Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy

John Quincy ADAMS   |      |   Elijah P. LOVEJOY   |   Joseph C. LOVEJOY   |   Owen LOVEJOY

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"THE FIRST AMERICAN MARTYR TO THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, AND THE FREEDOM OF THE SLAVE" (JOHN QUINCY ADAMS): FIRST EDITION OF MEMOIR OF THE REV. ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY, 1838, MURDERED BY A MOB ATTACKING HIS ABOLITIONIST NEWSPAPER, PROMPTING ABRAHAM LINCOLN TO DECRY "THE 'MOBOCRATIC SPIRIT… NOW ABROAD IN THE LAND"

(LOVEJOY, Elijah P.) LOVEJOY, Joseph C. and Owen. Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; Who Was Murdered in Defence of the Liberty of the Press, At Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837. With an Introduction by John Quincy Adams. New York: John S. Taylor, 1838. Octavo, original blindstamped gray cloth. $3200.

First edition of the publisher and editor's memoir, issued the year after his murder—killed by "five bullets in his heart, while defending his fourth press from an armed, arsonist mob"—only two years after he denounced the lynching by fire of a free black man, as an act of "savage barbarity," with introduction by John Quincy Adams, a seminal record of a key event in America's abolitionist battle and the history of the First Amendment.

Elijah Lovejoy, who was born in Maine, began publishing the abolitionist Observer after he moved to St. Louis. When, in 1836, a mob dragged Francis McIntosh, a free black man accused of murder, from the St. Louis jail and set him on fire, killing him, "Lovejoy's Observer described the lynching by fire as an 'awful murder and savage barbarity'… [and] attacked Judge Luke Lawless" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Lawless, who presided over the grand jury investigating the lynching of McIntosh, had "declared that such actions by 'the many—of the multitude… is beyond the reach of human law!'…[and] made it clear that he blamed abolitionist agitators… With this judicial encouragement, vandals entered the Observer office on three or four occasions… Prophetically, Lovejoy pointed out that Lawless' reasoning would allow a mob to destroy the Observer, kill its editor, and escape punishment'" (Kielbowicz, "Law and Mob Law," in Law and History Review V.24, 587-88).

After mobs destroyed his shop a third time, "Lovejoy moved the Observer to nearby Alton, Illinois, only to see the violence against him and his press escalate… he died, five bullets in his heart, while defending his fourth press from an armed, arsonist mob… Lovejoy's murder marked a turning point in Northern attitudes regarding the antislavery movement's print tactics; no longer perceived as a dangerous criminal act, abolitionist print agitation was for the most part tolerated—however grudgingly—as a recognized form of free speech appropriate to a healthy democracy… that the editor's murder, like that of McIntosh, was followed by highly suspicious judicial pandering to the Slave Power only reinforced abolitionist efforts to associate antislavery with both freedom of expression and trial by jury" (DeLombard, Slavery on Trial, 57).

When verdicts were handed down in the Alton case, both the abolitionists who tried to defend Lovejoy's press, and the members of the mob who attacked it, were acquitted or had their cases dropped. "Within days of the Alton verdicts, Abraham Lincoln, then a young attorney in Springfield, lamented the 'mobocratic spirit… now abroad in the land.' In a prophetic speech, Lincoln identified the 'growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of the Courts' as the principal threat to the survival of American political institutions" and, in a reference to Lovejoy, he also spoke harshly of those who "throw printing presses into rivers, [and] shoot editors.'" Scholar Michael Kent Curtis has credited "abolitionists' free-speech efforts with breathing meaning into abstract notions of freedom of expression and laying the foundation for First and 14th Amendment doctrines that matured in the 20th century." There remains, nevertheless, a key aspect of the debate over free speech that endorses "the view that communities should have some control over ideas disseminated in their midst," supported as a form of nuisance law. "Not until 1931 did the U.S. Supreme Court, in Near v. Minnesota, rule out the use of public nuisance as a basis for silencing a publication that agitated a community. Coincidentally or not, this also marked the Court's first application of the 14th Amendment to strike down state restrictions that violated the First Amendment's press clause" (Kielbowicz, 595-600). With introduction by John Quincy Adams, America's sixth president and a leading abolitionist who, in 1841, successfully defended the enslaved Africans before the Supreme Court in the case of United States v. The Amistad. Here Adams writes: "That an American citizen, in a state whose Constitution repudiates all Slavery, should die a martyr in defence [sic] of the freedom of the press, is a phenomenon in the history of this Union." Lovejoy, he declares, was "the first American Martyr to the freedom of the press, and the freedom of the slave." Co-authored by Joseph C. Lovejoy and Owen Lovejoy, with extensive writings by Elijah Lovejoy and vital witness accounts. Sabin 42366. Howes L-522. Blockson 3366. LCP Afro-Americana 6097A. This copy contains lightly penciled presentation inscriptions on both front and rear blank leaves, reportedly by the wife of co-author Joseph C. Lovejoy, to: "Anna and E.H. Lakeman presented by Mrs. Sarah Lovejoy."

Interior very fresh with faintest occasional foxing, mere trace of dampstaining at the rear, very mild edgewear, minimal soiling to original cloth. Near-fine.

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