|IMPORTANT ABRAHAM LINCOLN PORTRAIT FLAG WITH 13 STARS AND "WIDE AWAKE" SLOGAN, FROM THE 1860 CAMPAIGN WITH VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HANNIBAL HAMLIN, AKIN TO A FLAG IN THE COLLECTION AT FORD'S THEATER
|Frame Size (H x L):
|23.5" x 30"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|11.5" x 17.5"
|This rare political flag is an extremely important object in the world of American flag and political campaign collecting. Not only is this due to its use by Abraham Lincoln during his first campaign for the White House with running mate Hannibal Hamlin in 1860, but even more because of the presence of his portrait, printed in relief in the center of the canton. Among printed parade flags, those specifically used for political campaigning, with advertising of the candidates’ names, faces, and slogans, are by far the most valuable. Among this subsection, those flags pertaining to the two campaigns of Abraham Lincoln are collectively the most widely desired. There are more rare flags, such as those made for Horace Greeley, Winfield Scott, or Millard Fillmore, among which scarcely any examples have survived, but there is no 19th century American personality so beloved as Lincoln and no 19th century event that has so enamored our nation’s focus on history than the study of the Civil War. Further, among the existing flags that relate to our 16th president’s aspirations for our nation’s highest office, none are so sought after and desired than those containing his image. Numerous top collectors of political flags have left the hobby, or continue to collect today, without ever being lucky enough to acquire one.
This 1860 flag, which bears 13 stars, is a gem among its rare and prized counterparts. The distinct beardless portrait of the would-be president was engraved in the likeness of an image captured by Chicago photographer Samuel M. Fassett on October 4th, 1859, around the time of his famous debates with Stephen Douglas. The portrait is framed by parenthesis-like arches of stars on either side, with a star in each corner of the canton and a single one beneath in the bottom center. Arched above are the words "Wide Awake".
The Wide Awakes was Lincoln’s foremost political activist powerhouse. Not to be confused with a New York organization by the same name, loosely associated with the American Party (more commonly known as the Know-Nothings), this Wide-Awakes movement was born in Hartford, Connecticut, about a week before Lincoln arrived there for a campaign speech in February of 1860. When, Cassius M. Clay, the controversial Kentucky emancipationist and friend of Lincoln, gave a public speech in Hartford on February 25, he was escorted to the meeting hall by a torch-lit procession. The reason was as much in support of Clay as for his own protection. Legend has it that several of the marchers dashed into a dry goods store along the route and emerged with pieces of fine linen or cotton cloth, which they draped over their heads and shoulders to protect themselves from the dripping whale oil lamps that they carried. The darkly cloaked men attracted such attention that they were asked to move ahead to the lead. Little did they expect that these industrious outfits would cause such a stir in the press that black glazed caps and capes would eventually become the ' official dress.
The following week the same men led Lincoln to his speech and the following morning the newspaper headlines read: “HARTFORD IS WIDE-AWAKE FOR LINCOLN-HAMLIN”. The term had been used by Republications for some groups of young people being mobilized throughout the nation since 1856, others of which were called "Freedom Clubs," "Bear Clubs," and "Rocky Mountain Clubs." Soon, Republican clubs nationwide renamed themselves Wide Awakes, sought charter through the Hartford chapter, and the movement became one of the most powerful campaign organizations in American political history.
The Wide Awakes has sometimes been referred to a paramilitary organization, though in most places the efforts were for protection rather than aggression. In an era before the existence of the Secret Service, this was an important function. All over the nation the Wide Awakes escorted Lincoln and other Republican politicians to their destinations. Their officers were called Captains and Lieutenants, and it was primarily the group’s southern membership that was often blamed for arson and other crimes toward slave owners and secessionists. In 19th century America, in such a heated political and moral climate, the military-related purpose of the Wide Awakes was primarily to serve as citizen-organized, political police, providing protection for Republicans as they traveled and spoke, keeping order during this volatile period and seeking to create a safe environment during the election polls. Members were mostly young, unmarried men, to whom such political groups served as a primary social activity. Wide Awakes were known for their torchlight parades, and the seventy-five cent dues charged by some chapters was specifically slated to provide for a parade torch. The watchful eye that became their trademark was a long-popular symbol of the Masons, and is still present today on the U.S. dollar. Representing the eye of God, it was an obvious fit with both the name and ideological purpose of the group.
Like most of the fraternal groups in this period, meetings of the Wide Awakes were both ceremonial and secretive. After the election, Lincoln actually attributed much of the driving force behind his victory to the actions of this organization, and, in deep gratitude, he invited the original Wide Awakes from Hartford to march with him at his inaugural parade.
The Wide Awakes connection takes this flag to yet another level. Very little Wide Awakes material exists, especially in cloth and it is highly coveted.
The large portrait amid 13 large stars and an interesting design are also important. Most Lincoln flags with portraits have a smaller and less interesting image. This one is large with respect to the flag and whimsical with strong folk characteristics. The text is a key feature as well, in a bold, western-style font, sweeping across the stripes in a serpentine curve. Most Lincoln campaign flags bear the full star count and 13 star examples are rare among them. These are arranged in an interesting manner that adds impact to the striking overall graphics.
This flag is one of 5 or perhaps 6 known examples. One of these is owned by the National Park Service and displayed at Fords Theater in Washington, DC, the site of Lincoln's assassination. Two are featured as items 300 and 301 in “Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present,” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins, (1979, Smithsonian Press), p. 159-160. Collins formerly served as curator of political history at the Smithsonian and his text is considered the definitive reference on American political textiles. One of the two Collins examples is privately owned and the other was in the collection of the Lincoln National Life Foundation in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which operated the largest Lincoln museum. I owned an example of this design 12 years ago, now in a major collection, and there may be a sixth in a collection of equal magnitude.
Mounting: The gilded American molding dates to the period between 1840 and 1860. I married this to a wide concave liner with a dark brown surface that is nearly black with red highlights and overtones. The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: This flag is in the best condition of all the known examples in this style. There is moderate foxing and staining. There is an L-shaped tear along the fly end in the canton, extending into the white area where the flag was formerly affixed to a wooden staff. Along this there are holes where metal tacks were once present to attach it. There is minor pigment loss and fading and there is minor fraying along the top edge of the canton, adjacent to the hoist end. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag presents exceptionally well and its extreme rarity and desirability warrant almost any condition.
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