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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER III. MARTYRDOM.
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At the time when the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches passed the anti-slavery resolutions which we have recorded, the system of slavery could probably have been extirpated by the church with comparatively little trouble. Such was the experience of the Quakers, who tried the experiment at that time, and succeeded. The course they pursued was the simplest possible. They districted their church, and appointed regular committees, whose business it was to go from house to house, and urge the rules of the church individually on each slave-holder, one by one. This was done in a spirit of such simplicity and brotherly love that very few resisted the appeal. They quietly yielded up, in obedience to their own consciences, and the influence of their brethren. This mode of operation, though gentle, was as efficient as the calm sun of summer, which, 224by a few hours of patient shining, dissolves the iceberg on which all the storms of winter have beat in vain. O, that so happy a course had been thought of and pursued by all the other denominations! But the day is past when this monstrous evil would so quietly yield to gentle and persuasive measures.

At the time that the Quakers made their attempt, this Leviathan in the reeds and rushes of America was young and callow, and had not learned his strength. Then he might have been “drawn out with a hook;” then they might have “made a covenant with him, and taken him for a servant forever;” but now Leviathan is full-grown. “Behold, the hope of him is vain. Shall not men be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stir him up. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal; one is so near to another that no air can come between them. The flakes of his flesh are joined together. They are firm in themselves, they cannot be moved. His heart is as firm as a stone, yea, as hard as the nether millstone. The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. Arrows cannot make him flee; sling-stones are turned with him into stubble. He laugheth at the shaking of a spear. Upon the earth there is not his like: he is king over all the children of pride.”

There are those who yet retain the delusion that, somehow or other, without any very particular effort or opposition, by a soft, genteel, rather apologetic style of operation, Leviathan is to be converted, baptized and Christianized. They can try it. Such a style answers admirably as long as it is understood to mean nothing. But just the moment that Leviathan finds they are in earnest, then they will see the consequences. The debates of all the synods in the United States, as to whether he is an evil per se, will not wake him. In fact, they are rather a pleasant humdrum. Nor will any resolutions that they “behold him with regret” give him especial concern; neither will he be much annoyed by the expressed expectation that he is to die somewhere about the millennium. Notwithstanding all the recommendations of synods and conferences, Leviathan himself has but an indifferent opinion of his own Christianity, and an impression that he would not be considered quite in keeping with the universal reign of Christ on earth; but he doesn’t much concern himself about the prospect of giving up the ghost at so very remote a period.

But let any one, either North or South, take the sword of the Spirit and make one pass under his scales that he shall feel, and then he will know what sort of a conflict Christian had with Apollyon. Let no one, either North or South, undertake this warfare, to whom fame, or ease, or wealth, or anything that this world has to give, are too dear to be sacrificed. Let no one undertake it who is not prepared to hate his own good name, and, if need be, his life also. For this reason, we will give here the example of one martyr who died for this cause; for it has been well said that “the blood of the martyr is the seed of the church.”

The Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy was the son of a Maine woman, a native of that state which, barren in all things else, is fruitful in noble sentiments and heroic deeds. Of his early days we say nothing. Probably they were like those of other Maine boys. We take up his history where we find him a clergyman in St. Louis, Mo., editing a religious newspaper. Though professing not to be a technical abolitionist, he took an open and decided stand against slavery. This aroused great indignation, and called forth threats of violence. Soon after, a mob, composed of the most respectable individuals of the place, burned alive a negro-man in the streets of St. Louis, for stabbing the officers who came to arrest him. This scene of protracted torture lasted till the deed was completed, and the shrieks of the victim for a more merciful death were disregarded. In his charge to the grand jury, Judge Lawless decided that no legal redress could be had for this outrage, because, being the act of an infuriated multitude, it was above the law. Elijah Lovejoy expressed, in determined language, his horror of the transaction and of the decision. For these causes, his office was torn down and destroyed by the mob. Happening to be in St. Charles, a mob of such men as only slavery could raise attacked the house to take his life. His distracted wife kept guard at his door, struggling with men armed with bludgeons and bowie-knives, who swore that they would have his heart’s blood. A woman’s last despair, and the aid of friends, repelled the first assault; but when the mob again returned, he made his escape. Lovejoy came to Alton, Illinois, and there set up his paper. The mob followed him. His press was twice 225destroyed, and he was daily threatened with assassination.

Before his press was destroyed the third time, a call was issued in his paper for a convention of the enemies of slavery and friends of free inquiry in Illinois, for the purpose of considering and recommending measures adapted to meet the existing crisis. This call was signed by about two hundred and fifty persons from different parts of the state, among whom was the Rev. E. Beecher, then President of Illinois College. This gathering brought together a large number. When they met for discussion, the mobocrats came also among them, and there was a great ferment. The mob finally out-voted and dissolved the convention. It was then resolved to form an anti-slavery society, and to issue a declaration of sentiments, and an address to the people of the state. Threats were expressed that, if Mr. Lovejoy continued to print his paper, the mob would destroy his expected press. In this state of excitement, Mr. Beecher, at the request of the society, preached two sermons, setting forth the views and course of conduct which were contemplated in the proposed movement. They were subsequently set forth in a published document, an extract from which will give the reader an idea of what they were:

1. We shall endeavor to induce all our fellow-citizens to elevate their minds above all selfish, pecuniary, political, and local interests; and, from a deep sense of the presence of God, to regard solely the eternal and immutable principles of truth, which no human legislature or popular sentiment can alter or remove.

2. We shall endeavor to present the question as one between this community and God,—a subject on which He deeply feels, and on which we owe great and important duties to Him and to our fellow-citizens.

3. We shall endeavor, as far as possible, to allay the violence of party strife, to remove all unholy excitement, and to produce mutual confidence and kindness, and a deep interest in the welfare of all parts of our nation; and a strong desire to preserve its union and promote its highest welfare.

Our entire reliance is upon truth and love, and the influences of the Holy Spirit. We desire to compel no one to act against his judgment or conscience by an oppressive power of public sentiment; but to arouse all men to candid thought, and impartial inquiry in the fear of God, we do desire.

And, to accomplish this end, we shall use the same means that are used to enlighten and elevate the public mind on all other great moral subjects,—personal influence, public address, the pulpit and the press.

4. We shall endeavor to produce a new and radical investigation of the principles of human rights, and of the relations of all just legislation to them, deriving our principles from the nature of the human mind, the relations of man to God, and the revealed will of the Creator.

5. We shall then endeavor to examine the slave-laws of our land in the light of these principles, and to prove that they are essentially sinful, and that they are at war alike with the will of God and all the interests of the master, the slave, and the community at large.

6. We shall then endeavor to show in what manner communities where such laws exist may relieve themselves at once, in perfect safety and peace, both of the guilt and dangers of the system.

7. And, until communities can be aroused to do their duties, we shall endeavor to illustrate and enforce the duties of individual slave-holders in such communities.

To views presented in this spirit and manner one would think there could have been no rational objection. The only difficulty with them was, that, though calm and kind, they were felt to be in earnest; and at once Leviathan was wide awake.

The next practical question was, Shall the third printing-press be defended, or shall it also be destroyed?

There was a tremendous excitement, and a great popular tumult. The timid, prudent, peace-loving majority, who are to be found in every city, who care not what principles prevail, so they promote their own interest, were wavering and pusillanimous, and thus encouraged the mob. Every motive was urged to induce Mr. Beecher and Mr. Lovejoy to forego the attempt to re?stablish the press. The former was told that a price had been set on his head in Missouri,—a fashionable mode of meeting argument in the pro-slavery parts of this country. Mr. Lovejoy had been so long threatened with assassination, day and night, that the argument with him was something musty. Mr. Beecher was also told that the interests of the college of which he was president would be sacrificed, and that, if he chose to risk his own safety, he had no right to risk those interests. But Mr. Beecher and Mr. Lovejoy both felt that the very foundation principle of free institutions had at this time been seriously compromised, all over the country, by yielding up the right of free discussion at the clamors of the mob; that it was a precedent of very wide and very dangerous application.

In a public meeting, Mr. Beecher addressed the citizens on the right of maintaining free inquiry, and of supporting every man in the right of publishing and speaking his conscientious opinions. He 226read to them some of those eloquent passages in which Dr. Channing had maintained the same rights in very similar circumstances in Boston. He read to them extracts from foreign papers, which showed how the American character suffered in foreign lands from the prevalence in America of Lynch law and mob violence. He defended the right of Mr. Lovejoy to print and publish his conscientious opinions; and, finally, he read from some Southern journals extracts in which they had strongly condemned the course of the mob, and vindicated Mr. Lovejoy’s right to express his opinions. He then proposed to them that they should pass resolutions to the following effect:

That the free communication of opinion is one of the invaluable rights of man; and that every citizen may freely speak, write or print, on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of the liberty.

That maintenance of these principles should be independent of all regard to persons and sentiments.

That they should be especially maintained with regard to unpopular sentiments, since no others need the protection of law.

That on these grounds alone, and without regard to political and moral differences, we agree to protect the press and property of the editor of the Alton Observer, and support him in his right to publish whatever he pleases, holding him responsible only to the laws of the land.

These resolutions, so proposed, were to be taken into consideration at a final meeting of the citizens, which was to be held the next day.

That meeting was held. Their first step was to deprive Mr. Beecher, and all who were not citizens of that county, of the right of debating on the report to be presented. The committee then reported that they deeply regretted the excited state of feeling; that they cherished strong confidence that the citizens would refrain from undue excitements; that the exigences of the time required a course of moderation and compromise; and that, while there was no disposition to prevent free discussion in general, they deemed it indispensable to the public tranquillity that Mr. Lovejoy should not publish a paper in that city; not wishing to reflect in the slightest degree upon Mr. Lovejoy’s character and motives. All that the meeting waited for now was, to hear whether Mr. Lovejoy would comply with their recommendation.

One of the committee arose, and expressed his sympathy for Mr. Lovejoy, characterizing him as an unfortunate individual, hoping that they would all consider that he had a wife and family to support, and trusting that they would disgrace him as little as possible; but that he and all his party would see the necessity of making a compromise, and departing from Alton. What followed is related in the words of Mr. Beecher, who was present at the meeting:

As Brother Lovejoy rose to reply to the speech above mentioned, I watched his countenance with deep interest, not to say anxiety. I saw no tokens of disturbance. With a tranquil, self-possessed air, he went up to the bar within which the chairman sat, and, in a tone of deep, tender and subdued feeling, spoke as follows:

“I feel, Mr. Chairman, that this is the most solemn moment of my life. I feel, I trust, in some measure the responsibilities which at this hour I sustain to these my fellow-citizens, to the church of which I am a minister, to my country, and to God. And let me beg of you, before I proceed further, to construe nothing I shall say as being disrespectful to this assembly. I have no such feeling; far from it. And if I do not act or speak according to their wishes at all times, it is because I cannot conscientiously do it.

“It is proper I should state the whole matter, as I understand it, before this audience. I do not stand here to argue the question as presented by the report of the committee. My only wonder is that the honorable gentleman the chairman of that committee, for whose character I entertain great respect, though I have not the pleasure of his personal acquaintance,—my only wonder is how that gentleman could have brought himself to submit such a report.

“Mr. Chairman, I do not admit that it is the business of this assembly to decide whether I shall or shall not publish a newspaper in this city. The gentlemen have, as the lawyers say, made a wrong issue. I have the right to do it. I know that I have the right freely to speak and publish my sentiments, subject only to the laws of the land for the abase of that right. This right was given me by my Maker; and is solemnly guaranteed to me by the constitution of these United States, and of this state. What I wish to know of you is, whether you will protect me in the exercise of this right; or w............
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