St. Louis Observer

November 5, 1835


TO MY FELLOW CITIZENS

"Recent well-known occurrences in this city, and elsewhere have, in the opinion of some of my friends, as well as my own, made it my duty to address myself to you personally. And, in so doing, I hope to be pardoned for that apparent egotism which, in such an address, is more or less unavoidable. I hope also to write in that spirit of meekness and humility that becomes a follower of the Lamb, and, at the same time, with all that boldness and sincerity of speech, which should mark the language of a freeman and a Christian minister. It is not my design or wish to offend any one, but simply to maintain my rights as a republican citizen, free-born, of these United States, and to defend, fearlessly, the cause of TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS."

"Let this statement, fellow-citizens, show you the impropriety and the danger of putting the administration of justice into the hands of a mob. I am assured that had I been in the city, at the time when the charge here referred to, was first circulated, I should surely have suffered the penalty of the whipping-post or the tar-barrel, if not both! I understand that a Christian brother was one of those who brought the report here from Jefferson City, and was among the most active in circulating it, and declaring his belief in my criminality. If this meets his eye, he is assured that I forgive him with all my heart.

And now, fellow-citizens, having made the above explanation, for the purpose of undeceiving such of you as have honestly supposed me in error; truth and candor require me to add that had I desired to send a copy of the "Emancipator" or of any other newspaper to Jefferson City, I should not have taken the pains to box it up. I am not aware that any law of my country forbids my sending what document I please to a friend or citizen. I know, indeed, that mob law has decided otherwise, and that it has become fashionable in certain parts of this country, to break open the Post Office, and take from it such documents as the mob should decide, ought not to pass unburned. But I had never imagined there was a sufficiency of respectability attached to the good citizens of my own state. And grievously and sadly shall I be disappointed to find it otherwise.

In fine, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I have never, knowingly, to the best of my recollections, sent a single copy of the "Emancipator" or any other Abolition publication to a single individual in Missouri, or elsewhere; while yet I claim the right to send ten thousand of them if I choose, to as many of my fellow-citizens. Whether I will exercise that right or not, is for me, and not for the mob, to decide. The right to send publications of any sort to slaves, or in any way to communicate with them, without the express permission of their masters, I freely acknowledge that I have not. It is with the master alone, that I would have to do, as one freeman with another; and who shall say me nay?

I come now to the proceedings had at the late meetings of our citizens. And in discussing them I hope not to say a single word that shall wound the feelings of a single individual concerned. It is with principles I have to do, and not with men. And in canvassing them, freely, openly, I do but exercise a right secured by the solemn sanction of the Constitution, to the humblest citizen of this republic--a right that, so long as life lasts, I do not expect to relinquish.

I freely acknowledge the respectability of the citizens who composed the meetings referred to. And were the questions under consideration, to be decided as mere matters of opinion, it would become me, however much I might differ from them, to bow in humble silence to the decisions of such a body of my fellow-citizens. but I cannot surrender my principles, though the whole world besides should vote them down--I can make no compromise between truth and error, even though my life be the alternative.

Of the first resolution passed at the meeting of the 24th Oct., I have nothing to say, except that I perfectly agree with the sentiment, that the citizens of the non-slaveholding states have no right to interfere with the domestic relations between master and slave.

The second resolution, strictly speaking, neither affirms nor denies any thing in reference to the matter in hand. No man has a moral right to do any thing improper. Whether, therefore, he has the moral right to discuss the question of Slavery, is a point with which human legislation or resolution have nothing to do. The true issue to be decided is, whether he has the civil, the political right, to discuss it, or not. And this is a mere question of fact. In Russia, in Turkey, in Austria, nay even in France, this right most certainly does not exist. But does it exist in Missouri? We decide this question by turning to the Constitution of the State. The sixteenth section, article thirteenth, of the Constitution of Missouri, reads as follows:

"That the free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and that every person may freely speak, write, and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty."

Here, then, I find my warrant for using, as Paul did, all freedom of speech. If I abuse that right I freely acknowledge myself amenable to the laws. But it is said that the right to hold slaves is a constitutional one, and therefore not to be called in question. I admit the premise, but deny the conclusion. To put a strong case by way of illustration. The Constitution declares that this shall be a perpetual republic, but has not any citizen the right to discuss, under that Constitution, the comparative merits of despotism and liberty? And if he has eloquence and force of argument sufficient, may he not persuade us all to crown him our king? Robert Dale Owen came to this city, and Fanny Wright, followed him, openly proclaiming the doctrine that the institution of marriage was a curse to any community, and ought to be abolished. It was, undoubtedly, an abominable doctrine, and one which, if acted out, would speedily reduce society to the level of barbarism and the brutes; yet who though of denying Mr. Owen and his disciple, the perfect right of avowing such doctrines, or who thought of mobbing them for the exercise of this right? And yet, most surely, the institution of Slavery are not more interwoven with the structure of our society, than those of marriage.

See the danger, and the natural and inevitable result to which the first step here will lead. To-day a public meeting declares that you shall not discuss the subject of Slavery, in any of its bearings, civil or religious. Right or wrong, the press must be silent. To-morrow, another meeting decides that it is against the peace of society, that the principles of Popery shall be discussed, and the edict goes forth to muzzle the press. The next day, it is in a similar manner, declared that not a word must be said against distilleries, dram shops, or drunkenness. And so on to the end of the chapter. The truth is, my fellow-citizens, if you give ground a single inch, there is no stopping place. I deem it, therefore, my duty to take my stand upon the Constitution. Here is firm ground--I feel it to be such. And I do most respectfully, yet decidedly, declare to you my fixed determination to maintain this ground. We have slaves, it is true, but I am not one. I am a citizen of these United States, a citizen of Missouri, free-born; and having never forfeited the inestimable privileges attached to such condition, I cannot consent to surrender them. but while I maintain them, I hope to do it with all that meekness and humility that become a Christian, and especially a Christian minister. I am ready, not to fight, but to suffer, and if need be, to die for them. Kindred blood to that which flows in my veins, flowed freely to water the tree of Christian liberty, planted by the Puritans on the rugged soil of New England. It flowed as freely on the plains of Lexington, the heights of Bunker Hill, and fields of Saratoga. And freely, too, shall mine flow, yea, as freely as if it were so much water, ere I surrender my right to plead the cause of truth and righteousness, before my fellow-citizens, and in the face of all their opposers.

Of the 3rd resolution I must be allowed to say, that I have never seen the least evidence, whatever, that the Abolitionists, with all their errors, have ever desired to effect an amalgamation of the tow races, black and white. I respectfully ask of the individuals composing the meeting that adopted this resolution, if they have ever seen any such evidence? They have formally, solemnly and officially denied it. It is certainly an abhorrent thing even in theory, and a thousand times more so in practice. And yet, unless my eyes deceive me as I walk the streets of our city, there are some among us who venture to put it into practice. And in the appointment of the numerous committees of vigilance, superintendence, and &c., methinks that not one of them all was more needed than a Committee whose business it should be to ferret out from their secret 'chambers of iniquity,' these practical amalgamationists. If he who said to the woman taken in adultery, 'go and sin no more,' had stood in the midst of the meeting at our Court House, I will not say that he would there have detected a single amalgamator; but I am sure that if a poor Abolitionist were to be stoned in St. Louis for holding this preposterous notion, and the same rule were to be applied that our Saviour used in the case referred to, there are at least some amongst us who could not cast a pebble at the sinner's head.

What shall I, what can I, say of the 4th resolution? It was adopted, in a large assemblage of my fellow-citizens, with but a few dissenting voices. Many of our most respectable citizens voted for it--Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics; those who believe in the Bible is the word of God and those who do not, all united in voting for the resolution that the Bible sanctions Slavery as it now exists in the United States. If the sentiment had been that the Bible sanctions the continuance of the system until proper measures can be taken to remove it, I too could adopt it.

If I have taken my neighbour's property and spent it, and afterwards repent of my sin, and wish to restore what I had unjustly taken, but have not the means, the bible no longer holds me as a thief, but sanctions my withholding the money from my neighbour, until I can, by the use of the best means in my power, obtain it and restore it. And although, meanwhile, my neighbour in consequence of my original crime, may be deprived of his rights. and his family made to suffer all the evils of poverty and shame, the Bible would still enjoin it upon him to let me alone, nay, to forgive me, and even to be content in the abject condition to which I had reduced him. Even so the Bible now says to our slaves, as it said in the days of the Apostles, 'Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.' But then it also adds, 'Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.' What is meant by 'just and equal' we may learn from the Saviour himself--'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.' Thus far the Bible. And it will be seen, that in no case does it sanction, but the rather, absolutely forbids, all insurrectionary, all seditious, all rebellious acts on the part of the slaves. but be it remembered, that, with equal decision and authority, it says to the master, 'Undo the heavy burden, and let the oppressed go free.' If either disobey these injunctions, then it bids us leave the whole matter with that God who declares 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.'

But I am not at liberty so to understand the resolution. From the preamble, and from the conversation with several who voted for it, I am compelled to understand the meeting as voting that the Bible--the blessed Saviour, and his holy Apostles--sanction the principle of Slavery--the system itself, as such, as it now exists amongst us. Fellow-citizens! I mean not to be disrespectful to you, but I declare before you all, I have not words to express my utter abhorrence of such a sentiment. My soul detests it, my heart sickens over it; my judgment, my understanding, my conscience, reject it, with loathing and horror. What is the system of Slavery 'as it now exists in the United States?' It is a system of buying and selling immortal beings for the sake of gain; a system which forbids of man and woman the rights of husband and wife, sanctioning the dissolution of this tie at the mere caprice of another; a system which tolerates the existence of a class of men whose professed business it is to go about from house to house, tearing husband and wife, parent and child asunder, chaining their victims together, and then driving them with a whip, like so many mules, to a distant market, there to be disposed of to the unspeakable abominations, that attend this unfortunate class in their cabins. but I spare the details. and this is the system sanctioned by the Prince of Mercy and Love, by the God of Holiness and Purity! Oh God!--In the language of one of the Patriarchs to whom the meeting in their resolution refer, I say, 'Oh my soul, come not thou into their secret, unto their assemble mine honour be not thou united!'

The fifth resolution appoints a committee of Vigilance consisting of seven for each ward, twenty for the suburbs, and seven for each township in the country--in all eighty three persons--whose duty it shall be to report to the Mayor or the other civil authorities, all persons suspected of preaching abolition doctrines, &c., and should the civil authorities fail to deal with them, on suspicion, why then the Committee are to call a meeting of the citizens and execute their decrees--in other words, to lynch the suspected persons.

Fellow-citizens; where are we and in what age of the world do we live? I the is the land of Freedom or Despotism? Is this the ninth or nineteenth century? Have the principles of the Lettres de Cachet, driven from Europe, crossed the Atlantic and taken up their abode in Missouri? Lewis the XIV sent men to the Bastile on suspicion; we, more humane, do but whip them to death, or nearly so. but these things cannot last long. A few may be made the innocent victims of lawless violence, yet be assured there is a moral sense in the Christendom of the nineteenth century, that will not long endure such odious transactions. A tremendous re-action will take place. And remember, I pray you, that as Phalaris was the first man roasted in the brazen bull he had constructed for the tyrant of Sicily, so the inventor of the guillotin was by no means the last, whose neck had practical experience of the keenness of its edge.

I turn, for a moment, to my fellow-Christians, of all Protestant denominations.

Respected and beloved fathers and brethren. As I address myself to you, my heart is full, well-nigh to bursting, and my eyes overflow. It is indeed a time of trial and rebuke. The enemies of the cross are numerous and bold, and malignant, in the extreme. From the situation in which the Providence of God has placed me, a large portion of their hatred, in this quarter, has concentrated itself on me. You know that, now for nearly two years, a constant stream of calumnies and personal abuse of the most viperous kind, has been poured upon me, simply because I have been your organ through which--I refer now more especially to my Presbyterian brethren--you have declared your sentiments. You know, also, that I have never, in a single instance, replied to, or otherwise noticed these attacks. And now not only is a fresh attack, of ten-fold virulence, made upon my character, but violence is threatened to my person. Think not that it is because I am an Abolitionist that I am so persecuted. They who first started this report knew and still know better. In the progress of events Slavery has doubtless contributed it share, though a very small one, to the bitterness of hatred with which the 'Observer,' and I as connected with it, are regarded. but the true cause is the open and decided stand which the paper has taken against the encroachments of Popery. This is not only my own opinion, but that of others, and indeed of nearly or quite all with whom I have conversed on the subject, and among the rest, as I learn, of a French Catholic.

I repeat it, then, the real origin of the cry, 'Down with the Observer,' is to be looked for in its opposition to Popery. The fire that is now blazing and crackling through this city, was kindled on Popish altars, and has bee assiduously blown up by Jesuit breath. and now, dear brethren, the question is, shall we flee before it, or stay and abide its fury, even though we perish in the flames? For one, I cannot hesitate. The path of duty lies plain before me, and I must walk therein, even though it lead to the whipping-post, the tar-barrel, or even the stake. I was bold and dauntless in the service of sin' it is not fitting that I should be less so in the service of my Redeemer. He sought me out when there was none to help; when I was fast sinking to eternal ruin, he raised me up and placed me on the Rock of Ages; and now shall I forsake him when he has so few friends and so many enemies in St. Louis? I cannot, I dare not, and , His grace sustaining me, I will not.

Some of you I know are with me in feeling, in sympathy, and in prayer. And this knowledge is, indeed, a cordial to my heart. We have wept and preyed together in the midst of our present afflictions, and we have risen from our knees, refreshed and cheered by a sense of God's presence and his approving smile. And indeed, but for this,--but that I have felt the upholding hand of God supporting me, I had long since fallen. 'I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.' And the heaviest blows have been those which I have received from the hands of some of my brethren. May the Lord forgive them, as freely and heartily as I do.

But Oh, my brethren, what shall I say to those of you who recorded your votes in favour of the resolution that the Bible sanctions Slavery? It is not for me to reproach you; nor have I the least disposition to utter one unkind word. I only wish that I could make you sensible of the feelings I experienced when I first read that resolution as sanctioned by you. It did seem to me as though I could perceive a holy horror thrilling through all heaven, at such a perversion of the principles of the gospel of the Son of God. Oh, my brethren, may I not entreat you to pray over the subject, to ask for the wisdom of heaven to lead you into the truth? Depend upon it, you are wrong, fearfully wrong. Not for all the diadems of all the stars of heaven, though each were a world like this, would I have such a vote, unrepented of, to answer for at the bar of God, my Judge.

Oh, were the Church united at such a crisis as this, what a triumph we might achieve! But it never can be united, until you come over to us. Did you ever hear of a Christian, once holding the contrary doctrine, giving it up for yours? Never, I venture to say it, unless at the same time he gave up his Christianity with it. But there are instances, daily, of conversions from your side to ours. Come over then, brethren--Oh come over. Let us untidily take our stand upon the principles of truth and RIGHTEOUSNESS. Standing by them we cannot be moved. Even the Heathen could say of the just man, that he would remain undismayed though the heavens should fall around him. how much more, then, may it be said of the Christian? In the midst of every assault, when foes are gathered around him on every side, in the calm, yet exulting confidences of faith, he can look upward and exclaim--'the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?'

A few words more, and I have done.

Fellow-citizens of St. Louis, above, you have my sentiments, fully and freely expressed, on the great subjects now agitating the public mind. Are they such as render me unworthy of that protection which regulate Society accords to the humblest of its members? Let me ask you, why is it that this storm of persecution is directed against me? What have I done? Have I libeled any man's person or character? No. have I been found in gambling-houses, billiard-rooms, or tippling-shops? Never. Have I ever disturbed the peace and quiet of your city by midnight revellings, or riots in the streets? It is not pretended. Have I ever, by word or deed, directly or indirectly, attempted or designed to incite your slaves to insubordination? God forbid. I would as soon be guilty of arson and murder. And here you must permit me to say that the conduct of those who so fiercely accuse me here, strongly reminds me of the scene which took place between Ahab and the prophet Elijah. You remember that in a time of great drouth, which Elijah had predicted, and which God sent upon the land for the wickedness of Ahab and Israel, when Ahab met Elijah, he said to him, in great wrath, 'Art thou he that troubleth Israel?' But the prophet boldly, and in conscious innocence, replied, 'I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house,' &c. Elijah did not bring the drouth and the famine into Israel, he simply announced what God had determined to do in punishment of their sins. The drouth would have come, though there had been no prophet to announce it. Yet so fat as he had any personal agency in the matter, he may well be supposed to have been actuated by kind motives towards Ahab and his countrymen, inasmush as by forewarning them of the evil, he have them an opportunity to prepare for it at least, if not to avert it by a speedy repentance.

Even so, my fellow-citizens, is it unreasonable and unjust to charge upon those who, applying to the case the maxims of the Bible, of experience, and history, foresee and foretell to you the evil effects of the continuance of Slavery, the crime of having introduced those very consequences. And here let me say, that in my opinion the proceedings of the late meetings in this city, and the agitation consequent upon them, have done more to disquiet and render uneasy and restless and discontented, the minds of the slaves, than all that the "Observer" could or would have said in a hundred years.

I again, therefore, ask you what I have done, that I am to be made an object to popular vengeance? From the time that I published the account of the consecration of the Cathedral, threats have been constantly coming to my ears that I was to be mobbed, and my office torn down. Is it borne, that a citizen in the he peaceable exercise of those rights secured to him solemnly by charter, is thus to be hunted down and proscribed? If in any thing I have offended against the laws of my country, or its constitution, I stand ready to answer. If I have not, then I call upon those laws and that constitution, and those who revere them to protect me.

I do, therefore, as an American citizen, and Christian patriot, and in the name of Liberty, and Law, and Religion, solemnly protest against all these attempts, howsoever or by whomsoever made, to frown down the liberty of the press, and forbid the free expression of opinion. Under a deep sense of my obligations to my country, the church, and my God, I declare it to be my fixed purpose to submit to no such dictation. And I am prepared to abide the consequences. I have appealed to the constitution and laws of my country; if they fail to protect me, I appeal to God, and with Him I cheerfully rest my cause.

Fellow-citizens, they told me if I returned to the city, from my late absence, you would surely lay violent hands upon me, and many of my friends besought me not to come. I disregarded their advice, because I plainly saw, or thought I saw, that the Lord would have me come. And up to this moment that conviction of duty has continued to strengthen, until now I have not a shadow of doubt that I did right. I have appeared openly among you, in your streets and market-places, and now I openly and publicly throw myself into your hands. I can die at my post, but I cannot desert it.

I have request to make, and but one. The original proprietors of the "Observer," have, as you know, disclaimed all responsibility in its publication. So far as depends upon them, nothing would appear in the paper on the subject of Slavery. I am sure, therefore, that you will see the propriety of refraining from any act which would inflict injury upon them, either in person or property. I alone am answerable and responsible for all that appears in the paper, except when absent from the city. A part of the office also belongs to the young men who print the paper; and they are in no way responsible for the matter which appears in its columns. For the sake of both these parties I do, therefore, earnestly entreat you, that whatever may be done to me, the property of the office may be left undisturbed. If the popular vengeance needs a victim, I offer myself a willing sacrifice. To any assault that may be made upon me, I declare it my purpose to make no resistance. There is, I confess, one string tugging at my heart, that sometimes wakes it to mortal agony. And yet I cannot, dare not, yield to its influence. For my master has said, 'If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.'

Humbly entreating all whom I have injured, whether intentionally or otherwise, to forgive me; in charity with all men; freely forgiving my enemies, even those who thirst for my blood, and with the blest assurance, that in life or death nothing can separate me from my Redeemer, I subscribe myself,

Your fellow citizen,

Elijah P. Lovejoy


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