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 25 of 28)
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people of Alton in general, I do not mean to embrace,
in any censure implied, that noble few, that to the
utmost of their ability, defended the rights of the citizen,
and the majesty of the law. To them, I would accord
my humble tribute of respect and gratitude. From my
heart I thank them, that they succumbed not to the fanati-
cism of the populace, and the despotic ferocity of force.

There are two means of preventing popular outrages,
moral influence, and, in the last resort, physical force.
The former is the more humane, and generally the safer
and more efficient expedient, but where it fails, we must
have recourse to the latter, or permit society to be broken
up. Let me then ask of the people of Alton, are you


satisfied, that in the use of both these means yon have
fully discharged your duty ? The approach of the evil
was deliberate and gradual, and gave full opportunity for
the use of moral preventives. Public meetings had been
held, parties had been organized, and press after pres^
destroyed. What means of counteraction or prevention
had you employed ? Had you expressed your unquali-
fied detestation of such outrages ? Had you endeavoured
to rectify public sentiment and to arouse the community
to consciousness of its guilt and its peril ? Had you
fearlessly indicated your uncompromising hostility to the
adoption of lawless means under any pretext or against
any evil ? or did you palliate, or at least divert public in-
dignation from acts you could not justify, by condemning
the obstinacy and fanaticism of a man, who would not
consent to silence his press at the will of a mob ? Of
the influence you exerted in private and domestic inter-
course, I have no knowledge except from results ; the
inference they would warrant I will not draw. Of your
endeavours to correct the popular mind by your public
acts, your public resolv^es, and solemn expressions of
opinion, we have, unhappily for your fame, your own
record. It is difficult for an American to read that record
without a burning blush. You had been expressly called
together to consult for the tranquillity and order of your
city. Repeated instances of lawless violence had taken
place, indications of an anarchial spirit were thick around
you. You had full reason to be aware of your danger,
and of the responsibilities under which you were acting.
And what was the question which was convulsing your
community 1 It was vvhether an American citizen
should be permitted to exercise a most sacred constitu-
tional right, or forego it at the pleasure of the mob. The
vast importance of the principle' at stake was most


obvious. The case was too plain to admit of argument.
Did you then, hke independent and enlightened men,
meet the exigencies of the crisis by the decided nature
of your resolves ? By strong remonstrance, and unquali-
fied rebuke, did you attempt to stay the popular infatua-
tion and iniquity ? Especially did you determine to sus-
tain the law in all cases, and at all hazards 1 Resolu-
tions to this very effect were brought before you. How
could you have done otherwise than adopt them ? Yet
these, you rejected ; and on what grounds ? Because
it was said they j^ut ojie party entirely in the wrong : they
would have done so. The parties were the American
people and a gang of ruffians. And so because resolu-
tions for sustaining the law and the constitution would
have " put one party entirely in the wrong," they were
to be rejected ! What spirit of delusion, what smooth-
lipped Belial could have induced you to swallow down
such logic ? One would have thought your understand-
ings, if not your consciences would have retched at it.
And what did you adopt in their stead ? A resolution to
enforce the laws until the report of your committee loas
received. And what was the report of that committee ?
A set of resolutions which in their popular impression at
least, justified the mob by condemning the object of their
hate — which recommended to him a removal from your
city, and a sacrifice of his constitutional rights to a rabble
of ruffians, and called it compromise. History, I appre-
hend, will pronounce it compro?nise, on your part, of
duty and right, of honour and safety. These you adopted.
Did you, then, the report of your committee having been
received, renew your resolution to enforce the law, and
that without limitation ? No. Why did you not ? Was
it that you dared not, or that you wished not to do so ?
And what wa^ the concluding resolution of this peculiar

REV. E. P. LOVEJOy. 345'

assemblage, introduced by one, who, 'most of all must
have felt the responsibilities of his position — your
Mayor ? An expression of regret at interference from
abroad in the matters of your city and community ; as if,
forsooth, wresting away the rights of any American citi-
zen, and introducing into your state the pernicious pre-
cedent of mob violence triumphing over the freedom of
the press, and infecting the body politic with this foul
leprosy, were simply a domestic concern. As well
might you consider firing one's house in the midst of a
vast city, or importing into it garments infected with the
plague, as merely affecting an individual interest. What
must the introducer of the resolution have thought of it
on that shameful night, when at last he found that there
was no salvation for itself in Alton, and that his staff of
office was but a polluted and paltry gewgaw ? When he
was compelled to become envoy truly " extraordinary"
for the mob, he must have felt little disposed to deprecate
aid from any quarter. He would, I imagine, have felt
relieved at the sight of an army of intermeddlers, and
that with the sword and the bayonet. Thus, having
irritated the ferocity of the populace against their des-
tined victim — having set your seal upon prejudices you
ought to have enlightened — having sanctioned ulterior
violence by a resolution of limited resistance, and by
neglecting to renew that resolution — having given the
mob a triumph by failing to take a fearless and unflinch-
ing stand in favour of civil rights, with a few faint salvos
for the honour and majesty of law, your assembly, which
happily has few parallels in modern times, broke up,
losing an opportunity which was never to return. I
firmly believe, if even at that late hour, you had taken the
high and determined position you ought to have taken
long before, if with your disapprobation of the course of


Mr. Lovejoy, did you deem it necessary to express it,
you had united a declaration of your fixed and unqualified
purpose to sustain the law at all hazards, all yet might
have been well. This you would not, or you dared not
do. The occasion was lost ; and blood and tears were
to follow, of which what has already flowed may be no
more than the first faint shower-drops. Such, as far as
I have been able to learn, is the nature and amount of
the moral prevention you used !

Let us next inquire what was your conduct in the use
of the second means of prevention specified, coercion.
And first : after the destruction of former presses, what
measures had been taken by the civil authorities, and by
your citizens to guard against, or to punish these out-
rages ? If any were made, that they were feeble, in-
efficient, and heartless, seems inferable from the results.
And finally, upon the day of the arrival of the last press,
when indications of premeditated violence were rife all
around you, what precautionary measures were em-
ployed 1 Your Mayor consulted the City Council on the
subject, and — they refused to act !- Their reasons re-
main in their own bosoms. The public demand to know
them —they have a right to know them. Who were that
City Council ? The infamy of such a seemingly fla-
grant betrayal of trust, requires a definite resting-place.
And at the last dark catastrophe, when the alarm bells
had summoned you from your beds, and you saw a band
of infuriated and drunken wretches besetting a ware-
house, containing a number of your most respectable
citizens, with deadly weapons — when you heard the dis-
charge of fire-arms, and the blasphemies of rage, and the
vows of murder, and saw them setting fire to the build-
ing, and hemming in the besieged with the avowed de-
termination of burning the edifice and its occupants to-


gether — when you beheld a mob of about one hundred
and fifty, about fifty of whom only are supposed to have
been armed, engaged in these atrocities, what was your
conduct ? Undoubtedly your sympathies, if not your
patriotism, were at length aroused— you eagerly offered
your services to your Mayor— you could not be restrained
—you rushed to the rescue. No, alas! no, not such
were the facts. You looked quietly on, and saw the
work of destruction and murder consummated !

For the above facts I am chiefly indebted, not to hear-
say, or rumour, but to the published reports of your own
meeting, and the statement of your Mayor. Whether, in
view of the above facts, your consciences will acquit you
of dereliction of duty, in the use of moral and coercive
means — whether the public sentiment of your country,
and the solemn tribunal of the human race, and the high
Chancery of Heaven will hold you guiltless, is to you
an inquiry of fearful interest. The decision, which all
these might perhaps authenticate, it is not my wish to
pronounce. My aim is not to upbraid, but to awaken to
a serious and impartial review. Not, certainly, without
the amplest evidence, should I feel warranted in bring-
ing in a verdict of conviction of a guilt so opprobrious
and so tremendous. Whatever justification the case ad-
mits, will be carefully and gTatefully listened to. That
there are some among you, who deserve no share in the
infamy of the above transaction, we know — that there
are more we should be glad to hope. That the individu-
als, whose well-known and hitherto respected names are
made to appear as endorsers for the transactions of that
strange meeting, were blinded by fear and overawed by
the mob, and were not guilty of deliberate wickedness,
charity leads us to presume. Perhaps it would be haz-
ardous for common virtue to be thrown in their situation.


We can hardly give assurances how even ourselves will
act, until circumstances have tried us.

But it is vain to attempt to shift the blame by impugn-
ing the motives and previous conduct of the Sufferer.
To degrade him, were it in your power, would not exalt
you— it would only add to the " deep damnation of his
taking off" the coward malice that seeks shelter behind
the carcass of its victim. To term him " rash," " head-
strong," and " imprudent," is the strongest sentence of
self-condemnation you can utter. Why was it " rash"
or " imprudent" to exercise the most sacred of American
or human rights — freedom of speech— in Alton ? Was
it because he ought to have known that there was not
law, nor conscience, nor patriotism, nor intelligence,
among you, to protect him ? And if these elements were
not found among you ; you, and not he, were responsible
for their absence. Nor do the results, melancholy as
they are, though they argue your delinquency, necessa-
rily convict him of rashness. There are in moral, as in
political conflicts, Thermopyl^es, where we must make
a stand or perish — where yielding would be treason to
our principles, our country, and our race — where it be-
comes a most solemn duty to die ! Perhaps nothing

less than the shedding of blood could awaken the con-
science and salutary fears of this nation, and open its
eyes to that dreadful Tarpeian, on whose verge it is
tottering. Whether such was the fact in this case, it
concerns not my present purpose to inquire. Nor is it
of importance to examine the vulgar charge that he died
with the blood of a fellow-being on his hands. The
charge, according to the testimony of those who were
with him in the building, and who alone could know, is
false. After the doors and windows had been broken
in, and guns had been fired into the building, the fatal


shot was discharged from within, but not by Mr. Love-
joy. But were the charge true, he had a right to shoot
down that, or any other individual among the assailants,
as he would so many beasts of prey. They were no"
more than midnight robbers. Pardon me — they were
more, they were traitors. Had his hands been stained
with the blood of a hundred of them, the decision of any
court, human or divine, would have washed it all away.
He had the right of self-defence, which is given to all —
and he had in this case more, the direct warrant of the
civil authority. The last act of Mr. Lovejoy does not
imply the existence of any other emotions in his breast,
than those which, with reference to other men, and other
countries, and times, we are wont to ascribe to the high-
est heroic virtue. As it regards the charge of an una-
vailing waste of human life, nothing but the result
proved it unavailing. It was the opinion of judicious
men, that resistance to lawless violence, and the enforce-
ment of law, were feasible ; and had the guard from
the Upper Town been present, there is little doubt they
would have been effected. If we feel inclined to regret,
that a minister of the gospel attempted to defend the
rights of the citizen, and the laws of his country by force,
this act should be viewed at least with indulgence, by
those who are wont to regard with admiration, examples
in their own Revolutionary history, where the pulpit was
exchanged for the battle-field. Never was there a cause
more sacred than that in which he fell. Nor will it avail
you to charge him with having violated a pledge never
to agitate the Slavery question in Alton. Such a pledge
he never gave, nor had he a right to give. Such a pledge
you had no right to receive, much less to enforce. All
that he did, or ought to have done, was to express an
existing intention, subject however to his future views


of duty. And his right to print when, and where, and
what he pleased, we must remember was not gained, nor
could it be forfeited by the will of those to whom that in-
tention was expressed.

But it is not relevant to my present purpose to be his
apologist or condemner. It is enough for me to know
that Mr. Lovejoy was an American citizen, in the exer-
cise of his undoubted right, and that for this, he was in
the face of your city openly murdered. How obnoxious
soever his sentiments may have been, he had unques-
tionably the right to publish them, and for the abuse of
this right he was amenable, not to a tumultuary, anarchi-
cal power, but to the legal tribunals, and those only.
This you knew, and you knew it was your most solemn
duty to maintain the law at all hazards. Call him im-
prudent, infatuated, fanatical, and nothing is easier than the
application of such epithets of vague malice — it affects not
the question of your duty — nor does it wash a single shade
from the crimson of your guilt. Whatever may have been
the desert of the individual, the constitution of your coun-
try surely deserved not such a wound at your hands.

Strange was it, even if no feeling of patriotism, or re-
gard for the right moved within you, that you should
have been so blind to considerations of self-interest.
How could you look on and see a fellow-citizen sacri-
ficed, and not read in the atrocious transaction a warn-
ing of your own impending danger 1 Strange, that you
could behold the triumph of brute force over law in this
instance, and not feel you were witnessing the creation
of a tyranny whose gory hand would be over you all.
Did you not feel the cold shiver of the chain fastening
around your souls ? Infatuated men ! how could you
see an individual murdered for the expression of unpopu-
lar sentiments, and not feel you were hopeles.sly binding


yourselves and your posterity to popular opinions, popu-
lar measures, popular prejudices, and popular crimes —
in short, never to act or speak but with the permission of
the populace, however degraded or guilt-stained it might
be ! Did you suppose that Abolitioxism was to be the
last object of popular hatred ? How could you see liberty
of speech smothered in blood in one instance, and not
perceive you were creating a censorship over yourselves
more jealous, fanatical, and intolerable, than that of the
-Chinese or Austrian, or the Romish despotism — that
your own souls, the aspirations of your own hopes, your
own reason and love of truth must henceforth whisper
wizard-like from the dust? How could you fail to per-
ceive that you were called upon to witness the obsequies
of your own honour, and the consummation of your own
shame — to set your seal to the act of your own enslave-
ment, and of your deep and enduring disgrace ? How
could you, in retiring to your homes, look your wives
and children in the face ? Did you not feel that you had
betrayed them — ^^that the same red-handed power that
had broken the heart of the wife, and made the child
fatherless, might visit your own hearths with widowhood
and orphanage ; or, at least, that they could be secured
against such a visitation, only by your becoming passive
and pliant slaves, and that to the most despicable and
brutal of masters ? Should the violent and bloody spirit
of the times, which you have at least tacitly counte-
nanced, permit you to see old age, will this be a tale
you will be proud to rehearse to your children ? When
the frenzy and infatuation of the day have had their en-
sanguined hour, and passion and party are silent in the
grave, and impartial history shall take up the transaction ;
will your descendants, think you, be proud to read your
names in connection with the disgraceful story ? Aye,


with the present indications of public feeling, and the ex-
pressions of indignant reprobation coming in upon you
from all parts of our land, from every sect and party who
have a regard for even their intellectual reputation, and
who do not wish to rank with ruffians in morals, you may
well tremble, lest the day be not far distant when a man
will blush to have been on the night of the seventh of
November a passive looker-on in Alton. You will par-
don my plainness of speech. Had this outbreaking of
popular violence come upon you with sudden and whirl-
wind fury, giving no warning of its approach, and ad-
mitting of no resistance in its explosive and desolating
development, the case would have been widely differ-
ent. But no. The approaches of the evil were gradual,
and were foreseen — time was given for all counteracting
and preventive influences, and for all requisite precau-
tionary arrangements. The opportunity given for over-
awing the spirit of violence, by the solemn rebuke of
public sentiment, was abused to its exasperation — the
resolution that you would hold yourselves at the disposal
of the Mayor was rejected — no plan was formed, no
measure was adopted, no precautions were taken by the
civil authorities. The whole matter was left to chance
and impulse ; and as the consequence, chance, and im-
pulse, and misrule, and murder ruled the hour. The
transaction seems to bear all the marks of systematic,
deliberate, premeditated neglect or connivance. There-
fore it is that my feelings and language are strong.

My remarks, thus far, apply to all who claim to be
lovers of order and civil liberty, without distinction. But
there is a class among you professing a higher morality,
a more purifying hope, and a more scrupulous and abi-
ding sense of right than other men — a faith stronger than
expediencyj and holier than patriotism, and which eter-


nally forbids that human fear or favour, or any power ia
the universe, should make them swerve from duty, or
wink at iniquity. Where, let me ask of this class, were
you during the progressive scenes of this shameful dra-
ma ? Did you, in view of higher motives, and more
solemn obligations of a mightier power, and more glori-
ous example, stand by the right, when others, under the
influence of interest, or fear, or worldliness, gave way
before the tempest of wrong ? or did you yield to the se-
ductions of pecuniary interest or worldly hope ? Did
you succumb to a corrupt public sentiment, and truckle
to the fanaticism of the mob %

Did you, in a Christian spirit, rebuke the spreading
iniquity, or did you abet, or flatter, or palliate the spirit
of lawless violence ? Did you fear God or man 1 In
short are you conscious of having done all that Christian
duty, your awful vows, and your everlasting self-conse-
cration to the God of truth and right, demanded ? What
course private individuals may have taken I know not ;
but I feel assured, that in no community where the church
possesses the numerical strength, and wealth, and weight
of character, she is reputed to embrace in her various
branches in Alton, could such a series of progressive,
and finally triumphant, acts of violence take place, with-
out a gross dereliction of Christian duty — and it may be
safely assumed, that had her professing members in that
place, generally, acted worthily of the name they bear,
these disgraceful outrages might have been prevented.
But there are some of you, whose names from either
peculiar influence, or office, or activity, have been pain-
fully conspicuous in these transactions. Is it not a fact,
that a professed preacher of the gospel* in canvassing for

* Rev. Charles Howard. — Eds.



a political office, publicly stated that he was for protect-
ing the liberty of the press, but this was a case of its
licentiousness — as if, forsooth, the mob, and not the laws,
were to take cognizance of such licentiousness. Is it
not a fact that clergymen of different denominations at-
tended the first meeting called for tranquilizing your city ;
and why was it, when resolutions embracing principles,
fundamental to freedom of speech and civil liberty were
brought forward, that no voice was heard from these in
their behalf ? Is it not a fact, that one of the committee
to draft resolutions, and one of the most prominent speak-
ers at the second meeting, was a minister of Jesus Christ,*
and that that individual, instead of standing forth the
fearless advocate of law and civil right, gravely recom-
mended to an American citizen, ^in the exercise of con-
stitutional rights, in a Christian country, and in a com-
munity claiming to be governed by law, the example of
Paul, in a strange city, amid a dark-minded and pagan
population, and under the dissolute, bloody, and venal
despotism of Nero ?"and that before it was ascertained
that the civil authority could not protect him, and when
the only necessity for the adoption of that advice grew
out of the fact, that the adviser and those like him, would
not, or dared not defend the constitution under which
they lived 1 This advice, too, we are to remember,
which, if given at all, should have been whispered in
secret, was in the presence of the mob who stood ready
to overcome the contumacy that should dare reject it.
What a spectacle was this to angels and to men ! Why
was that sacred man there ? I know it could not have
been to cover with the sanctity of his office the flagi-
tiousness of the proceedings : but why was he there ?

* Rev. John Hogan.— JSds.


To defend the right ? Why then did he not defend it 1
Intimidated, seduced, or deluded, he presents the dark-
est and saddest of enigmas. By his sacred calling, as an
ambassador of that Saviour, who exhibited pureness
amid the impure, benevolence amid the malignant, and
an uncompromising rebuke of iniquity even unto death —
by the mighty salvation he preached — by the souls of
those dark-minded men around him, who were rushing:
on to madness and murder, he was bound to be right,
though all the millions of mankind, and of created orders,
had been with the wrong — he was bound to know that,
as a representative and teacher of the Christian faith, a
slight lapse in him would give to others a license wide
as the firmament — he was bound to know, that to him, in
no small degree was committed the honour of that faith
in that community, and that in prostituting its influence,
or dishonouring its character, his would be a guilt no
secular or infernal power could share — the guilt of sacri-
ficing the only element of moral renovation among man-
kind. He was bound to remember, that he was to meet

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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 25 of 28)