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    "The Republican Wide Awakes of Woonsocket" determine to "resist by all constitutional means [slavery's] further extension"

    [Abraham Lincoln] "Wide Awakes" of Woonsocket, Rhode Island: Handwritten 1860 Constitution and Minutes. This bound ledger (8" x 11") contains over fifty pages kept by five manifestations of Republican Party campaign organizations in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, from 1856 through 1864. The pages include the handwritten constitutions and minutes from the five organizations, which includes the Wide Awakes of 1860. The ledger contains 121 numbered and lined pages, nearly sixty of which are blank. The front hard cover has detached. Some foxing, minor ink smearing, and stains exist on various pages.

    In response to the extension of slavery into U.S. territories by the mid-nineteenth century, the Republican Party emerged in the north in 1854. With it, clubs formed to promote its principles. Five took shape in Woonsocket and kept their constitution and minutes in this ledger book. The first such organization called themselves the Fremont Club of Woonsocket and their stated purpose was to help elect the Republican Party's first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont. They organized on July 29, 1856, two years after the Republican Party first formed, and stated in their preamble that they were forming their organization in response to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, "lawless violence in Washington and in Kansas," and to halt "the further extension of Slavery." Their "Platform and Principles" stressed that they believed Congress had no power to end slavery in the states, but that it could end slavery "in any Territory of the United States." With those principles in mind, they favored Kansas being "immediately admitted into the Union as a Free State." Their constitution comprised of five articles, which consisted of rules for membership qualifications ("Subscribing to its platform and pledging himself to vote for the Hon. John C. Fremont for the Presidency"); club organization ("a President, twelve vice Presidents, a Treasurer," etc.); club funding; and amendment procedures. The constitution was approved on July 29, 1856, and signed in this ledger by over fifty founding members.

    The Fremont Club met weekly in 1856 from July through December and kept minutes from their meetings, which included information about their officer elections and committee appointments. The minutes show that speeches were given, internal club matters were tended, and songs by their own glee club were sung. The association also voted on various club issues, including one vote which allowed that "the Ladies be invited to attend the meetings of this association."

    Following Fremont loss in the November election, the club reinvented itself, voting to change its name to the American Republican Association of Woonsocket. It adopted a new - and lengthier - constitution on December 2, 1856, resolving "that although in the late contest we were defeated, we are not 'subdued' or disheartened, but that we rejoice in the unanimity of sentiment in New England, New York and the greater part of the North West as the sure harbinger of that good time coming when a healthy public sentiment on the Slavery Question shall pervade the entire country and the clanking of the bondman's chains and the wail of the Western Pioneer in Kansas shall be heard and realized no more." Minutes of their meetings show that the association also actively participated in local elections in favor of Republican candidates.

    Four years later on August 31, 1860, over 140 men met at Temperance Hall in Woonsocket and formed "The Republican Wide Awakes of Woonsocket." The national organization of Wide Awakes appealed to young, politically active northern white men who shared the principles of the Republican Party. They considered themselves a paramilitary group, adopting banners and uniforms, although they had no intentions of using violence. According to this ledger, the Woonsocket Wide Awake chapter approved a constitution on August 31, 1860, which stated in its preamble that the "young men of Woonsocket [were] desirous of Securing the Ascendency and perpetuity of the principles of the Republican Party, and the election of its Candidates for office." The preamble further noted that the club was devoted to the U.S. Constitution and opposed to "interference with Slavery in the States where it now legally exists, and our unqualified and unalterable determination to resist by all constitutional means its further extension." The club's constitution was comprised of twelve articles and was approved at their first meeting in August 1860, over three months after Abraham Lincoln was nominated at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. "Any person" who was "eighteen years of age who will maintain and will be governed by this Constitution" could join this chapter of the Wide Awakes. The constitution is signed in the ledger by over 140 men. The minutes of the first gathering report that officers were elected and committees were appointed, including one "to procure uniforms for the company." According to the minutes, the group continued to meet through September, October, and November, and many members participated in local Wide Awake demonstrations and "displays," including one large demonstration in Boston.

    Also included in the ledger is the constitution and meeting minutes of another club from the nearby communities of Smithfield and Cumberland which also formed in 1860. This club called themselves the Republican Association of Woonsocket and recorded that they were "desirous of Securing the election of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois to the office of President of the United States and the election of Hannibal Hamlin of Maine to the office of Vice President." This club's constitution was signed on August 31, 1860, by over sixty founding members who, perhaps, were not interested in joining the more zealous Wide Awakes. Minutes were recorded for meetings held from through November.

    Four years later during the presidential campaign of 1864, the group reinvented itself again at a meeting held on September 23, 1864, "for the purpose of organizing a Lincoln and Johnson Club." Once again a club constitution was adopted, this time containing a resolution "calling upon the government to prosecute the War with the utmost possible rigor to the complete suppression of the rebellion." Twenty-nine men signed the constitution. Minutes for two meetings were recorded.




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