Elijah Parish Lovejoy (November 9, 1802 – November 7, 1837) was an American Presbyterian minister, journalist, newspaper editor and abolitionist. He was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois, during their attack on his warehouse to destroy his press and abolitionist materials.
At the age of 25, Elijah left Maine and settled in St. Louis, Missouri where he worked as an editor of an anti-Jacksonian newspaper, the St. Louis Observer and ran a school. Five years later he attended the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey and became an ordained Presbyterian preacher. Returning to St. Louis, he set up a church and resumed work as editor of the Observer. His editorials criticized slavery and other church denominations. Clearly he was not out to win any popularity contests.
In May 1836, after anti-abolitionist opponents in St. Louis destroyed his printing press for the third time, Lovejoy left the city and moved across the river to Alton in the free state of Illinois. In 1837 he started the Alton Observer, also an abolitionist paper. On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob attacked the warehouse where Lovejoy had his fourth printing press. Lovejoy and his supporters exchanged gunfire with the mob, which fatally shot him five times. He died on the spot and was soon hailed as a martyr by abolitionists across the country. After his death, his brother Owen Lovejoy entered politics and became the leader of the Illinois abolitionists.
Lovejoy’s life and death are said to have inspired John Brown, who came to personify the crazy side of the abolitionist movement. Membership in anti-slavery societies skyrocketed. The reputation of Alton, Illinois was forever besmirched.
It is a shame, however, that so few people today even remember Lovejoy, who gave his life for the freedom of the press and the abolition of slavery.
Indeed, Lovejoy’s life (and murder) is another reminder to us today of how rough and dangerous life was in my part of the country back in the mid-nineteenth century. And people think emotions run high these days!
Although I have been to Alton across the river several times, I have never seen the Lovejoy monument. I feel that this oversight should be corrected as soon as possible. In the meantime, I’ll be toasting Elijah tonight on his birthday.