Elijah P. Lovejoy, son of Rev. Daniel Lovejoy, and the eldest of seven children, was born at Albion, Maine, November 9, 1802. His ancestors, partly English and partly Scotch, all of the industrious middle class, had been citizens of New Hampshire and of Maine for several generations. He was distinguished, from early youth, alike for diligence in labor and for zeal and success in the acquisition of knowledge. He graduated with high honors at Waterville College, Maine, in September, 1826. In May following, he turned his face westward, and in the autumn of that year found employment as a teacher in St. Louis. In 1828, he became editor of a political journal, of the "National Republican" faith, and was thence actively engaged in politics of the Clay and Webster school, until January, 1832, when he was brought under deep religious impressions, and the next month united with the Presbyterian Church. Relinquishing his political pursuits and prospects, he engaged in a course of study preparatory for the ministry, entering the Theological Seminary at Princeton, New Jersey, on the 24th of March.
He received, next spring, a license to preach from the second Presbyterian of Philadelphia, and spent the summer as an evangelist in Newport, R. I., and in New York. He left the last-named city in the autumn of that year, and returned to St. Louis, at the urgent invitation of a circle of fellow Christians, who desired him to establish and edit a religious newspaper in that city—furnishing a capital of twelve hundred dollars for the purpose, and guaranteeing him, in writing, the entire control of the concern.
The St. Louis Observer, weekly, was accordingly first issued on the 22d of November. It was of the "Evangelical" or Orthodox Protestant school; but had no controversy, save with wickedness, and no purpose but to quicken the zeal and enlarge the usefulness of professing Christians, while adding if possible, to their number. There is no evidence that it was commenced with any intent to war on slavery, or with any expectation of exciting the special hostility of any interest but that of Satan. Its first exhibition of a combative or belligerent tendency had for its object the Roman Catholics and their dogmas; but this, tho it naturally provoked some resentment in a city so largely Catholic as St. Louis, excited no tumult or violence. Its first articles concerning slavery were exceedingly moderate in their tone, and favorable rather to colonization than to immediate Abolition. Even when the editor first took decided ground against slavery, he still affirmed his hostility to immediate, unconditional emancipation....
On the request of its proprietors, Mr. Lovejoy gave up the establishment to them, intending to leave St. Louis; but they handed it over in payment of a debt of five hundred dollars, and the new owner immediately presented it to Mr. Lovejoy, telling him to go on with the patter as before. Meantime, his press was taken from St. Louis, by steamboat, to Alton, and landed on the bank about daylight on Sunday morning. It lay there in safety through the Sabbath; but, before the next morning, it had been destroyed by some five or six individuals. On Monday, a meeting of citizens was held, and a pledge voluntarily given to make good to Mr. Lovejoy his loss. The meeting passed some resolutions condemnatory of Abolitionism, and Mr. Lovejoy assured them that he had not come to Alton to establish an Abolition, but a religious, journal; that he was not an Abolitionist, as they understood the term, but was an uncompromising enemy of slavery, and so expected to live and die.
The Observer was issued regularly at Alton until the 17th of August, 1837—discussing slavery among other topics, but occasionally, and in a spirit of decided moderation. But no moderation could satisfy those who had determined that the subject should not be discuss at all. .
Two unsuccessful attempts having already been made—the office of The Observer was entered between the hours of ten and eleven p.m., by a band of fifteen or twenty persons, and the press, type, etc., utterly destroyed. The mob commenced, as usual, by throwing stones at the building, whereby one man was hit on the head and severely wounded; whereupon the office was deserted, and the destroyers finished their work without opposition while a large concourse were "looking on and consenting." The authorities did nothing most rigorously. Mr. Lovejoy was absent at the time, but was met in the street by the mob, who stopt him, threatened him, and assailed him with vile language, but did him no serious harm.
On the 24th of August he issued an appeal to the friends of law and order for aid in reestablishing The Observer; and this appeal was promptly and generously responded to. Having obtained a sufficient amount in Alton and Quincy alone, he sent to Cincinnati to purchase new printing materials. Meantime, he issued an address, submitting "To the Friends of the Redeemer in Alton" his resignation of the editorship of the paper, offering to hand over to them the subscription list, now exceeding two thousand names, on condition that they pay the debts of the concern, receive all dues and assets, and furnish him sufficient means to remove himself and family to another field of labor. A meeting was accordingly held, which resolved that The Observer ought to be continued, while the question of retaining Mr. Lovejoy as its editor was discuss through two or three evenings, but left undecided.
Meantime, while he was absent, attending a meeting of the Presbytery, his new press—the third which he had brought to Alton within a little more than a year—arrived on the 21st of September, was landed about sunset, and immediately conveyed by his friends to the warehouse of Geary & Weller. As it passed along the streets— "There goes the Abolition press ! stop it ! stop it !" was cried, but no violence was attempted. The Mayor, apprised of its arrival and also of its peril, gave assurance that it should be protected, and asked its friends to leave the matter entirely in his hands, which they did. A constable was posted by the Mayor at the door of the warehouse, with orders to remain until a certain hour. He left at that hour; and immediately ten or twenty ruffians, with handkerchiefs tied over their faces, broke open the store, rolled the press across the street to the river-bank, broke it into pieces, and threw it in. Before they had finished the job, the Mayor was on hand, and ordered them to disperse. They replied, that they would, so soon as they got through, andwere as good as their word. The Mayor declared that he had never witnessed a more quiet and gentlemanly mob !
Mr. Lovejoy preached at St. Charles, Missouri, the home of his wife's relatives, a few days after— October 1st—and was mobbed at the house of his mother-in-law, directly after his return from evening church. The mob attempted, with oaths and blows, to drag him from the house, but were defeated, mainly through the courageous efforts of his wife and one or two friends. Three times the house was broken into and a rush made up-stairs; and, finally, Mr. Lovejoy was induced, through the entreaties of his wife, to leave it clandestinely and take refuge with a friend, a mile distant, whence he and his wife made their way back to Alton next day.
It was known in Alton that a new press was now on the way to Mr. Lovejoy, and might arrive at any time. Great excitement pervaded the community. Friends were on the alert to protect it on its arrival, and enemies to insure its destruction. It finally reached St. Louis on the night of the 5th, and an arrangement was made to have it landed at Alton at three o'clock on the morning of the 7th. Meantime Mr. Lovejoy and a friend went to the Mayor and notified him of its expected arrival, and of the threats that it should be destroyed, requesting the appointment of special constables to protect it. A meeting of the City Council was held, and some discussion had; but the subject was laid on the table and nothing done.
About ten o'clock, some thirty persons, as if by preconcert, suddenly emerged from a neighboring grog-shop—a few of them with arms, but the majority with only stones in their hands— formed a line at the south end of the store, next the river, knocked and hailed. Mr. Gilman, from the garret door, asked what they wanted. Their leader replied: "The press." Mr. Gilman assured them that it would not be given up; adding: "We have no ill feelings toward any of you, and should much regret to do you any injury; but we are authorized by the Mayor to defend our property, and shall do so with our lives." The leader replied that they were resolved to have the press at any sacrifice, and it presented a pistol, whereupon Mr. Gilman retired into the building....
The warehouse being of stone, and solidly built, no further impression was made on it by this assault. Finding their missiles ineffectual, the mob fired two or three guns into the building, by which no one was hit. The fire was then returned, and several of the rioters wounded, one of them mortally. Hereupon, the mob recoiled, carrying off their wounded. But they soon returned with ladders, and other preparations for firing the roof of the warehouse, cursing and shouting, "Burn them Rout! burn them out!" They kept carefully on the side of the building where there were no windows, so that they could not be injured or repelled by its defenders. The Mayor and a justice were now deputed by the mob to bear a message to the inmates of the building, proposing that, on condition the press were given up, no one should be further molested, and no more property destroyed. The proposition was quietly declined....
The mob novv raised their ladders against the building, mounted to the roof, and kindled a fire there, which burned rather slowly. Five of the defenders hereupon volunteered to sally out and drive them away. They left by the south door, passed around the corner to the east side of the building, and fired upon the man who guarded the foot of the ladder, drove him off, and dispersed his immediate comrades, returning to the store to reload. Mr. Lovejoy and two others stept again to the door, and stood looking around just without the building—Mr. Lovejoy in advance of the others. Several of the rioters were concealed from their view behind a pile of lumber a few rods in their front. One of these had a two-barreled gun, which he fired. Mr. Lovejoy received five balls, three of them in his breast, probably each mortal. He turned quickly, ran into the store, and up a flight of stairs into the counting-room, where he fell, exclaiming, "Oh God,I am shot! I am shot!" and almost instantly expired. One of his friends received at the same time a ball in his legs of which he recovered. Those remaining alive in the building now held a consultation, and concluded to surrender.
Mr. Lovejoy's remains were borne away next morning to his dwelling, amid the jeers and scoffs of his murderers. He was buried the day following— Thursday, November 9.