Alton Trials

William S. LINCOLN   |   Winthrop GILMAN   |   John SOLOMON

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Alton Trials
Alton Trials


(SLAVERY) (CONSTITUTION) (GILMAN, Winthrop S.) (SOLOMON, John) LINCOLN, William S. Alton Trials: of Winthrop S. Gilman, Who Was Indicted with Enoch Long… and Thadeus B. Hurlbut: For the Crime of Riot, Committed on the night of the 7th of November, 1837, while engaged in defending a Printing Press, From an attack made on it at that time, by An Armed Mob, Written out from notes of the trial, taken at the time, By a Member of the Bar of the Alton Municipal Court. Also, The Trial of John Solomon…. and James M. Rock, Indicted with James Jennings, Solomon Morgan, and Frederick Bruchy: For a Riot Committed in Alton, On the night of the 7th of November, 1837, in unlawfully and forcibly entering the Warehouse of Godfrey, Gilman & Co., and breaking up and destroying a Printing Press. Written out from notes taken at the time of trial, by William S. Lincoln, A Member of the Bar of the Alton Municipal Court. New York: John F. Trow, 1838. Small octavo (4-3/4 by 7-1/4 inches), original gilt-lettered green floral cloth; pp. (i-ii), (1-5), 6-158 (2).

First edition of the crucial record of the controversial 1838 trials of over 20 defendants, documenting the deadly mob attack on Reverend Lovejoy and his press, a work that swiftly provoked Northern fears that free speech required "not only protection against governmental suppression, but also protection against private violence aimed at silencing speakers," exceptional in original cloth.

The deadly 1837 mob riot that killed the abolitionist publisher and minister, Elijah Lovejoy, and destroyed his printing press had swift national impact. It proved to be "a climactic event in the larger struggle for free speech": one that raised fundamental questions on the "private suppression of speech and the nature and future of republican government." It also triggered "an emerging view that free speech and press were rights or 'privileges' and 'immunities' to which all American citizens were entitled everywhere in the U.S." The murderous riot demonstrated that free speech required "not only protection against governmental suppression, but also protection against private violence aimed at silencing speakers" (Curtis, Free Speech, 217-18).

Prior to his death Reverend Lovejoy had seen mobs twice destroy his presses in Alton, Illinois but despite no support from the state legislature or local officials, he persisted. On November 7, 1837, the warehouse where his new press was held was set on fire and he was murdered. In January 1838 eleven of Lovejoy's supporters and Gilman, owner of the warehouse, were indicted for attempting to protect Lovejoy and defend his press—a prosecution that outraged many in the North. At the same time eleven of the rioters, "only a small fraction of those who attacked the warehouse," were also indicted (Finkelman, Slavery, 148) The January trial of Gilman and his co-defendants is documented in the nearly 80 first pages of this very elusive first edition, followed by coverage of the same month's trial of the eleven mob participants. Both trial records contain indictments, arguments of counsel and witness testimony. While all in both trials were acquitted, anger remained that defenders of Lovejoy and his press were indicted at all. The trials "crystallized the fear that slavery would destroy free speech and civil liberty… Lovejoy's death was part of a great transformation" in a movement that recognized "states and cities had acted against free speech simply by not acting, by failing to provide protection… free speech, then, required protection to be a meaningful right" (Curtis, 227, 239-400). To scholar Paul Finkelman, "the history of speech and anti-slavery is critical for our understanding of how opposition to free speech works" (Speech, Press and Democracy, 818). First edition, first printing: with engraved frontispiece; rear pre-publication advertisement for Twelve Months in Alton. Cohen, Bibliography of Early American Law 121163.

Text very fresh, mere trace of soiling to original cloth. A fine copy.

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