as the sore heads of many of them led them to regret it that night.


Here at home it is perfectly understood who the instigators of the affair were, though it may not be so well known by our guests that night, upon whom the responsibility of the border ruffian attack belongs.  It is proper, therefore, that we should state that the leaders of the Democratic Party, if parties to the outrage at all, were so sly and cunning in the matter that they are not known as having been engaged in it, though many of them were in the streets at the time, and we have no doubt could have quelled the disturbance if they had desired to do so.  They employed men without character, without respectability, without any reputation for decency, like Emil Rothe, to incite the mob, and urge them on from one outrage to another until forbearance ceased to be a virtue, and the Wide Awakes were compelled, in self-defense, to fight for their rights.  This man Rothe, who is a foul libel on humanity, and who deserves to be held in the most supreme contempt by every respectable citizen, was in the movement from beginning to end, counseling the rioters and directing them what to do.  We do not make any random charges.  We know what we say, and we assert openly and aboveboard that upon him more than any other man devolves the responsibility of the various outrages committed.  We can tell Mr. Rothe and his pimps that they never must engage in another affair of that kind.  We do not speak for ourselves alone.  We speak for the Republican Party of the city.  We hope we speak for the respectable portion of the Democratic Party.  We speak for the friends of law and order in both parties.  We speak for the cause of freedom, and tell those vagabonds and pests in society that the rights of the people, whether Republicans or not, are not to be again trampled upon with impunity and that another like infringement of them will be fought to the bitter end.  They can put this in their pipes and smoke at to their hearts content.   WR


10 19       It Paid

We assure our Wide-Awake friends who visited us last Monday night that the demonstration they made here, and the conduct of the rowdy portion of the Democracy on that occasion, have inured to the benefit of the Republican Party.  We have gained at least fifty votes by the operation, and we shall be surprised if we do not gain many more.  There is a feeling prevalent here among the better class of citizens that any cause which needs to be bolstered up by such arguments as are conveyed by the bludgeons, brickbats and rotten eggs must be desperate indeed.  We have the names of several voters who were Democrats and intended to vote the Democratic ticket before this affair happened, who have since announced their determination to vote the clean Republican ticket.  "Sound."   WR


10 19       All Wrong

The Democrat's article exonerating Mr. Rothe from all participation in this disgraceful affair of Monday night is all bosh.  Mr. Rothe and his particular friends are seeking to establish the impression that he had nothing to do with the matter except to try and quiet the rowdies.  We know to the contrary and can give facts and circumstances to establish our assertion if they are demanded.  The Democrat should not lend itself to upholding Rothe, or anyone else, guilty of such outrages on the rights of the people.  Its main article on the fight is a good one, and just such as was to have been expected from it.  It condemns in unmeasured terms the border ruffians and has the thanks of our law and order citizens for its manliness and independence.


Now that the question has been raised as to Mr. Rothe's innocence in the matter, we may add, that we have taken particular pains to carefully inquire into this affair, and learned the following facts:


About seven o'clock in the evening, before any of the torches of the Wide Awakes were lighted, a professional gentleman and Republican, of this city, in front of Bieber’s saloon, asked Mr. Rothe what he thought of the Republican demonstration. His reply was, "These Wide Awakes are a set of God d----d fools, and you will see fun here tonight!"  Standing in the center of Second and Main streets, in the crowd, he urged Democrats to press into the street and, when the Wide Awakes came along, holler for Douglas and groan, and Rothe groaned himself.  James Prentice, Esq., a leading Democrat of the city, called Mr. Rothe out of the crowd and told him it would not do, it would injure their party, and told him that he (Rothe) could get the crowd away and urged him to do it.  To this it was replied in substance that the Wide Awakes had no right to come here . . .  WR


10 19       Watertown Wide Awakes

At a verbal call for a meeting of Republicans who were interested in the organization of a company of Wide Awakes in this city, a large number assembled at Cole's Hall on Wednesday evening last.  Thomas R. Mott, Esq., being called to the chair and secretaries appointed, about 180 persons, including those who had previously signed a paper to the same effect, gave in their names as members.  Gen. L. A. Cole was elected Captain, Charles Wood, 1st Lieut., L. J. Kadish, 2nd Lieut., S. P. Day, 1st Sergt., E. W. Hilke, E. R. Williams, J. T. Moak, Ed Hall, and B. T. Wells, assistants.  T. R. Mott was elected Treasurer and L. Charbaneau Standard Bearer.  Measures were adopted for procuring the necessary material, and an effective company will be in full operation in a few days.  This effort may be traced mainly to the outrage perpetrated by our opponents upon the Wide Awakes who visited us on last Monday evening.  The utmost enthusiasm prevailed, and we may be sure the canvas on the part of the Republicans will be energetic up to the very hour of the election.   WR


10 26       Fight in Watertown

We learn that a row occurred in Watertown on Monday night between some Douglasites and the Wide Awakes—in which the former were aggressors.  Our informant, who himself is a Douglas man, attaches the whole blame to some dozen German Douglasites of Watertown, who were led on by E. Rothe.  As the Wide Awakes, to the number of 500 or more, marched through the city, a brickbat was thrown through one of the transparencies [windows], and as they passed a saloon the contents of a chamber was thrown upon them, whereupon the Wide Awakes took occasion to "clean out" the saloons.  Considerable fighting took place and, as we have it, the Douglasites were completely discomforted— E. Rothe receiving a cut on the hand and losing a shawl in the melee.  Such scenes are disgraceful in the extremes and bodes no good to the parties enacting them. — Milwaukee Inquirer   WR


10 26       Will Not Succeed

An industrious attempt has been made and will continue to be until after the election, on the part of Mr. Off and his friends to divert attention from him and create the impression in the public mind that he was in no way responsible for the disturbance that took place here last week.  But we do not propose to let Mr. Off escape in that way.  We do not pretend or claim that he threw any missiles or directly took part in the assault committed upon the Wide Awakes, but we do say that he was here in the streets the whole time, and that he did not seek any manner to restrain the aggressors and their attempts to break up the procession and force it to abandon the streets.  It is for what he neglected to do that we complain of him, and not for anything that he did do.  Here he was, an officer of the law, perfectly inefficient and quiet, regretting undoubtedly for policy’s state that his friends were conducting themselves in the manner they were, but at the same time passive and utterly powerless to preserve order because he did not dare to assert his authority.  This is the most lenient view so far as Off is concern that can be taken in the matter. 


The first assault was made about seven o'clock in the evening and was renewed time after time, without a murmur or the least resentment on the part of the Wide Awakes, until nearly midnight, when their patience gave out and they were compelled to take the law into their own hands.  Why is it that no arrests were made of the rowdies who made the attacks?  Mr. Off knew that stones were thrown from Bieber’s saloon.  Did he go there to see if he could ascertain who threw them?  Not he.  Did he go to another building, from whence empty bottles, stones etc. issued at various times during the evening, and see if he could learn who hurled them?  Not at all.  He did nothing to ferret the matter out, but from beginning to end was a mere looker on and by his actions showed that if the majesty of the law was to be vindicated, it at least should not be done through his instrumentality.   WR


10 26       Singular

Although we have conversed with several of the rowdies whom we know participated in the outrage of last week on the Wide Awakes, yet we have not been able to find one who will admit that he had anything to do with it.  Some of them even claim that they were out of town and knew nothing of it until the next day!  They are to be excused for wishing it to appear that they are innocent, for it was an affair at once disgraceful and outrageous and reflects lasting dishonor on all who participated in it.   WR


10 26       A Failure

The attempt on the part of Rothe and his friends to prove an alibi on the night of the Wide-Awake demonstration when brickbats, bludgeons, and a certain kind of crockery not to be mentioned to ears polite, were hurled at the heads of peaceable citizens who were attending to their own business and quietly parading our streets, does not succeed.  There are too many living witnesses of the fact that Rothe was here early in the evening to have his story credited that he was out of town at so late an hour as he pretends.  We don't blame Rothe for wishing to divert attention from him, and to escape the responsibility of that disgraceful affair.  It is one of which every man engaged in it should be ashamed.   WR


10 26       Great Republican Rally

Great Republican rally in Watertown, Thursday evening, November 1st.  Hon. Carl Schurz will speak for the Republican cause in this city on Thursday evening November 1st.  Other distinguished speakers have also been invited and are expected to be present.  Turn out, Republicans, and let us give our distinguished townsman a hearty welcome home, such as is becoming in us as his neighbors, due to him for the gallant services he has rendered in the pending struggle between Republicanism and bogus Democracy.  There will be a grand torchlight procession in the evening.   WR


10 26       Wide Awakes from Whitewater, Beaver Dam, Fort Atkinson, Jefferson, Aztalan, Hustisford, Concord, Waterloo, Hebron, and other places have been invited and are expected to be present.  Many of them have already signified their intention to do so  Let there be a grand rally of all true friends of the cause.   WR


10 26       The Fight between the Wide Awakes and those who annoyed the procession as it passed through our streets was an unpleasant incident.  The material charge can be estimated by counting a few broken windows in Mr. Peter Seaborg's building and a few bruised heads about town.  The originators of this affray deserve nothing but censure and blame.  If the real instigators, whoever they were, had been more severely punished, all classes and parties of our peace-loving citizens would have been better pleased.  The Republicans, as they had a perfect right to do, came here to make a political demonstration.


As long as they conducted their proceedings within the limits of the propriety all parties are bound to observe they should have been left entirely alone to carry out their display.  When assaulted with clubs and stones, it is natural that they should defend themselves and the way they walked into a saloon where they had been outrageously attacked was a caution to the offenders that they had better get out of the way.  Some of the missile throwers got badly bruised, and if others who escaped had a few blows that were received by the innocent, it would have been all right.


It is hard to find out who had a hand in this affair.  We are sure there was not the slightest excuse or apology for getting up a collision.  Our Republican citizens resolved to hold a meeting.  They invited Wide Awakes from neighboring places to participate in their proceedings, these companies should not have been meddled with, but left entirely to themselves, had conceded to them the freedom of the streets, and allowed to depart without molestation.


That is the way for one party to treat another, and no one is justified in violating common decency and courtesy by insulting shouts or violent attacks.  It is no more than justice to the community to say that but few were engaged in this disgraceful interruption and that no citizen of any character or position regards it with any sentiments than those of scorn and contempt.


In this country there will necessarily be difference of opinion on public measures.  When the people are divided into opposing political parties, each should respect the motives of the other.   this way men can disagree, and each follow the dictates of his judgment, and all be secure in the enjoyment of those sacred rights which we are proud to consider a common heritage. — Watertown Democrat   WR


11 02       A Nice Present

Some of the Republican ladies of this city presented to the Wide Awakes a few days ago through their captain, Gen. Cole, a beautiful sash to be worn by him when in command of his company.  Miss Mary Potter was mainly instrumental in getting it up, to whom a good share of the credit for it properly belongs.   WR


11 02       Naturally Enough

The fact that Emil Rothe is one of the Republican electors on the Douglas ticket accounts for the alacrity and zeal with which the leading Democrats here come to his support and attempt to shield him from all blame and participation in the disturbance week before last.  They do not want to have the fact go abroad that a man occupying so high and distinguished a position in the party as that given him by force of circumstances, rather than by any real words, should have engaged in the unprovoked attack upon peaceable citizens visiting our city, and a ringleader at that.  It hurts "the party."  Not that they care anything for Rothe personally.  But the interest of "the party" must not be allowed to suffer, so they undertake to clear Rothe by the most barefaced lying.  But they cannot do that.  We can prove all we have charged against him and more too.  We have the name of a reliable gentleman who heard him tell a crowd of boys the night of the fracas, that "if they would blockade the street and not let the Wide Awakes pass, he would give them all the beer they wanted to drink."  Other facts, known not only to us but hundreds of others, point unerringly to Rothe as one of the ringleaders in this difficulty.  He should not therefore be allowed to escape the full share of the responsibility for it.   WR


11 02       . . . The more you [Emil Rothe] try to mend and patch up these acts, the worse they look.  They are past mending—it's no use trying.  They have given you a reputation that will stick to you so close that you can never shake it off.  Your trying to get away from the charge of taking any part in the disgraceful proceedings, when men saw you in the act, does not find belief in this community.


The following affidavit is given to show that you were engaged in interrupting the Wide Awakes procession.  Your assertion that you was not in the crowd—only in the capacity of an officer trying to keep the peace—is unqualifiedly false. 


State of Wisconsin, Jefferson County

Gerald Crane, being duly sworn on oath, says that, on Monday evening, October 15, A.D. 1860, he was at the city Watertown in said county as a member of the Wide-Awake company from Fort Atkinson, and that the company was attacked in various ways, by throwing of brickbats, stones, clubs, etc., for some time without resistance, and that finally the said Crane and others resisted said attacks, and while resisting, Under Sheriff Off came to this affiant and arrested him in the name of the State of Wisconsin and commanded the peace; and further this affiant saith not. 



Subscribed and sworn before me, this 23d day of October, A. D. 1860, Geo. C. Smith, J.P.   WR


11 09          Democratic Ruffianism

While it would be unjust to accuse every Democrat of being in favor of mobs and personal violence, it would seem that no one could be insensible to the fact that the spirit of the Democratic Party is kindred to Ruffianism.  In the first place, while that party supports slavery, the only basis of the law of slavery is brute force.  We know also that, to  slavery, every constitutional right is violated, when peaceable citizens are expelled from their homes, deprived of their property, and driven away.  Would it not be next to impossible to exclude similar measures for a similar purpose from the northern wing of the same party?  Hence we see violence in every northern state, sometimes resulting in murder, but often lesser injuries, invariably by the same party.


The attack upon the Wide Awakes and the city was not the only outburst of this demoniacal spirit which has occurred here during the late campaign.  We saw a young man brutally beaten by a Douglas man after the Douglas display the evening before election, and we learned that he had been beaten before, and all this only because he had expressed sympathy for our side.  We know also that the honorable Mr. Gill of the city has been grossly insulted in the streets, and subjected to other indignities, because he followed his honest convictions, that he should vote for Lincoln.  By such acts the Democratic Party plainly shows that if it had the power to suppress freedom of speech and of the press, the same despotism would ring throughout the North, which slaveholders maintain in the South.  This alone will induce all good men to come out of a party which does not possess one redeeming trait of character and unite the friends of liberty in maintaining Republican institutions.   WR


11 23          What is said of us

The Wisconsin Chief [newspaper], in speaking of the Watertown Wide Awakes, and the figure they cut at the Fort Atkinson Jubilee the other day, says: “As the company from Watertown filed in, with our friend [Luther A.] Cole, a noble specimen of a man in body and soul, on [in] the lead, we could not but feel a throb of pride and came near lifting our hat and letting off a whoop of greeting.  This fine-looking company was the prompt, stalwart, outgrowth of the attempt in Watertown to suppress free speech by violence.”


We regret that our whole company could not turn out at the time and thus show the hundreds of Wide Awakes there assembled the full “outgrowth” from the attempt that was made here to “suppress free speech by violence.”  Had we been two hundred strong as we are at home, instead of seventy, the remarks of the Chief would have been better deserved than they are now.   WR


11 23          Vote of Thanks

As the Watertown Wide Awakes were returning on Thursday evening last from their excursion to Fort Atkinson they were called to order by Ira E. Leonard, Esq., upon whose motion Capt. Luther A. Cole was called upon to preside.  Mr. Leonard then presented to the meeting the following resolutions, after prefacing them with some remarks highly complementary to the Wide Awakes and Republicans of Fort Atkinson, which were enthusiastically received by all the gentlemen present:


Resolved, That the Wide Awakes of the city of Watertown are under many obligations to their brother Wide Awakes and Republicans of Fort Atkinson for the hearty and cordial receptions we received at their hands this day, and that for the many courtesies they have shown us during our visit, and the hospitable manner in which they provided for our creature comforts upon this occasion, they are deserving of our most hearty thanks and should ever be held in grateful remembrance by us.


Resolved, That the result of the late election shows that Koskonong is the banner town in Jefferson County, and that we hope, as we trust, her Republican majorities will never be less than they were on the 6th of this month.


Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished the Watertown Republican for publications


There was a long, thundering “aye” in response, which fully attested to the feelings with which the Watertown “boys” returned from their visit.  They were all delighted with their trip, as well they might be.   WR