On a cold winter night in 1837, famed abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy challenged an angry mob of slave holders, racists, and corrupt officials. His campaign against slavery had already cost him several homes and businesses, and he had even been physically attacked a few times.
But his words fell on deaf ears, and a few nights later, he would be savagely murdered.
Rev. Elijah Lovejoy was a Presbyterian minister, journalist, newspaper editor, and abolitionist who worked hard against the evils of slavery during the years leading up to the American Civil War. His views on human oppression earned him many dangerous enemies, and in St. Louis, those enemies destroyed Lovejoy’s printing press on three different occasions.
Lovejoy decided to move his family and anti-slavery tools across the state line into Illinois. However, it wasn’t long before his stance on slavery caused more crowds to violently rise up against him. From slander to harassment to destruction of property, Rev. Lovejoy faced it all with unwavering devotion.
On November 2, 1837, Lovejoy addressed a crowd of people in Alton, IL to make what would be one of his final appeals. “Why am I hunted up and down continually like a partridge upon the mountain? Why am I threatened with the tar-barrel? Why am I waylaid every day, and from night to night, and my life in jeopardy every hour?”
Not waiting for an answer from the biased crowd, Rev. Lovejoy finished his address with these powerful words: “I have concluded, after consultation with my friends, and earnestly seeking counsel of God, to remain at Alton, and here to insist on protection in the exercise of my rights. If the civil authorities refuse to protect me, I must look to God; and if I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton.”
And that’s exactly what he did five days later.
On November 7th, a mob approached the warehouse where Lovejoy had hidden his printing press. Shots were fired by the pro-slavery horde, and Lovejoy was struck in the chest with 5 slugs from shotguns. He died instantly.
But his death was not in vain. A young lawyer from Springfield was moved by the sacrifice Lovejoy was willing to make for his cause, which prompted him to strengthen his own fight against slavery. Within just a few years, that same young lawyer became President of the United States of America, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, effectively ending the system of slavery that cost Elijah Lovejoy his life.
The Abolitionists by Louis Ruchames. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963, Pages 140-141.
Topics Illustrated Include:
Taking a Stand
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)