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Sat Sep 8, 2018, 11:42 AM

Elijah Lovejoy: An American Martyr

On this day in 1836 Elijah Lovejoy began publishing the Observer in Alton, IL ultimately he became a martyr for Freedom of The Press.

“Elijah Parish Lovejoy died in Alton, Illinois, on November 7, 1837. He died, so far as is known, as the only martyr in the United States of America to the cause of the Freedom of the Press.” So reads the legal motion to close the case of Lovejoy’s estate, 100 years after his death sparked new passion in the abolitionist movement.


After much soul searching, teacher-turned-editor Elijah Lovejoy joined the First Presbyterian Church in 1832. Soon afterward, the 30-year-old left the St. Louis Times newspaper to study at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. When he had earned his preaching license the next year, a group of his St. Louis friends put forth a tempting proposition: return to Missouri and run a new Presbyterian newspaper, which they would fund. Eager to proselytize via the written word, Lovejoy agreed.

The St. Louis Observer debuted on November 22, 1833. In it, Lovejoy railed against Catholicism—something that didn’t sit well with the city’s French Creole and Irish residents but that was regarded as free speech and rebuked in a similar fashion. Lovejoy’s next topic of focus proved far more inflammatory.

In 1834, Lovejoy began editorializing against slavery, making points such as this one, from April 1835:

[Slavery] is demonstrably evil. In every community where it exists, it presses like a night-mare on the body politic. Or, like the vampire, it slowly and imperceptibly sucks away the life-blood of society, leaving it faint and disheartened to stagger along the road of improvement. . . . It becomes us as a Christian people, as those who believe in the future retribution of a righteous Providence, to remove from our midst an institution, no less the cause of moral corruption to the master than to the slave.


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