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Elijah Lovejoy and the Freedom of the Press

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Elijah Parish Lovejoy, the son of a Congregational minister, was born in Albion, Maine, on 9th November, 1802. After graduating from Waterville College in 1826, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he established a school before attending the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1834 Lovejoy became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. He started a religious newspaper, the St. Louis Observer, where he advocated the abolition of slavery. In 1836 Lovejoy published a full account of the lynching of an African American in St. Louis and the subsequent trial that acquitted the mob leaders. This critical report angered some local people and in July, 1836, his press was destroyed by a white mob.

Unable to publish his newspaper in St. Louis, Lovejoy moved to Alton, Illinois where he became an active member of the local Anti-Slavery Society. He also began editing the Alton Observer and continued to advocate the end of slavery.

Three times Lovejoy's printing press was seized by white mobs thrown into the Mississippi River. Lovejoy wrote in his paper: "We distinctly avow it to be our settled purpose, never, while life lasts, to yield to this new system of attempting to destroy, by means of mob violence, the right of conscience, the freedom of opinion, and of the press."

On 7th November, 1837, Lovejoy received another press from the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. When local slave-owners heard about the arrival of the new machine, they decided to destroy it. A group of his friends attempted to protect it, but during the attack, Lovejoy was shot dead.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy was America's first martyr to freedom of the press. In 1952 the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award was established and it is given to a member of the newspaper profession who continues the Lovejoy heritage of fearlessness and freedom.


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