Owen Lovejoy (January 6, 1811 – March 25, 1864): Minister, Member of Congress and a “Conductor” on the Underground Railroad
Owen Lovejoy (January 6, 1811 – March 25, 1864) was an American lawyer, Congregational minister, abolitionist, and Republican congressman from Illinois. He was also a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. After his brother Elijah Lovejoy was murdered on November 1837 by pro-slavery forces, Owen became Illinois’ abolitionist leader.
Born in Albion, Maine, Owen was one of five brothers born to Emma and Patee Lovejoy, a Congregational minister and farmer. Lovejoy worked with his family on the farm until he was 18, when his parents encouraged his education. Lovejoy studied law at Bowdoin College and graduated in 1832.
Career: Lovejoy migrated to Alton, Illinois from St. Louis in 1836, joining his older brother, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, because of hostility towards his anti-slavery activities. The older Lovejoy was by then an anti-slavery Presbyterian minister who edited the Alton Observer, an abolitionist newspaper. The younger brother studied theology there.
Owen was present on the night of November 7, 1837 when his brother Elijah was murdered while trying to defend the printing press of the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society from an angry mob. Owen is reported to have sworn on his brother’s grave to “never forsake the cause that had been sprinkled with my brother’s blood.” Owen and his other brother, Joseph C. Lovejoy, wrote Memoir of Elijah P. Lovejoy (1838), which was distributed widely by the American Anti-Slavery Society, increasing Elijah’s fame after his death and adding to the abolition cause.
Lovejoy served as pastor of the Congregational Church in Princeton, Illinois from 1838–1856. During these years, he also organized a number of the 115 anti-slavery Congregational churches in Illinois begun by the American Missionary Association, founded in 1846. His activities brought him increasing public prominence.
In 1854 Lovejoy was elected a member of the Illinois State Legislature. He worked with Abraham Lincoln and others to form the Republican Party in the state, and he and Lincoln remained close friends. In 1856, he was elected as a Republican from Illinois as Representative to the 35th United States Congress and succeeding Congresses, serving from March 4, 1857, until his death.
Lovejoy was a platform speaker in support of Abraham Lincoln in the famous debates with Stephen Douglas. While in Congress, he “introduced the final bill to end slavery in the District of Columbia,” long a goal of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He also helped gain passage of legislation prohibiting slavery in the territories. He was one of the few steadfast Congressional supporters of Lincoln during the American Civil War. Lincoln wrote, “To the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend.”
Lovejoy died in Brooklyn, New York in 1864. His body was returned to Illinois for burial at Oakland Cemetery in Princeton. He was the cousin of Maine Senator Nathan A. Farwell.
Legacy and honors:
- The city of Princeton maintains and preserves his home, the Owen Lovejoy House, as a house museum. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 by the National Park Service as part of the Underground Railroad, the house has a secret compartment for hiding slaves. It is open to the public to view.
- After his death, an obelisk was erected in Princeton in his honor, and a letter from President Lincoln said: “Let him have his marble monument along with the well assured and more enduring one in the hearts of all those who love Liberty unselfishly and for all.”
This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.
Sandburg, Carl (1954). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. p. 64: Harvest. ISBN 0-15-602611-2.
Clifton H. Johnson, “The Amistad Incident and the Formation of the American Missionary Association”, New Conversations, Vol. XI (Winter/Spring 1989), pp. 3-6
Paul Simon, “Preface”, Owen Lovejoy, His Brother’s Blood: Speeches and Writings, 1838-1864, edited by William Frederick Moore and Jane Anne Moore, University of Illinois Press, 2004, accessed 27 January 20
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2016). Owen Lovejoy (January 6, 1811 – March 25, 1864): Minister, member of congress and a “conductor” on the Underground railroad. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/antebellum/lovejoy-owen/
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