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Daniel A. Graff, Ph.D. “Lovejoy’s Legacies: Race, Religion, and Freedom in St. Louis (and American) Memory”Document Transcript
Daniel A. Graff, Ph.D. “Lovejoy’s Legacies: Race, Religion, and Freedom in St. Louis (and American) Memory” Paper presented at the Fontbonne University Symposium, “Collective Memory in St. Louis: Recollection, Forgetting and the Common Good,” October 23, 2010* “We have broken our truce with this spirit of darkness. Henceforth we stand in direct and uncompromising hostility to it. … We were loathe to believe – what we are now fully convinced of – that it is a spirit of unmixed evil.”1 Elijah Parish Lovejoy, editor of the St. Louis Observer, published these words in 1834, echoing the brashness and certainty of fellow printer William Lloyd Garrison, who had launched his pioneering, Boston‐based abolitionist journal The Liberator three years earlier with a similar, and much more famous, declaration: “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. … I am in earnest … and I WILL BE HEARD.”2 Like Garrison, Lovejoy was a white native of New England who achieved national prominence – or, more aptly, notoriety – for his aggressive antislavery politics in antebellum America. Unlike Garrison, however, Lovejoy left New England and migrated west to St. Louis in the 1820s, where he made a living as an editor and a Presbyterian minister. In 1836, Lovejoy was the only St. Louisan to publicly challenge the lynching of Francis McIntosh, a free black *Daniel A. Graff teaches history at the University of Notre Dame, where he serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of History and Associate Director of the Higgins Labor Studies Program. He thanks the following for their feedback on earlier drafts of this paper: Heath Carter, Jon Coleman, Patrick Griffin, Nicole MacLaughlin, John McGreevy, Mark Noll, as well as his superb undergraduate students in his fall 2010 course on Jacksonian America. He also thanks the organizers of the Fontbonne University October 2010 symposium on St. Louis memory, especially Mary Beth Gallagher and Randy Rosenberg. 1 St. Louis Observer, Sep. 4, 1834, quoted in Merton L. Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejoy: Abolitionist Editor (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1961), 40. 2 The Liberator, Jan. 1, 1831, quoted in Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815‐1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 425.
boatworker who had been tied to a tree and burned alive after murdering a St. Louis police officer. Blaming slavery’s corrupting influence on respect for law and order, Lovejoy repeatedly castigated city leaders for tolerating this mob action. In response, hostile crowds repeatedly destroyed his printing equipment. After enduring months of vandalism and threats to his safety, Lovejoy decided to leave St. Louis for the nearby town of Alton, whose location across the Mississippi River seemed to promise a more congenial climate for his controversial editorials. It was there, in free‐state Illinois a year later, that Lovejoy lost his life, killed by gunfire while trying to prevent the destruction of yet another printing press.3 Lovejoy’s violent end instantly converted him from local provocateur to national – or at least northern – martyr, as abolitionists not only condemned the rampant lawlessness of the slave states, but also warned free‐state residents that all aspects of personal liberty were at stake in the struggle over slavery. While it would take another two decades for the national debate over slavery to culminate in the Civil War, Lovejoy’s martyrdom certainly represented one of the sparks that lit the sectional fire. Fittingly, then, Lovejoy has continued to hold a place in American memory, with his heroic efforts on behalf of antislavery and press liberty meriting a mention in most US history survey textbooks. One popular title, for example, praises Lovejoy for “pressing the issues of emancipation and equality” upon a reluctant nation.43 The standard scholarly biographies of Lovejoy remain Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejoy, and John Gill, Tide without Turning: Elijah P. Lovejoy and Freedom of the Press (Boston: Starr King Press, 1958). On possible St. Louis connections to ndLovejoy’s murder in Alton, see James Neal Primm, Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri (2 ed., 1990), 185. 4 James Henretta, et al., America’s History: Volume I: To 1877, 5th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 357. Page 2 of 13
Modern American historians, in other words, tend to adopt wholesale the contemporary abolitionist portrait of Lovejoy as heroic victim of proslavery censorship and violence. And in the St. Louis area, that scholarly consensus is both echoed and made highly visible, with Lovejoy commemorated in several public spaces. In Alton, Lovejoy’s gravesite features a towering monument praising “the valor, devotion and sacrifice of the noble Defenders of the Press, who … made the first armed resistance to the aggressions of the slave power in America.”5 A short distance to the south at Southern Illinois University‐Edwardsville, the campus library bears Lovejoy’s name.6 To the west, still in Illinois, the small village of Brooklyn, originally settled by African Americans, is often called Lovejoy, cementing the editor’s link to the cause of black liberty. And returning west across the river to the city that once expelled him, Lovejoy now enjoys a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame honoring “great St. Louisans.”7 In public memory, then, Elijah Lovejoy comes across as St. Louis’s own William Lloyd Garrison, a fiery and uncompromising speaker of truth to power in the name of liberty for all. The problem with such an appealing picture is that it masks a fundamental component of Lovejoy’s activism – his strident anti‐Catholicism. The words opening this paper, for example, though certainly Garrisonian in tone, were not directed at slavery at all. Instead, Lovejoy was denouncing the Catholic Church. Let me repeat those lines: “We have broken our truce with 5 The website for the Illinois State Historical Library features a section on Elijah P. Lovejoy, including information on and pictures of the Lovejoy monument in Alton, which was erected in the 1890s. See http://www.state.il.us/hpa/lovejoy/monument.htm. 6 The website for the Lovejoy Library of the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville contains a link for “About the Library.” See http://www.library.siue.edu/lib/gen0.html. 7 See the St. Louis Walk of Fame’s website at http://stlouiswalkoffame.org/foreword/, which includes the text accompanying Lovejoy’s star on Delmar Boulevard in University City to the west of St. Louis. Page 3 of 13
this spirit of darkness. Henceforth we stand in direct and uncompromising hostility to it. … We were loathe to believe – what we are now fully convinced of – that it is a spirit of unmixed evil.”8 Although completely dropped from both scholarly and public memory, Lovejoy’s anti‐Catholicism was not only central to his politics, but also prior to – and just as important as ‐‐ his antislavery activism. To Lovejoy, a committed evangelical Protestant, the Catholic Church was the most dangerous threat to the American republic, and he originally moved to St. Louis not to combat slavery but to save the west from what he called “the principles of Popery.” Like many eastern evangelicals, he saw St. Louis as a frontier community in desperate need of guidance and salvation – which he sought to provide and encourage through not only his editorial leadership, but also his participation in organizations such as the Missouri and Illinois Tract Society and the American Sunday School Union. From the first, then, Lovejoy’s sojourn to the west was distinctly missionary in nature, but he wasn’t on a mission to free any slaves.9 Lovejoy’s evangelical commitments fused with a fierce nationalism, and he identified himself as a “Christian patriot.”10 To Lovejoy, in fact, these two identities were inseparable, because he believed that his New England Puritan forebears had introduced to the continent the principles of freedom and independence that had culminated in the American Revolution. As he boasted to his readers, “Kindred blood to that which flows in my veins, flowed freely to 8 St. Louis Observer, Sep. 4, 1834, quoted in Merton L. Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejoy, 40. 9 Merton L. Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejoy: Abolitionist Editor, 11‐35. 10 St. Louis Observer, Nov. 5, 1835. Page 4 of 13
water the tree of Christian liberty, planted by the Puritans on the rugged soil of New England.” Now, as heir to this tradition, Lovejoy was more than willing to shed his blood to fertilize the liberty tree’s offshoots in the west. To Lovejoy, in short, the causes of religion and the republic were intertwined and inseparable, and he vowed “to maintain my rights as a republican citizen, free‐born, of these United States, and to defend, fearlessly, the cause of TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS.”11 That cause, as he saw it, demanded his fierce opposition to Roman Catholicism.12 To Lovejoy, American Catholics owed their allegiance to the Pope, and hence they could never act as independent citizens dedicated to the republic. According to him and many other American evangelicals, the “the principles of Popery”, from canonization to ordination to the alleged pomp of ceremonies and rituals, threatened independent thinking and republican citizenship. As Lovejoy concluded, “So true is it, that Popery in its very essential principles is incompatible with … civil or religious liberty.”13 And the problem was especially acute in 1830s St. Louis, where the Church’s presence predated the arrival of Protestantism and still claimed the allegiance of one‐third of the population.1411 St. Louis Observer, Nov. 5, 1835. Here, and throughout the paper, quotes are exactly as they appear in the cited source. 12 Biographers such as Dillon (see notes above) have not ignored Lovejoy’s anti‐Catholicism, but the Lovejoy in American memory is generally known only for his antislavery and free press credentials. See also the important, though brief, uncredited article, “Elijah P. Lovejoy As An Anti‐Catholic,” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia 62 (1951), 172‐80. For an exploration of the relationship between anti‐Catholicism and antislavery, one that includes a brief reference to Lovejoy, see John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 43‐67. 13 St. Louis Observer, Jul. 21, 1836. 14 St. Louis Observer, Nov. 5, 1835; “Elijah P. Lovejoy As An Anti‐Catholic,” 174‐75; Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejoy, 39. Page 5 of 13
In the evangelical Protestant imagination, the west represented the battleground for the nation’s soul, which is why Lovejoy migrated to St. Louis in the first place.15 But he constantly worried because other migrants, especially those from Ireland, proved less than interested in his missionary efforts. He also feared that “Christian patriots” like himself were losing souls to the Catholic church, who sent foreign clergy trained by Rome to open churches and schools in St. Louis and throughout the west, in an effort to tie America’s youth to the “yoke of the Vatican,” thereby preventing their intellectual and spiritual independence.16 Accordingly, to prevent the Mississippi Valley from falling into “the hands of strangers, the well‐known oppressors and persecutors of mankind,” Lovejoy advocated the revision of naturalization laws to make it harder for immigrants to become citizens. 17 Lovejoy’s strident anti‐Catholicism made him many enemies in St. Louis, though historians and commemorators have forgotten this. Lovejoy himself knew better. As he put it just before leaving St. Louis, “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 been assiduously blown up by Jesuit breath.”18 Although he probably underestimated the extent to which his antislavery views contributed to the hostility he faced, he was right that his opposition to Catholics also made him serious 15 The most prominent contemporary title was Lyman Beecher’s A Plea for the West (Cincinnati: Truman & Smith, 1835). The classic historical study remains Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800‐1860 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1938). 16 St. Louis Observer, Dec. 31, 1835, quoted in “Elijah P. Lovejoy As An Anti‐Catholic,” 175. 17 St. Louis Observer, Oct. 15, 1835, quoted in “Elijah P. Lovejoy As An Anti‐Catholic,” 175. 18 St. Louis Observer, Nov. 5, 1835. Page 6 of 13
enemies in the city.19 My aim here, however, is not to claim that anti‐Catholicism was more fundamental to his thinking than antislavery – my point is that they were fundamentally inseparable. But in our haste to commemorate this antislavery martyr, we have obscured that connection and lost an important part of the story. What was at stake in 1830s St. Louis was nothing less than two competing visions of American citizenship. The dominant view, ascendant at the polls and in the streets, embraced white political equality while resting on black subjugation and exclusion. This vision, articulated most forcefully by the Jacksonian Democrats but crossing party lines within St. Louis, saw all European‐Americans, regardless of religion or place of birth, as eligible for membership and needed in the defense of slavery and white supremacy. Lovejoy countered with an alternative conception of citizenship, one rooted not in race but in religion and nativity. He explicitly rejected Catholics, especially immigrant Catholics, as unsuited for membership in the polity.20 These competing visions of citizenship shared much: they embraced republicanism, believing that government must rest upon the consent of the governed; they advocated for an equality amongst the citizenry that rejected European social ranks; and they believed in America’s destiny to serve as the beacon of liberty for the rest of the world. We might label both visions as democratic in their commitments to republicanism, equality, and liberty. But despite their democratic fervor, both visions also shared another characteristic: each rested on 19 “Elijah P. Lovejoy As An Anti‐Catholic,” 178. 20 This and future paragraphs draw from my wider book manuscript, “Forging an American St. Louis: Labor, Race, and Citizenship in the Making of a Nineteenth‐Century Metropolis.” See also my dissertation, “Forging an American St. Louis: Labor, Race, and Citizenship from the Louisiana Purchase to Dred Scott” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin‐Madison, 2004). Page 7 of 13
an exclusive definition of citizenship that marked the outsiders as nothing less than enemies of the republic, or anti‐citizens. For most white St. Louisans, the enemies were African Americans, whether free or slave; for Lovejoy, the anti‐citizens were Catholics, especially Irish immigrant Catholics. The reason for Lovejoy’s expulsion from St. Louis, then, was not just his antislavery views, but his unceasing denunciations of Roman Catholics, Irish immigrants, and slaveholders, which struck at the white solidarity at the heart of the political order, especially in the wake of the McIntosh lynching. And no one better defended that political order than circuit court judge Luke Lawless, who presided over the proceedings investigating McIntosh’s death. Lawless, an Irish immigrant, a Catholic, and a firm defender of slavery, recommended that the grand jury indict no one, because in his view the entire white community had united as one to avenge the black boatworker’s horrible crime of killing a police officer. In fact, Lawless actually went beyond this step and encouraged the grand jury to adopt a resolution urging the state legislature to outlaw the printing of abolitionist publications. According to Lawless, McIntosh was “only the blind instrument in the hands of abolitionist fanatics,” whose incendiary opposition to slavery and racial hierarchy inspired the black boatman in his hatred for the agents of law and order. He singled out Lovejoy for particular scorn. “It seems to me impossible,” he thundered, “that while such language is used and published … there can be any safety in a slave‐holding state.”21 Published widely throughout the city, Lawless’ speech 21 Missouri Argus, May 27, 1836. Page 8 of 13
inspired repeated attacks on Lovejoy’s office and prompted the editor’s decision to leave St. Louis.22 But before departing for Alton, Lovejoy took a final shot at Lawless. According to Lovejoy, Judge Lawless “exemplified and illustrated the truth of the doctrine we have been endeavoring to impress on the minds of our countrymen, … that foreigners educated in the old world, never can come to have a proper understanding of American constitutional law.” Unlike “home educated republicans” like Lovejoy, Lawless was “a foreigner – a naturalized one, it is true, but still to all intents and purposes a foreigner – he was educated and received his notions of government amidst the turbulent agitations of Ireland.” Worse than that, he was also “a Papist; and in his Charge we see the cloven foot of Jesuitism, peeping out from under the veil of almost every paragraph … ”23 In their heated confrontation in 1836, Luke Lawless and Elijah Lovejoy personified the clashing visions of citizenship animating St. Louis, a battle won by Lawless, at least in the short run. We’ve come a long way since then, of course, and contemporary American citizenship corresponds with neither of these visions. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution explicitly defines anyone born on US soil a citizen of the United States, and the 1st Amendment in its current interpretation protects religious freedom.24 But consider this. We would never think of naming a library after Luke Lawless, nor placing his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, because 22 Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejoy, 84‐85. 23 St. Louis Observer, Jul. 21, 1836. 24 The National Archives provides the text and commentary on the United States Constitution at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html. Page 9 of 13
we find repulsive his proslavery and white supremacist views. We would also reject, I’m sure, the notion of commemorating Elijah Lovejoy’s intolerance toward Catholics. Yet Lovejoy occupies a very visible and secure place in our public memory. Is this a problem? Well, my goal is not to debunk Elijah Lovejoy’s reputation, nor to decry the commemoration of antislavery activism. If anything, I would argue that we need more efforts in our schools, museums, and memorial sites that reassert the centrality of slavery in American history, as well as the antislavery activism that led to its destruction. Still, while I wouldn’t advocate the removal of Lovejoy’s name from our public landscape, I do think there are costs to commemorating Lovejoy’s antislavery while erasing his anti‐Catholicism. These costs are most apparent in a new trend within American history scholarship. Daniel Walker Howe won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his book What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815‐1848, an entry in the Oxford University Press’s History of the United States series. Expansively conceived and beautifully written, Howe’s story has clear heroes and villains. The good guys are those he calls “the Improvers,” politicians and reformers who embraced the developing market economy, advocated an end to slavery, and labored to perfect American society through curbing drunkenness. The bad guys are Andrew Jackson, his Democratic Party, and their supporters, presented here as white supremacists, sexists, and critics of perfectionist reform. In Howe’s telling, improvers like John Quincy Adams pointed toward an American future inclusive of women and blacks, while Jackson and his followers clung to a dying, exclusionary past.2525 Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought, passim. Page 10 of 13
Howe’s prize‐winning interpretation turns previous generations of historical scholarship upside down. From Arthur Schlesinger to Charles Sellers to Sean Wilentz, most American historians have painted Jackson and the Democrats as the political modernizers, ushering in a new era rooted in mass participation and a more open government, while they portray the Whigs as defenders of an old order premised on a restricted suffrage and governance by economic elites. Recently, to be sure, the reputations of the Jacksonians have suffered, as historians have begun to recognize just how thoroughly racialized was their vision of democracy. That is all to the good, but Howe goes further and anoints their opponents as the true democratizers. And that’s highly problematic. Just as the Jacksonians only appear democratic to us if we ignore their commitment to white supremacy, the Whigs and cultural reformers only appear democratic in a modern sense if we ignore their commitment to anti‐Catholicism. While the Democrats embraced white Catholics and European immigrants as citizens equal to all others, the Whigs represented a uniquely Protestant sensibility that saw Catholicism, like drunkenness and Sabbath‐breaking and (in the case of northern Whigs) slavery, as a foe needing to be conquered.26 Elijah Lovejoy himself merits only a sentence in Howe’s massive study, but it is reformers like Lovejoy whom Howe identifies as the heroes of the era and the forerunners to modern American democracy. To accomplish this, Howe must completely underplay the 26 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson (Boston: Little, Brown, & Company, 1945); Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815‐1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: From Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: Norton, 2005). The literature challenging the democratic standing of the Jacksonian Democrats is vast and growing: for starters, see David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991); Mary Hershberger, “Mobilizing Women, Anticipating Abolition: The Struggle Against Indian Removal in the 1830s,” Journal of American History 86 (1999), 15‐40. Page 11 of 13
nativism and anti‐Catholicism animating the Protestant reform impulse. Accordingly, despite the tome’s expansive coverage, issues of religious persecution or intolerance merit only a few short mentions in a book of over 900 pages. Daniel Walker Howe’s search for historical heroes and villains illustrates perfectly the problems associated with commemorating individuals like Elijah Lovejoy as embodying enduring American values or principles, whether antislavery, freedom of the press, or even democracy itself. For the fact is that Lovejoy’s antislavery activism was part of his broader vision of citizenship, a vision premised on the exclusion of Catholics from the body politic. And this anti‐Catholicism was not simply incidental, and thereby unrelated to, his antislavery views. After all, Lovejoy’s courage to publish his newspaper and defend his printing press in the face of repeated mob actions – indeed the very courage that led to his martyrdom which we commemorate – was rooted in his faith that he had been sent by God to the west to save it from the clutches of Popery. It’s important for us to recognize that Lovejoy’s God was a Protestant God, one with little tolerance for non‐believers or believers in a rival Christian God. By doing so, we won’t appreciate any less the causes for which Lovejoy lost his life but we will appreciate more the complicated history of American democracy. No less than antislavery or freedom of speech, democracy has been a principle over which Americans have repeatedly fought, and the fight over democracy has often taken the form of a struggle over citizenship: who is entitled to it, who is eligible for it, who is worthy of it – and who is not. Page 12 of 13
In the 1830s, Elijah Lovejoy, Luke Lawless, St. Louisans, and indeed the republic at large, fought to restrict citizenship – indeed, to define democracy itself – on the basis of race, religion, or nativity. Nearly two hundred years later, Americans today confront renewed attempts to constrict citizenship using the same terms. Perhaps unknowingly, the current advocates of restricting citizenship resurrect arguments from an earlier era, but they target different populations – Latin American immigrants and their American‐born children, on the one hand, and American Muslims, whether American‐born or not, on the other. Perhaps if we better integrate into our historical narratives and public monuments the battles over citizenship that have defined much of American history, we can better prepare to understand and confront these challenges to an expansive citizenship in our own time.2727 For a shared concern about the rise of nativism in contemporary American politics, see the essay by my Notre Dame colleagues R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy, “Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque,” New York Review of Books 57 (Sep. 30, 2010), available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/sep/30/catholics‐muslims‐and‐mosque/. Page 13 of 13