Owen Lovejoy

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This article is about the American lawyer. For the anthropologist, see Owen Lovejoy (anthropologist).
Owen Lovejoy
Owen Lovejoy.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 25, 1864
Preceded by William A. Richardson
Succeeded by Ebon C. Ingersoll
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1863
Preceded by Jesse O. Norton
Succeeded by Elihu B. Washburne
Personal details
Born (1811-01-06)January 6, 1811
Albion, Maine, United States
Died March 25, 1864(1864-03-25) (aged 53)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Eunice Lovejoy
Residence Princeton, Illinois
Alma mater Bowdoin College
Occupation Minister
Religion Congregationalist

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 in November 1837 by pro-slavery forces, Owen became a leader of abolitionists in Illinois.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Albion, Maine, Owen was one of five brothers born to Emma and Patee Lovejoy, a Congregational minister and farmer. He worked with his family on the farm until he was 18, and his parents encouraged his education. His father was a Congregational minister and his mother was very devout.[1] Lovejoy graduated from Bowdoin College in 1832. He studied law, but never practiced.[2]


Lovejoy migrated to Alton, Illinois, where his older brother Elijah Parish Lovejoy had moved in 1836 from St. Louis, because of hostility to 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.[1]

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.[1] He is reported to have sworn on his brother's grave to "never forsake the cause that had been sprinkled with my brother's blood."[3] Owen and his 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.[4][5] His activities brought him increasing public prominence.

In 1854 Lovejoy was elected a member of the Illinois State Legislature.[1] He worked with Abraham Lincoln and others to form the Republican Party in the state, and he and Lincoln remained close friends.[5] 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.[2]

In February 1859, Lovejoy responded to charges that he was a "negro stealer" on the floor of Congress, saying:

Yes, I do assist fugitive slaves to escape! Proclaim it upon the house-tops; write it upon every leaf that trembles in the forest; make it blaze from the sun at high noon, and shine forth in the radiance of every star that bedecks the firmament of God. Let it echo through all the arches of heaven, and reverberate and bellow through all the deep gorges of hell, where slave catchers will be very likely to hear it. Owen Lovejoy lives at Princeton, Illinois, and he aids every fugitive that comes to his door and asks it. Thou invisible demon of slavery! dost thou think to cross my humble threshold, and forbid me to give bread to the hungry and shelter to the houseless? I bid you defiance in the name of God.[6]

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.[5] 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." [3]

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[edit]

  • 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."[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Lovejoy, Elijah Parish". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  2. ^ a b Congressional biography
  3. ^ a b Sandburg, Carl (1954). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. p. 64: Harvest. ISBN 0-15-602611-2. 
  4. ^ Clifton H. Johnson, "The Amistad Incident and the Formation of the American Missionary Association", New Conversations, Vol. XI (Winter/Spring 1989), pp. 3-6
  5. ^ a b c d 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 2011
  6. ^ Isaac Newton Arnold. The history of Abraham Lincoln, and the overthrow of slavery. 

Several instances of Owen in Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln the War Years

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jesse O. Norton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Elihu B. Washburne
Preceded by
William A. Richardson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ebon C. Ingersoll