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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Martyrdom of Lovejoy

By Wendell Phillips Garrison (1840–1907)

[Born in Cambridgeport, Mass., 1840. Died in South Orange, N. J., 1907. From William Lloyd Garrison: The Story of his Life, told by his Children. 1885–89.]

LOVEJOY’S fourth press was secretly conveyed into a warehouse, “guarded by volunteer citizens with their guns.” On the night following (November 7, 1837) the tragedy occurred. No personal incident of the anti-slavery struggle—the fate of John Brown excepted—made so profound an impression on the North as the murder of Lovejoy. We call it a murder, although the primary object of the riot was not his destruction, but that of his press; just as we call him a martyr, though we are accustomed to associate more or less of passivity with martyrdom, and he fell while aggressively repelling with arms an armed mob. In both cases the terms are correctly used, as the circumstances conclusively show. Three presses had already been destroyed on the same spot by the same community; a fourth had been procured, whose destruction meant silence—the opposition, grown more desperate, having already almost compassed the editor’s assassination. He might have removed the “Observer” to Quincy or to Springfield, but there was no assurance that the liberty of the press would be vindicated in either place. The violence at Alton was, indeed, actually preceded and begotten by violence at St. Louis, but the mob-spirit was everywhere endemic at the North. With unsurpassable courage, Lovejoy accepted the decision of his friends that the stand should be made then and there, not as for an anti-slavery publication merely or mainly, but for the right under the Constitution and upon American soil to utter and print freely, subject only to the restraints and penalties of the law. To maintain this right against local public sentiment, the impotence of the city authorities compelled the friends of law and order to enroll themselves in a military organization (having the mayor’s approval), whose first duty it was to prevent an anti-slavery convention from being broken up, and next to guard the newly-arrived press from being thrown into the Mississippi like its predecessors. Among them, not more in defence of himself or of his property than of the principle at stake, Lovejoy took his place; formed one of the little band of twenty who held the warehouse on the night of the fatal attack; volunteered, with a rash and magnanimous heroism, among the first who left the burning building to face the infuriated and drunken mob; was ambushed and fell, the only victim of the defence.

The greatest feeling produced by this atrocity was in the city the most remote from the scene—in Boston, where, by a rich compensation, it overcame the timidity of Channing, revealed the oratory and fixed the destiny of Wendell Phillips, and with him drew Edmund Quincy into the forefront of the ranks of the despised abolitionists. The aldermen, who at first refused the use of Faneuil Hall for an indignation meeting, and Attorney-General Austin, who desecrated the hall afresh by declaring that Lovejoy had died as the fool dieth, were surprised by the demonstration of a new Boston upon which they had not counted. The Boston which had come near having its Lovejoy in the person of Mr. Garrison, in October, 1835, had undergone a revolution in two years—a revolution perhaps to be defined as the weakening of Southern ascendency. The response of Faneuil Hall to the Alton riot was Northern resentment against a pro-slavery invasion, as it seemed.

With more exactness, however, it may be said that Lovejoy was sacrificed on Southern soil. All the towns along the Mississippi were frequented by Southerners, often largely settled by them. Little more than a dozen years had elapsed since the strenuous exertions of Governor Edward Coles had barely defeated the attempt of the Southern element in Illinois to legalize slavery by amending the constitution. Alton, situated in the southern half of the State, opposite the slave-cursed shore of Missouri and not far from St. Louis, in intimate commercial relations with the cotton-growing districts, was, though owing its prosperity, and even a certain reputation for philanthropy, to Eastern settlers, predominantly Southern in tone. Southern divines helped to harden public sentiment against the further countenance or toleration of Lovejoy; Southern doctors took an active part in the mob, and one of them perhaps fired the murderous shot. So, the year before, Cincinnati, tumbling Birney’s press into the Ohio, was truly a Southern city; so, the year after, Philadelphia, burning Pennsylvania Hall to the ground. In fact, the least Southern and most surprising of all the mobs of that epoch was precisely the Boston mob against the editor of the “Liberator.”

Of this mob every citizen of Boston and its vicinity must have been reminded when the news came—not as now by telegraph—of Lovejoy’s fate.