Lovejoy Arrives in Alton, Illinois
The conflict in which Elijah Lovejoy was involved gave his paper national importance. Subscription lists grew. When Lovejoy arrived in Alton, he did so with the strong belief that in Illinois there would be more tolerance of anti-slavery opinions He had false expectations. Hours after his arrival in Alton, Elijah Lovejoy's printing press, and what other few pieces of printing equipment had been salvaged from a mob attack in St. Louis just before he left, was knocked to pieces and thrown into the river.
News of the destruction spread quickly through Alton, The law-abiding citizens of Alton were outraged and felt the need to protect their property. A few leading Alton businessmen, including Winthrop Gilman, urged that funds be raised to get Elijah Lovejoy back into the newspaper business so he could publish a religious newspaper in Alton. The issue of slavery was still a major concern. Many citizens were anxious to restore Lovejoy's liberties only if he agreed to be less outspoken on slavery. Lovejoy assured them he was not an abolitionist but at the same time he opposed slavery. He told them he intended to publish a religious newspaper and would devote less space to slaver; "When I was in St. louis I felt myself called upon to treat at large upon the subject of slavery as I was in a state where the evil existed," he told them. "Now having come to a free state where that evil does not exist, I feel myself less called upon to discuss the subject than when I was in St. Louis" Then he added these significant words. "But gentlemen, as long as I am an American Citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, and to publish whatever I please on any subject."
A new press was ordered and within months Elijah Lovejoy was back in business. The first months in Alton were the only peaceful days he would have. Lovejoy was expressing intensely unpopular views. He quoted from an anti-slavery convention held in Ann Arbor, Mich.; "All attempts to justify slavery from the Word of God are gross perversions of its precepts and principle." Elijah Lovejoy also editorialized on a proposal to prohibit distribution of anti-slavery views, which appeared would pass the Missouri Legislature. Lovejoy stated his opposition. He called it a threat "against freedom of the press."
These seemingly radical views brought a host of public criticism. But as opposition grew, so did Elijah Lovejoy's courage. In early issues of the Observer, Lovejoy said slavery was a sin. Now he was saying those who don't fight slaver—which was a majority of citizens—"are fighting against God." As a minister, Elijah Lovejoy said he had the obligation to preach against slavery at "whatever ris." When a reader in Missouri complained about too much anti-slavery material in the Observer, Elijah Lovejoy wrote to him: "If I could hold my peace on this subject with a clear conscience, I would most assuredly do it. My course has cost me many a valued friend. But I cannot, and I am sure you do not ask or wish a Christian to connive at what he believes to be sin, for the sake of popularity."
Month by month and issue by issue Elijah Lovejoy grew stronger and stronger in anti-slavery statements. The 61st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1837, marked another turning point for Lovejoy. While the people of Alton celebrated, Elijah Lovejoy was in his office writing an editorial:
"What bitter mockery is this. We assemble to thank God for our own freedom, and to eat and drink with joy and gladness of heart, while our feet are on the necks of nearly three millions of our fellow men. Not al our shouts of self-congratulation can drown their groans. Even that very flag of freedom that waves; over their heads is formed from materials cultivated by slaves, on a soil moistened with their blood."
In the same issue that had his plain spoken Fourth of July editorial, Elijah Lovejoy ran an editorial titled "Illinois Anti-Slavery Society." In the editorial he stated: "Is it not time that such a society be formed? We would do nothing rashly, but it doesn't seem to us that the time to form such a society was has fully come. We shall hope to have a response from the friends of the slave without delay." These words served notice to a population already aroused that he was going to provide leadership in forming an anti-slavery society. It was also clear that his stand on slavery would be stronger in the future, not weaker.
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