My home state of Illinois has a colorful, and not infrequently tragic, history. An example of both is the murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. Born on November 9, 1802 in Maine, Lovejoy became a Presbyterian minister. Publisher of The Observer newspaper, he was anti-Jackson and anti-slavery, neither of which were popular stances in Missouri in the 1830s. After pro-slavery mobs destroyed his press for the third time, he moved his newspaper across the Mississippi to Alton, Illinois. Illinois was a free state, and presumably Lovejoy thought it would be safe to publish an anti-slavery newspaper there. Unfortunately Alton had been largely settled by Southerners and was a center of pro-slavery sentiment in Illinois.
On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob destroyed Lovejoy’s press. Lovejoy attempted to stop the destruction and was gunned down and killed by the mob. The mob through his printing press in the river. A prosecution was attempted for the murder, but none of the murderers were convicted. The murder of Lovejoy deeply moved 28 year old Illinois state representative Abraham Lincoln. In a speech entitled On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions given by Lincoln to the Young Mens’ Lyceum in Springfield on January 27, 1838, Lincoln condemned mob violence. The Lovejoy murder was all the talk of Illinois, so his listeners knew what Lincoln was referring to when he said:
Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world.
Elijah Lovejoy’s brother Owen was also an abolitionist, and became a close friend and political ally of Lincoln. He was elected to Congress from Illinois in 1856 and served in Congress until his death in 1864.
Five days before his death, Elijah Lovejoy made a speech in Alton, Illinois. This passage should be remembered by all friends of human freedom: (more…)