Today in History

Today in History: November 7

Elijah Lovejoy

a page of text with a silhouette image of Lovejoy
Elijah Parish Lovejoy,
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

On November 7, 1837, Elijah Parish Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob while defending the site of his anti-slavery newspaper The Saint Louis Observer. His death both deeply affected many individuals who opposed slavery and greatly strengthened the cause of abolition.

Sacramental Scene in a Western Forest
"Sacramental Scene in a Western Forest,"
Lithograph by P. S. Duval, ca. 1801,
from Joseph Smith, Old Redstone,
Copyprint. Philadelphia: 1854,
General Collections, Library of Congress.
Section VII: Religion and the New Republic,
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Lovejoy, who was born on November 9, 1802, in Albion, Maine, decided to seek his fortune in the Midwest after graduating from college. Short on funds, he walked to St. Louis, Missouri, where, over time, he became editor and part-owner of The St. Louis Times. His name appeared in the Times for the first time on August 14, 1830, and for the last time—as editor—on February 18, 1832.

In 1832, caught up in the powerful religious revival movement sweeping the U.S. and its frontier territories, Lovejoy experienced a conversion, which led him to sell his interests in the paper and enroll in Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Two years later, a group of St. Louis businessmen, who sought to start a newspaper to promote religious and moral education, recruited Lovejoy to return to the city as editor of The St. Louis Observer.

Lovejoy, supported by abolitionist friends such as Edward Beecher (the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), became ever more radical in his anti-slavery editorials. He first supported African recolonization then endorsed gradual emancipation. By 1835, he sanctioned abolition in the District of Columbia, and, by 1837, championed immediate universal emancipation.

Lovejoy's editorials raised local ire while they increased national circulation. A group of local citizens, including the future Senator Thomas Hart Benton, declared that freedom of speech did not include the right to speak against slavery. As mob violence increased over the issue, Lovejoy, now a husband and father, decided to move his family to Alton, across the Mississippi River in the free state of Illinois.

Alton, Illinois
The City of Alton, Illinois,
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

At the time Elijah Lovejoy moved to Alton it was "a booming town." Alton had some 2,500 residents and was considered both the rival of St. Louis and a far more important Illinois city than Chicago.

Mobs had destroyed Lovejoy's presses on a number of occasions, but when a new press arrived in November 1837, the violence escalated. No sooner was the new press offloaded from the steamboat Missouri Fulton than a drunken mob formed and tried to set fire to the warehouse where it was stored. When Lovejoy ran out to push away a would-be-arsonist, he was shot.

Throughout the North and West, membership in anti-slavery societies increased sharply following Lovejoy's death. Yet officials in Illinois, with one exception, made little comment. Twenty-eight year old State Representative Abraham Lincoln stated publicly:

Let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty…Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother…in short let it become the political religion of the nation…1
  • Search the collection Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860 on Elijah P. Lovejoy and Alton Trials to find items pertaining to the progression of the Alton riots and the death of Reverend Elijah P. Lovejoy.
  • Learn more about the Second Great Awakening, the religious movement that swept the U.S. between the inaugurations of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. See Section VII of the online exhibition Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.
  • Search across the American Memory "Photos, Prints" collections on the terms Missouri and Illinois for more images. Search on the term press for images of a wide variety of printing presses more modern than those in use during the life of Elijah Lovejoy.
  • Search across all collections on the term press for images of a wide variety of printing presses more modern than those used during the life of Elijah Lovejoy.
  • See the Abolition section of the online exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship which discusses anti-slavery movements in the nation, and the rise of the sectional controversy.

1 Paul Simon, Freedom's Champion: Elijah Lovejoy (Southern Illinois University Press: 1994), 163.


Hawai`i officially joined the Union as the fiftieth state on August 21, 1959, although voters in the United States Hawaii Territory had ratified a state constitution on November 7, 1950.

Landscape photograph
[The Pali],
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

The Crossroads of the Pacific, as this group of volcanic islands is often called, was originally inhabited by Polynesians from the Marquesa Islands. In 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook spotted the tropical lands and named them the Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. He returned a year later only to meet his fate there after a deadly confrontation with the native islanders. In 1810, after years of civil war, Kamehameha I unified the Hawaiian islands and laid the foundation for a strong monarchical tradition while also maintaining a deeply rooted belief in the Hawaiian gods. Missionaries from the United States arrived throughout the nineteenth century.

More than eighty years of monarchical rule ended in 1893 when Queen Lili‘uokalani was deposed, after a failed effort to reestablish an eroding monarchical power with a stronger constitutional mandate. The Republic of Hawai’i was established one year later, on July 3, 1894, putting into motion the events that ultimately led to Hawaii’s statehood in 1959.

At the turn of the century, many Americans traveled to the tropical islands. Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, recorded his travels in Roughing It, published in 1891. He and his party climbed the volcano Haleakala in Maui and were awed by the experience:

Presently vagrant white clouds came drifting along, high over the sea and the valley; then they came in couples and groups; then in imposing squadrons; gradually joining their forces, they banked themselves solidly together, a thousand feet under us, and totally shut out land and ocean—not a vestige of anything was left in view but just a little of the rim of the crater, circling away from the pinnacle whereon we sat…Thus banked, motion ceased, and silence reigned. Clear to the horizon, league on league, the snowy floor stretched without a break…There was little conversation, for the impressive scene overawed speech. I felt like the Last Man, neglected of the judgment, and left pinnacled in mid-heaven, a forgotten relic of a vanished world.

Roughing It, Chapter 76, 549-50,
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1891.
"California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900