Joseph C. (Joseph Cammet) Lovejoy.

Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; who was murdered in defence of the liberty of the press, at Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837 online

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Online LibraryJoseph C. (Joseph Cammet) LovejoyMemoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; who was murdered in defence of the liberty of the press, at Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837 → online text (page 22 of 28)
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den of lions, continued to make his prayer publicly unto
his God, as he had done aforetime ; and of Nehemiah,
who, on being informed of the murderous designs of his
enemies, and advised to conceal himself in the temple,
boldly replied, " Should such a man as I flee ? who is
there that, being as I am, would go into the Temple to
save his life ? I will not go in." Our missionaries, Wor-
cester and Butler, remained at their station in opposition
to the unconstitutional and unrighteous laws of Georgia,
until they were cast into the penitentiary; and were jus-
tified by the highest legal tribunal in this nation, in so
doing. What shall we say of the conduct of all these
men ? We cannot but admire it. Our Saviour fled
several times from his enemies ; but when he knew that
the time was at hand for him to suffer, he made no fur-
ther attempt to escape. The primitive martyrs very


generally might have saved their lives, by what those who
comprehended not their views, considered a very reason-
able and easy compliance with public law and senti-
ment ; but they could not yield, because they believed
they ought not. So now, a man may be thrown into
such a critical and responsible situation, that it would be
wrong for him to flee even to save his life. Our lamented
friend believed that such was his case, and I see not how
it can be proved that his belief in regard to this point was
not well founded. If he ought to have quietly yielded to
popular prejudice or violence, every editor, every minis-
ter, every magistrate, ought, in similar circumstances, to
do so; and law and justice are but empty names.

Let those who call him imprudent, provided they are
men of principle, be thrown into such circumstances that
they must relinquish sacred rights and set dangerous ex-
amples by yielding to the dictation of mobs, and they
will themselves do what some others who have no sympa-
thy with their objects, will call imprudent. No doubt
some considered the Rev. Mr. Parker, of New Orleans,
exceedingly imprudent a few years ago, to return to that
city, when he knew there was high indignation against
him, and to inform the men of influence, who had resolved
to drive him away, that he should stay, be the consequen-
ces what they might. But he thought he acted, and
undoubtedly did act, in a manner worthy of his truly ex-
cellent character. Happy is he who condemneth not
his brother in the thing that he alloweth.

Again, it has been said that Mr. Lovejoy and his
friends had no right to resort to the use of deadly wea-
pons in their defence ; that they had no more right to
fire on the mob, than the mob had to fire on them ;
that they were in fact, two mobs conflicting with each


Other ; and that his fall was an evidence of the divine
disapprobation of his conduct.

We pretend not that our friend was infallible ; we feel
under no obligation to justify, indiscriminately, every
thing which in the midst of his manifold difficulties, and
perils and cruel persecutions he may have said and done.
But let us look at this matter candidly, and with due

If failure and death by violence be evidence of the
divine displeasure in regard either to the object or mea-
sures pursued, the converse of the proposition must be
admitted to be equally true ; and then every robber and
murderer who has been successful, and escaped with im-
punity, must be considered as having thereby received
indubitable evidence of Heaven's approbation. Even the
bloody assassin who shot our brother to the heart, may
continue to lift up his blood-stained visage with triumph,
inasmuch as he took the sword and has not perished by
it. The position cannot be maintained for a moment.

That the men assailed were in any sense a mob, stand-
ing in that respect on a level with, the assailants, is a
false and base insinuation. As well might you say, that
the crew of a merchant vessel, who resist the pirates who
attack them, are themselves pirates in so doing ; or that
those who resist robbers, violators, and murderers, are no
better than they. The parties stood on ground altogether
different. The one stood in defence of sacred rights ;
the other came to wrest them away. The one stood on
ground environed and secured to them by the constitution
and laws of their country ; while the other came of
their own unauthorized will to break through that enclo-
sure, and to put those who had fled to it for shelter, under
the ban of mobocracy.

Again, Mr. Lovejoy and his friends acted with the


countenance, and virtually under the authority of the chief
officer of that city, whereas their assailants acted in di-
rect contempt of his authority.

Civil governments are ordained of God, and magis-
trates are appointed by such governments expressly for
the purpose of protecting those who do well, and for re-
straining, punishing, and, if need be, cutting off by death
those who violate the order of the community, and the
rights of their fellow-men. It is God's will that they
should not bear the sword in vain ; but act as his min-
isters, in the character of avengers, to execute wrath
upon those who do evil. They ought in all instances to
suppress riots, to put down mobs, even by force and
arms, when it cannot be otherwise effected. With this
view they applied to the Mayor of Alton. He acknow-
ledged the justice of their claim ; but owing to the state
of public sentiment and feeling there, was not able, or at
least did not venture, to furnish them with requisite pro-
tection. He told them, however, that they had a right to
arm and defend themselves, and in two instances he had
acted with them while thus armed, before the night of
the fatal rencounter ; once while President Beecher was
delivering an address on Slavery ; and again, the night
the press was landed. He did not, indeed, require them
to arm, but confessed their right, and gave them counte-
nance. On the fatal night he commanded the mob to
disperse ; but he did not command them to disperse, or
to lay down their arms. Single handed he could do
nothing, and they were the only men who stood firmly
by him in support of the laws. If then you would not
condemn a military company who should come forth by
the call of authority to put down riot, why will you, so
far as the legality of the proceedings is concerned, con-
demn these persecuted men for acting as they did ?


But should it still be insisted on by any, that they
were in no sense authorized by the Mayor to defend
their property and persons, which we do not admit, yet
had they not, according to the constitutions, laws, and
usages of all countries, especially of their own, a natu-
ral and civil right to defend themselves when their un-
alienable rights were assailed, and no protection from
government could be obtained ? Has not the solitary
traveller a right to break the robber's grasp from his
throat ; and to turn away his dirk from his breast, though
he should perchance break that robber's arm or head in
the attempt ? Has not the master of a family, when
roused from his couch at the midnight hour, a right to
repel with such weapons as he can lay his hand upon,
the wretches who are attempting to plunder, violate, and
murder his family, and to burn him and them together to
hide their iniquity ? For my part T have not the shadow
of a doubt respecting the right of defence in such cases
as these. Neither have I any doubt of the legal right of
Mr. Lovejoy to defend himself as he did. All the blood
which was shed there on both sides, is, and must for-
ever be on the heads of the rioters ; until they apply to
such a fountain of purification as -earth cannot afford, to
wash it away, and the civil authorities of the place are
bound if possible to bring the murderers to justice.

But was not the defence which he attempted contrary
to the command of the Saviour, which required him to
do unto others as he would have them do to him, and
therefore morally, religiously, if not legally, wrong ? I
know not what right we have even on this ground to
condemn him. Obedience to this law is not inconsistent
with the exercise of civil justice, or the maintenance of
unalienable rights. It requires us to cherish benevo-
lence to all, and to do towards others as in reversed


circumstances it would be right and best that they should
do towards us. Every one with such light as he can
obtain, must decide and act, and answer to God for him-
self. In regard to the case before us a very worthy
minister in Vermont* has published this declaration.
" I hereby declare that if I ever assault a family with
murderous intent, I would that the head of that family
resist me unto blood, if he cannot control me otherwise —
I would that if I join a mob to destroy a printing press
to stifle free discussion, if I assault the defenders of that
press, and attempt to lire the building in which they have
intrenched themselves, that some lover of his country,
some bold defender of its sacred liberties, some generous
friend of the oppressed and trodden down slave, under
the influence and by the authority of the great law of
love, would shoot me dead." Mr. Lovejoy no doubt took
the same views of the matter, and fell in the exercise
of philanthropy, and with a good conscience towards

But if he had a right to attempt defence, was it wise
and prudent for him, situated as he was, to use that
right ? I have been inclined to think it was not. I do
think that in pertinaciously defending his rights as he
did, when compassed about by an opposition so power-
ful, he acted injudiciously ; in this respect, that he had
not sufficient reason to believe that it was possible for
him to secure his object. Should a strong band of rob-
bers break into your habitation at night, and having
shown you that they had you completely in their power,
declare they would spare your life only on condition you
would make no resistance, no outcry, let them do what
they pleased with your property and family, perhaps

* Rev. Chester Wright of Hardwick.


prudence, abstractedly considered, might require you to
acquiesce in the condition, however cruel. But yet you
would find the actual submission a very different thing
from mere speculation about its expediency. Charging
Mr. Lovejoy with imprudence in seeking to defend his
press and life, is one of the severest reflections which
can be cast on the authorities and people of Alton. The
more evident it is that he acted injudiciously in this at-
tempt, the more manifest it is that a most disgraceful dis-
regard of law, of justice, and even of humanity, prevailed
in that city. What would you think of a community
where it would be imprudent for you to use your own
property and faculties in a lawful manner, and according
to your own convictions of duty 1 But Mr. Lovejoy's
imprudence is palliated by two circumstances. One is
that friends in whom he placed confidence hoped that he
might succeed, and encouraged him to go on. He and
they trusted that a shoic of determined resistance would
be sufficient, and that no blood would be shed on either
side. If the affair had so turned out, his decision would
no doubt have been generally commended. The other
is that he appears to have believed that even if he failed
in securing his immediate object, still the ultimate bene-
fits which would accrue from his effort, would be suffi-
cient to justify any lawful sacrifices by which they might
be obtained. And who can disprove it ? On this prin-
ciple the patriotic men who fell in the war of the revo-
lution, were willing to expose their lives in contending
for liberty, even unto death. And in the spirit of martyrs
our missionary brethren in China are, as we suppose,
persisting in their pious efforts under the sword of civil
authority uplifted to smite them. They are encouraged
by the church in so doing. If tidings should hereafter
come that they have been sacrificed, it will undoubtedly


be said by many that they acted imprudently in remain-
ing ; but still their example of firmness and perseverance,
in the midst of perils, will not have been presented in
vain, nor their blood have been shed in vain ; but like
that of the primitive martyrs will multiply converts to
righteousness. So if any choose, or feel constrained, to
say that our lamented Lovejoy was imprudent, that he
acted injudiciously in abiding at his post, and warring
for Liberty at such fearful disadvantage with its enemies,
still it must be allowed that he acted nobly, and died he-
roically, and has left an example of invincible firmness
in the maintenance of what he believed to be true and
right, which is likely to be remembered long, and to have
great influence. His work is done, his warfare accom-
plished, and his spirit gone, we confidently trust, to that
blessed world where the remembrance of the scenes of
conflict and suff'erinor, through which he and his fellow-
worshippers passed while here, will occasion no sorrow ;
but serve to inspire them all with profound and everlast-
ing admiration of the wisdom and power of their God,
who causes the wrath of man to praise him, and re-
strains the remainder.

Let us now advert, briefly, to a few of the beneficial
consequences which under the government of the Al-
mighty, have resulted, and may yet be expected to result
from this terrible outbreaking of wrath.

In the first place, it shows to all men, what many have
been slow to believe, that the spirit of American slave-
holding is deadly hostile to human liberty. What has this
spirit done ? It has subjected millions of our country-
men to a state of abject bondage, has deprived them of
all their inalienable rights, even of the privilege of call-
ing their bodies or souls their own, and debarred them
from all means tending to raise them to a more elevated


condition. It cannot endure that a word should be ut-
tered, that a sentence should be published, in favour of
their elevation to freedom. To prevent this in some of
the slave states, the most strict and sanguinary laws have
been enacted, subjecting the man to death who shall
open his lips in favour of the dumb ; and in the absence
of such laws in others, men on the slightest suspicion of
sympathy for the down trodden, have been seized by in-
furiated mobs, and under mock forms of justice, treated
with barbarous cruelty. Not satisfied with absolute do-
mination in the dark land of the slaves, this spirit of des-
potism is struggling to grasp and strangle Liberty in the
free states, and to subdue all things to itself. The public
mail has been broken open and rifled of its contents, that
every thing tending to enlighten the public mind on the
subject of Slavery might be destroyed. Printing presses
have been again and again demolished, and their editors,
humane and noble-minded men, hunted from place to
place by blood-thirsty assassins. Peaceable assemblies
have been violently assailed, and even females treated
with abuse, because they wished to hear any thing on
this subject. Officers of colleges have been driven from
the seats of learning, and ministers-of the gospel dragged
from the altars of God, because they testified against
this oppression. The Legislatures of the North and
East have been loudly called on by those of the South
to silence eflectually all discussion of this subject. In
the absence of such laws, large premiums have been
publicly offered by slaveholders, for the heads of such
men in the free states as they considered most forward
and able in advocating the duty of emancipation. And
now when the Editor of the " Alton Observer" could in
no other way be silenced, he has been shot down, beside
his press, which slaveholders and their abettors greatly


feared, and his murderers are suffered to go unpunished ;
because the officers of justice either sympathize with, or
fear their vengeance. Those balls which pierced his
heart were aimed at the heart of Liberty ! Your liberty
and mine ; and intended to strike every one dumb who
had dared to advocate the rights and liberiy of mankind.
This spirit of slaveholding is intolerant of all opposition,
however mild, and breathes out threatenings and slaughter
against all who would by manly expostulation, induce it
to relinquish its grasp upon the throats of its victims.
What it has done to Lovejoy it threatens to do to others,
who advocate the same cause. Is it not then violently
intolerant of all freedom, which interferes in the least
with its own acts of unjust and cruel oppression 1

Secondly, The Alton tragedy has proved that by the
power of truth the encroachments of the slaveholding
spirit upon our liberties, may be eifectually resisted and
its reign every where in due season terminated. Why are
slaveholders, and those who sympathize with them, so
engaged against all,^vho by speech or the press, publish
and animadvert on their laws and usages in regard to the
coloured people ? Why do they stone public lecturers,
demolish printing presses, and offer rewards for the
heads of Abolitionists 1 Why have they imbued their
hands in the blood of our brother 1 Why are they so highly
exasperated when petitions are sent in to Congress, pray-
ing for the termination of Slavery in the District of
Columbia, and threaten the dissolution of the Union if
those petitions are even read ? Why do they attempt to
strike down any and every torch which throws its light
upon them, as would a company of evil-doers, when at
midnight suddenly detected in the midst of their nefari-
ous deeds by the officers of justice ? It is my friends,
because there is a power in truth which the slaveholding


spirit cannot bear. It is conscious that its principles are
unsound, that its doings are unjustifiable ; and therefore
will not come unto the light ; will not suffer the light to
come into its dark and hateful dominions, lest it should
be exposed and reproved. False statements it could
easily refute ; but truth is endued with fearful energy.
Before the power of speech and the press unrestrained,
it cannot stand. It is sensible that it cannot, and is
therefore making desperate efforts to prostrate and tram-
ple down that power. If it fails in this attempt it knows
that all its strongholds must be battered down ; that its
deeds of oppression and violence must be abandoned.
Let the light of truth, then, be poured upon this oppres-
sive spirit and its doings, in stronger effulgence than ever.
We have no need of carnal weapons in this aggressive
warfare ; let the light of truth shine as it ought and the
spirit of slaveholding will die of itself; nauseated, con-
vulsed, and overwhelmed, with an insupportable convic-
tion of its own loathsomeness.

Thirdly, This terrible outbreaking of human wrath is
furnishing slaveholders and those who favour their cause
with evidence which must convince them, if not infatua-
ted, that the freedom of speech and of the press cannot
be suppressed by violence. True, printing presses have
been and may again be destroyed, an editor of distin-
guished worth has been shot down, because he insisted
on the rights which the lavv's of his country had guaran-
teed to him. Other editors may be assassinated. But
the spirit of freemen has been aroused, and an abund-
ance of other presses are ready for the service ; and
other editors, talented, high-souled, and self-sacrificing
men are ready to succeed to the place which the hand
of violence has vacated. When men contend /or princi-
ple, for what they deem their sacred and inalienable rights,


threats and deeds of violence, and gag-laws cannot ef-
fectually restrain them ; but on the contrary, they call
forth the mighty, the indomitable, deathless energies of
the soul to make more determined and persevering ef-
forts. So it has been in all times past ; is now, and ever
will be.

Therefore, finally, We trust that God will make the
wrath of man exhibited at Alton, eminently instrumental
of accomplishing the downfall of Slavery, The Avhole
subject is undergoing a new examination, and the true
nature of it is being better understood. Those who were
previously enlisted in the cause of human rights are fired
with new zeal, and grasp their principles with stronger
determination to defend and propagate them. New friends
are coming forth to enlist in the cause, and more will
now, probably, be effected in one year for the benefit of
the down trodden, than would have been done in several,
if this costly sacrifice of our brother's blood had not
been poured out upon the altar of liberty — had not been
shed in defence of his and our sacred rights. And on
you, free men, free women, and free children, the voice
of that blood, the groan of millions of your fellow-coun-
trymen deprived of all their inalienable rights, the men-
aces and outrages of slaveholders, and the authority of
your God, are all, in different ways, but with concentra-
ted power, calling loudly, that you see that no man de-
prive you of your proper liberty, or be suffered to en-
croach upon it at all ; that in the use of this liberty you
never encroach on that of others or give countenance to
those who do ; but boldly plead the cause of the oppress-
ed; and never cease from an enlightened, benevolent, most
determined and vigorous opposition to Slavery, until you
shall be released by death, or Slavery shall be extermi-


nated from the world. Truth, benevolence, and equity,
must, and will prevail.

I would speak a word to this bereaved mother, and
these other mourners, on whom this cruel outbreaking of
wrath has burst with such desolating fury. But what
can I say ? My dear friends enter into the secret cham-
bers of divine love and protection, and there meditate on
the character and government of God ; commit your-
selves wholly unto him, to do and suffer all his pleasure ;
and you will be sustained. Forget, as much as possible,
your private griefs, and think of the excellent character
of your and our beloved Elijah ; of his firmness unto
death in maintaining truth and rectitude, of the glory to
which his spirit, so devoted to God, has now attained ;
of the honour which is paid to his memory by multitudes
who never personally, knew either you or him ; which
will be paid by true patriots and philanthropists in coming
ages ; of the immense benefits which will result from his
martyrdom ; think of the emotions of gratitude and praise
to God, with which emancipated millions will hereafter
speak of his sufferings for their sake ; of the happiness
which will be enjoyed by all mankind, when Slavery
shall every where have ceased, and paternal love shall
prevail among all the races of the great family of man ;
think of the swiftly approaching day when you, if true
Christians, will meet all the martyrs, indeed the whole
company of the redeemed before the throne of God, and
lift up your voices with them in everlasting songs of
praise, even for the sufferings through which you are
now destined to pass ; and you must, you will be com-
forted. Trust my friends in the Lord, for in the Lord
Jehovah is everlasting strength. He will cause the wrath
of man to praise him, and the remainder of wrath he


will effectually restrain. To him be glory and dominion
now and forever. Amen."

The remainder of this, and the following chapter will
be made up of expressions of public sentiment, variously
uttered, in relation to his death and the circumstances
connected with it. We can however only give a mere
fraction of the numerous expressions of the press and of
public meetings. The admirable address to the " Citi-
zens of Alton" is from an unknown hand. It was sent
to New York with the name and place of the author
carefully concealed. The gentlemen whose speeches
are inserted, will accept our sincere thanks, for their
" sincere tribute of a swelling heart."



At a special meeting of the Bangor City Anti- Slavery
Society, November 27th, 1837. Whereas the late Rev.
Elijah P. Lovejoy, of Alton, Illinois, was a native of this
state, his aged and excellent mother and other members
of the family being still resident in our vicinity, and well
known to at least many of us —

Resolved, That in our judgment, he was an intelligent,
talented, upright, noble-hearted man ; a sincere and con-
sistent Christian ; an able, independent, and faithful

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Online LibraryJoseph C. (Joseph Cammet) LovejoyMemoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; who was murdered in defence of the liberty of the press, at Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837 → online text (page 22 of 28)