Alton Mob Murder of Elijah Lovejoy Still Relevant, Biographer Says | Book reviews






A drawing of the crowd that gathered in front of Winthrop Gilman’s warehouse at the foot of William Street in Alton on November 7, 1837. Inside the warehouse was the fourth press of publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy , which had been delivered by steamboat earlier in the day. The crowds had destroyed the other three. When several men attempted to set the roof on fire, some of Lovejoy’s supporters came out of the warehouse and shot at the crowd. In the calm that followed, Lovejoy glanced outside the front door and was hit by five shots. He collapsed and died.

(Missouri History Museum)


Missouri History Museum


By John J. Dunphy Post-Dispatch Special

The struggle against slavery defines pre-1865 American history. The saga of Elijah Lovejoy, the abolitionist newspaper editor who in 1837 was killed by a mob enraged by his editorials condemning slavery, defines the city of Alton on the Mississippi. Indeed, one of the inscriptions on the city’s Lovejoy monument reads in part: “Lovejoy and Alton: names as inseparable and dear to the people of Illinois as those of Lincoln and Springfield, Grant and Galena.”

Lovejoy was indeed the first to fall in our nation for press freedom. He was followed by many others. “The threats against journalists have not stopped,” writes Ken Ellingwood in the introduction to his new book, “First to Fall”.

He cites the 2018 Capitol Gazette massacre in Maryland, when an assailant wielding a shotgun broke into a newspaper office and murdered four reporters and a salesman. “Despots around the world censor, imprison or murder journalists because the truth poses a danger to their grip on power,” observes Ellingwood, while “terrorists target journalists on the ground and in their offices.”






Ken Ellingwood's

“First to Fall: Elijah Lovejoy and the Struggle for a Free Press in the Age of Slavery”

By Ken Ellingwood

Published by Pegasus, 351 pages, $ 27.95


As the author puts it, contemporary events are making Lovejoy more and more relevant to Americans. We live in a time when opponents of free and independent media have become emboldened. “A vain American president recklessly calls the independent press an ‘enemy of the people’,” writes Ellingwood. “Others who feel threatened by the work of legitimate journalists are trying to retaliate with trumped-up untruth claims – ‘fake news’.

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