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Presbyterian minister was first martyr in abolitionist movement

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Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Presbyterian minister and first
martyr for the abolition movement
(Photo credit: Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography)

The schism dividing American Jews and other liberals over loyalty to the Zionist project and support for the 45 year-old Israeli occupation, long anticipated and discussed on this site, may finally be underway. What is unclear is the magnitude of the social upheaval that will result as the rupture widens: will the ensuing turbulence resemble that of the 1960s or be closer to the 1860s on the social Richter scale?  

It is generally agreed that among the factors that served to fix America on a path toward civil war in the 1860s was the raid on Harpers Ferry by the abolitionist John Brown in 1859.  With the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) assembling in Pittsburgh next week to consider divestment from the Israeli occupation, it is worthwhile to remember that a key personal motivation for John Brown was the murder of the Presbyterian minister and editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, a fierce opponent of slavery and America’s first martyr to the abolition movement.

The son of a minister, Lovejoy grew up in Maine and after college settled in St. Louis, Missouri where he worked as editor of the Presbyterian weekly newspaper, the St. Louis Observer.  He was subsequently ordained and became pastor of the Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.  His editorials for the St. Louis Observer strongly condemned slavery. St. Louis was a major port in a slave state, and Lovejoy’s writings angered pro-slavery factions in the city. On three separate occasions pro-slavery mobs destroyed his printing presses, attempting to silence him.

Because of rising tensions in St. Louis over slavery, Lovejoy moved his family across the river to Illinois, a free state, in 1836.  There he settled in the town of Alton, founded the Alton Observer and continued to publish and distribute anti-slavery tracts.   Alton was a center of abolitionist activity and a hub on the Underground Railroad, but was often raided by slave-catchers and was home to pro-slavery forces.  A mob of pro-slavery partisans raided the warehouse where Lovejoy had hidden his printing press in November 1837.  Lovejoy died from a shotgun blast defending his press as the mob tried to burn down the warehouse. The mob broke up the printing press and threw the pieces into the Mississippi River.

In Hudson, Ohio where John Brown was living at the time, a local church held a memorial service for Elijah P. Lovejoy.  At the conclusion of the prayer service, John Brown, sitting silently in the back, rose and lifted his right hand saying: “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” Brown’s public oath upon Lovejoy’s murder was in 1837.  Twenty-two years later John Brown was hanged from a gallows that, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Brown made “glorious like the Cross”.

Bill Simonds

Bill Simonds is a concerned US citizen, physician, and lapsed Presbyterian from Maryland.

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7 Responses

  1. American on June 28, 2012, 2:38 pm

    “What is unclear is the magnitude of the social upheaval that will result as the rupture widens: will the ensuing turbulence resemble that of the 1960s or be closer to the 1860s on the social Richter scale?”

    I don’t envision the rupture as likely to be either one…as being turbulent. If the rupture does unsettle the public it will be more attitudinal and covert then overt.
    The zios do have to worry about the main stream churches and religions that are the majority in the US……as their church goes, so go their members.
    I doubt the zios envisioned that they might eventually have to go head to head with the actual majority religions in the US over Israel.

    • American on June 28, 2012, 2:52 pm

      I was going to add that THAT is a fight they don’t want…if they had any sense at all…but then they don’t actually have any sense imo.

  2. lysias on June 28, 2012, 4:46 pm

    The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has had a long history of missionary activity in the Middle East. Presbyterians at work around the world: Middle East:

    The Middle East has been of prayerful concern for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for more than a century and a half. Over the years, educators, theological teachers, medical teams, rural health workers, agricultural experts, engineers and other specialists have been sent as missionaries by the Presbyterian Church to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Israel, Iran, Iraq, other Gulf States and Afghanistan. In the 1800s Presbyterians are credited with the establishment of distinguished educational and health institutions in the region. Among those are the American University of Beirut, Beirut College for Women (later called Beirut University College and now Lebanese American University), the American University at Cairo and an impressive number of high-quality private primary and secondary schools and colleges. The American Mission Hospitals at Tanta and Assiut (Egypt) and Hamlin Hospital in the hills of Lebanon and places where many have experienced the love of God and the healing presence of Christ. Women’s formal education was an early initiative of Presbyterians in the region, recognizing that the strength of any society depends primarily on equal opportunities in education. The long vision of Presbyterians for theological education and rural-urban evangelism was primarily responsible for the development and growth of many vibrant new churches and two strong seminaries, one in Cairo (The Evangelical Theological Seminary) and the other in Beirut (The Near East School of Theology).

    Today our church’s mission commitment is carried out through partnership with churches, church institutions, ecumenical bodies, Christian development agencies and health care programs, seeking to make known the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, and with nongovernmental organizations committed to promoting justice, peace, interfaith understanding and cooperation, stewardship of the environment, human and civil rights, religious liberty and the improvement of the quality of life.

  3. dbroncos on June 28, 2012, 5:33 pm

    Thanks for the post, Bill. Clarification: Lovejoy was the first WHITE martyr in abolition movement.

  4. Bumblebye on June 28, 2012, 7:47 pm

    I’ll be so bold as to liken my great grandfather to the young Jewish activists of today.
    In 1861 he was an idealistic youth who left title and wealth, crossed the ocean to don the Union Blue as a junior officer (and landed up in Harper’s Ferry himself). I always wondered what made him do that, but since I only found out after my grandfather died, I couldn’t ask! However, a little research on the box discovered family history even he didn’t know (his father died when he was a young boy). Great grandfather’s maternal grandfather had been a plantation owner on St Croix, then the Danish Virgin Islands. Those slaves had been emancipated in 1848, some 15 years after the emancipation of the slaves of the British Virgin Islands. As a foreigner, he clearly picked a side, and I suspect was motivated by the same sort of moral imperative that moves todays young Jews to agitate for Palestinian rights.

  5. American on June 29, 2012, 12:58 am

    Interesting showdown. This Rabbi should know better than to attack the Catholic Church in print and publically…. and really know better than to piss off an Irishman…particulary the President of the Catholic League.

    Catholic League President: “Jews Had Better Not Make Enemies Of Their Catholic Friends”

    A flame war with Rabbi Waskow. Child rape and long noses.

    Rosie Gray BuzzFeed Staff
    Posted Jun 20, 2012 2:59pm EDT

    Catholic League president Bill Donohue has infuriated prominent Jewish leaders with a private email last week to Philadelphia Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

    Waskow, a progressive rabbi involved in the Jewish Renewal movement, had criticized the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Huffington Post op-ed for “attacking the religious freedom of millions of American women and the religious freedom of American nuns” over contraception.

    Donohue responded with a note to Waskow that launched an email exchange that ended with a warning, forwarded to BuzzFeed by a source close to the rabbi, that “Jews had better not make enemies of their Catholic friends since they have so few of them” (Donohue writes that this is a saying of Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York). Donohue also includes a postscript saying, “I do not have a long nose.”

    Donahue also raised a recent child abuse scandal in Orthodox Jewish communities.

    “You need to do something about this epidemic right now,” he told Waskow, who is not Orthodox, suggesting that Jews follow the Catholic Church’s reforms in dealing with clerical abuse.

    In an interview with BuzzFeed, Donohue defended his words.

    “Waskow is a man full of hate,” he said, calling Waskow’s op-ed “the kind of thing I’d expect from Bill Maher, not from a rabbi.”

    “Who the hell is he?” Donohue said. “I don’t tell Jews what to do when they have people who are miscreants in their community.”

    Donohue’s “long nose” comment was in reference to something Waskow said in the previous email: “Would you also suggest I keep my long Jewish nose out of some Catholic priests’ rape of Catholic children and some Catholic bishops’ protection of those priests from the law, because I’m not a Catholic? Perhaps you would.” (Donohue had told him “you have stuck your nose in where you don’t belong.”)

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