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Publication Name:

The Observer

Years in print:

1833- 1836


Some readers of his Times articles suggested that [Elijah] Lovejoy start a Presbyterian weekly. They offered to finance it. So the first issue of the St. Louis Observer appeared on November 22, 1833. Its sponsors were pleased until its editor took an extreme position on emancipation. They expostulated with the editor. Slavery was an evil, they agreed, but Missourians were of two minds about the institution which, after all, was ancient and lawful. It ought to be opposed by reasoned argument, they said, rather than by harsh denunciation. Lovejoy listened until they had finished; then he reminded his patrons that the Missouri Constitution declared that “the free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the inalienable rights of man.” Again they agreed, but argued that a man might be prudent about the manner in which he published his opinions. Lovejoy’s ultimate rejoinder was a public protest against “these attempts to frown down the freedom of the press.” He said: “I have appealed to the constitution and the laws of my country; if they fail to protect me, I appeal to God.”
Lovejoy antagonized not only proslavery men in the city, but also the moderate opponents of the system. On top of that, he denounced “popery” and preached prohibition. St. Louis was not a temperance town, and so many of its people were Catholics that it was called “the Rome of the New World.” Lovejoy, of course, was under no obligation to conform to the standards of the majority. He had every right to his ideals and his opinions. In voicing them, however, he hardly was the lowly, meek, and humble man described by Dwight Lowell Dumond in “Anti-Slavery Origins of the Civil War.” Nor was he the only man in St. Louis outraged by the lynching of the Negro, McIntosh, or by the man’s brutal killings. St. Louis had had a taste of violence and wanted no more, least of all Abolitionist  violence intensified by social and religious prejudices.
The city was, on the whole, an easygoing place. But it had taverns full of rivermen accustomed to encounters with Indians and grizzlies, fearing neither man nor beast, and ever ready for a brawl. Vindictive slavery men might buy trouble for Lovejoy at the price of a few drinks. Respectable citizens whom he had offended might not rush to his defense at the first alarm in the middle of the night. His backers concluded that it would be best to move him and his press across the river to the free soil of Illinois. Their decision was confirmed when plug-uglies poured out of riverfront saloons in the The Observer office. Furniture was broken, but the press was not seriously damaged. Desiring none of the rioting that was going on in New England, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, and elsewhere in the East, St. Louis was not unhappy to see Lovejoy leave. The man had too much of an agitator in him.
(From Catfish and Crystal by Ernest Kirschten. Originally published 1960).

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