Lovejoy, Elijah (1802–1837)

Elijah Lovejoy was born on November 9, 1802, in Albion, Maine. He graduated from Waterville (now Colby) College in 1826 and later traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, to work both as a newspaper editor for the St. Louis Times and as a vocal advocate for the right to freedom of speech and the press. In 1831, Lovejoy left St. Louis for Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey to study for the Christian ministry.

After graduation, Lovejoy returned to St. Louis as the minister of a local Presbyterian Church and as editor of an upstart religious newspaper called the St. Louis Observer. As editor, Lovejoy returned to writing columns advocating the rights of Americans to enjoy freedom of speech and of the press as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. He also condemned the activities of local Roman Catholics and promoted the gradual abolition of all African-American slaves.

Lovejoy used his newspaper as a forum for antislavery sentiment and religious opinion. In 1836, a group broke into the offices of the newspaper destroying the press. Fearing for the safety of his family, Lovejoy moved to Alton, Illinois, to resume work as editor of the newly formed Alton Observer. The local citizens of Alton were concerned that Lovejoy planned to make the town a center for abolitionist ideologies and practices. During the following year additional presses were destroyed and thrown into the Mississippi River.

On November 7, 1837, a new press arrived by steamboat in Alton. That evening a large group of men demanded Lovejoy hand over his printing press. The crowd began to throw stones at the building as both sides exchanged demands. Gunfire erupted, and Lovejoy was shot and killed. He was buried two days later in an unmarked grave at a local Alton cemetery.

CHRISTOPHER J. ANDERSON

References and Further Reading

  • Dillon, Merton. Elijah P. Lovejoy, Abolitionist Editor. Urbana, IL: The University of Illinois Press, 1961.
  • Simon, Paul. Freedom’s Champion, Elijah Lovejoy. Carbondale, IL: The Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.

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