On February 15, 2023, The Cedar Rapids Gazette published the short editorial I wrote based on my latest – and a bit longer – webpost – Learning From History – Wide Awake Vs. Woke. For your reading enjoyment, I’m reprinting the editorial here (below). Keep in mind that I’m not attempting to promote one political party over another, but simply pointing out the great need for all of us to better learn from our rich American history…
Republicans are no longer ‘Wide Awakes’ by Marty Boller
Today, there’s a political firestorm surrounding the idea of “being woke.” Here’s just one example. In November 2022, Florida’s Republican governor gave a fiery speech, declaring — “(We) will never surrender to the woke mob … Florida is where woke goes to die.”
As a historian, I find it painfully hilarious that among American conservatives today, the phrase “being woke” has been weaponized to criticize members of the opposition party. The reason I smile, you ask?
Many don’t realize that the Republican Party — when birthed just before the 1860 National Election — came into existence because thousands of young Americans had grown tired and weary of a political system that failed to recognize Thomas Jefferson’s words found in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Many in the North were fed up with a political system that refused to stand up for those in our midst who were enslaved — treating them as property instead of human beings. In the late 1850s, the political system across America was failing to address a very sad truth. Here in Iowa, for example, while we were technically a “free state,” there were still many in both the Democrat and Whig Parties who either supported the enslavement of humans, or simply believed it best, politically, to ignore the subject.
Across the nation, there arose a radical Voice of Truth. Young people began joining together, hearing the cry of freedom for all. In cities across the United States, these radicals began forming local political organizations that stood up for those who had no voice. Their name? The Wide Awakes.
Yes, you heard it correctly. These radicals called themselves the Wide Awakes, and the brand-new political party — called The Republican Party — was birthed in Pittsburgh in 1856, calling for all Americans to awaken to the tyranny of slavery. By 1860, when this new party gathered in Chicago for its first National Convention, many of the party leaders were members of the Wide Awakes, and it was in this “woke” condition, they nominated a young statesman from Illinois as their choice to become the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
Isn’t it intriguing that today’s Republican Party has taken, basically, the same language that helped form their party in 1860, and its leaders now treat it as derogatory?
History shows us during the turbulent times of the 1850s and 60s, men and women from both existing parties — Democrat and Whig — left their political power behind in order to stand with those truths they found to be self-evident. Here in Iowa, for example, our first Territorial Gov. Robert Lucas, a longtime Democrat, left his party to stand with what was right. Iowa’s Civil War Gov. Samuel Kirkwood was a longtime Democrat in Ohio before switching parties to become an abolitionist. So today, where are the Awakes — those who will stand with those American Truths that are self-evident? Might I suggest that we all awaken to these foundational truths that are supposedly self-evident. And if that means I’m woke — so be it!
Marty Boller lives in Iowa City.
Kudos to The Cedar Rapids Gazette Editorial Department for publishing my piece.
If you’d like to dig deeper into the history behind my editorial – come on over to the full post.