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Elijah Lovejoy

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When the Englishman Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that "the pen is mightier than the sword," he was only speculating—unless he had already heard about Elijah P. Lovejoy of Alton, Illinois, who had tested that idea out in battle three years earlier.

Lovejoy was on the pen side. He was born in 1802 in Albion, Maine, and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1833 he moved to St. Louis to edit a church newspaper, The St. Louis Observer. His anti-slavery articles inflamed the public who pressured him to stop. Under a sense of obligation to God and my country, he replied, "I can submit to no such dictation." "I am prepared to abide by the consequences," he added.

The consequences were that his printing office was destroyed by a mob in 1836. "You will learn," he wrote to his brother, "that I have had the honor of being mobbed at last."

Lovejoy moved across the Mississippi to Alton, Illinois' most progressive community, to set up another press and organize an Illinois chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Opposition mounted, even at Alton, and his printing press was destroyed three times by mobs. While guarding a fourth press, Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by angry citizens. He was buried at Alton on his 35th birthday.

A win for the sword side? Hardly. Lovejoy's martyrdom for both abolition and freedom of the press shocked Illinois and the nation and galvanized citizens into action. It turned many, including his own brothers, into staunch abolitionists. It led Abraham Lincoln to deliver an important speech on mob violence two months later. It caused a friend, Edward Beecher, to publish and widely disseminate a speech Lovejoy had delivered two months before his death at Market Square in central Alton, a speech which some have called "the most stirring defense of individual freedom in American oratory." Elijah Lovejoy and his small Alton pen became a mighty national voice for which the sword was no match.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.