Final Public Speech of Elijah Parish Lovejoy

from the Memoir of the Reverend E. P. Lovejoy

Delivered at a public meeting in Alton on November 3, 1837

Mr. Chairman--it is not true, as has been charged upon me, that I hold in contempt the feelings and sentiments of this community, in reference to the question which is now agitating it. I respect and appreciate the feelings and opinions of my fellow-citizens, and it is one of the most painful and unpleasant duties of my life, that I am called upon to act in opposition to them. If you suppose, sir, that I have published sentiments contrary to those generally held in this community, because I delighted in differing from them, or in occasioning a disturbance, you have entirely misapprehended me. But, sir, while I value the good opinion of my fellow-citizens, as highly as any one, I may be permitted to say, that I am governed by higher considerations than either the favour or the fear of man. I am impelled to the course I have taken, because I fear God. As I shall answer it to my God in the great day, I dare not abandon my sentiments, or cease in all proper ways to propagate them.

 

I, Mr. Chairman, have not desired, or asked any compromise. I have asked for nothing but to be protected in my rights as a citizen--rights which God has given me, and which are guaranteed me by the constitution of my country. Have I, sir, been guilty of any infraction of the laws? Whose god name have I injured? When and where have I published an thing injurious to the reputation of Alton? Have I not, on the other hand, laboured, in common, with the rest of my fellow-citizens, to promote the reputation and interests of this city? What, sir, I ask, has been my offence? Put your finger upon it--define it--and I stand ready to answer for it. If I have committed any crime, you can easily convict me. You have public sentiment in your favour. You have your juries, and you have your attorney (looking at the Attorney General, Usher Linder) and I have no doubt you can convict me. But if I have been guilty of no violation of law, why am I hunted up and down continually like a partridge upon the mountains? Why am I threatened with the tar barrel? Why am I waylaid every day, and from night to night, and my life in jeopardy every hour?

Handkerchief with final speech printed on it.
From the collection of the Illinois State Historical Library

 

Your have, sir, made up, as the lawyers say, a false issue; there are not two parties between whom there can be a compromise. I plant myself, sir, down on my unquestionable rights, and the question to be decided is, whether I shall be protected in the exercise, and enjoyment of those rights--that is the question, sir;--whether my property shall be protected, whether I shall be suffered to go home to my family at night without being assailed, and threatened with tar and feathers, and assassination; whether my afflicted wife, whose life has been in jeopardy, from continued alarm and excitement, shall night after night be driven from a sick bed into the garret to save her life from the brickbats and violence of the mobs; that sir, is the question."

Here, much affected and overcome by his feelings, he burst into tears. Many, not excepting even his enemies, wept--several sobbed aloud, and the sympathies of the whole meeting were deeply excited. He continued:

Forgive me, sir, that I have thus betrayed my weakness. It was the allusion to my family that overcame my feelings. Not, sir, I assure you, from any fears on my part. I have no personal fears. not that I feel able to contest the matter with the whole community, I know perfectly well I am not. I know, sir, that you can tar and feather me, hang me up, or put me into the Mississippi, without the least difficulty. But what then? Where shall I go? I have been made to feel that if I am not safe at Alton, I shall not be safe anywhere. I recently visited St. Charles to bring home my family, and was torn from their frantic embrace by a mob. I have been beset night and day at Alton. And now if I leave here and go elsewhere, violence may overtake me in my retreat, and I have no more claim upon the protection of any other community than I have upon this; and I have concluded, after consultation with my friends, and earnestly seeking counsel of god, to remain at Alton, and here to insist on protection in the exercise of my rights. If the civil authorities refuse to protect me, I must look to God; and if I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton.



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