- His Brother's Blood: Speeches and Writings 1838-64
I have a soft spot for Owen Lovejoy. Although always second fiddle to his martyred brother Elijah, Owen developed a nationwide reputation for his remarkably consistent devotion to Christian grassroots antislavery politics. A minister and Underground Railroad operator who lived in Princeton, Illinois, Lovejoy overcame several failed runs for political office [End Page 325] to become a standard-bearer for abolitionist politicians during the 1850s and 1860s. As a historian of the midwestern antislavery movement, I eagerly delved into this thick collection of Lovejoy's writings and speeches. I was not disappointed. The structure of the book, the meticulous attention to detail, and the choice of documents all make this collection an important addition to primary source material on the antislavery movement.
The authors organized the collection much like a good biography, employing a combined thematic and chronological approach. Each of the eight parts of the book represents a stage in Lovejoy's public life. Beginning with his initial membership in the American Anti-Slavery Society and ending at the pinnacle of his political career and close friendship with Lincoln, the book offers a clear sense of the evolution of Lovejoy's political philosophy, his religious convictions, and his abolitionism. Although I would have preferred more documents on the 1840s, most of the book covers the important period from 1854 through the Civil War—when Lovejoy's political career took off. I would also have been interested in more on Lovejoy's private life—which was certainly connected to his political ambitions and policy positions.
His Brother's Blood offers readers a concise and insightful introduction to each of the eight parts of the book, with attention to the latest scholarship in the field. This historical context is built upon with short introductions to each of the seventy-seven documents in the collection. The footnoting is brief but informative, avoiding the pitfall of overshadowing the voice of the subject and becoming a biography. The footnote on William Lloyd Garrison, for example, is an edifying four-sentence summary of Garrison's long and complex life. As any historian of the antislavery movement recognizes, this is no easy task. My only critique of the structure of the book is the decision to list the source of each document at its conclusion instead of at its beginning.
The choice of documents is as impressive as the structure of the book. The editors included a wide variety of writings, ranging from Lovejoy's own letters and published materials to editorial reviews of his speeches to descriptions of Lovejoy from local histories. Because many of Lovejoy's speeches—especially those given in rural Illinois—are not extant, the authors have relied on local newspapers' discussions of these speeches. These editorials are particularly intriguing because they offer insight into local Illinois politics and culture. Lovejoy's 1842 speech highlighting how Illinois's Black Codes violate God's law, for example, offers readers a sense of the state's racial politics as well as the importance of Christian [End Page 326] religion in battling inequality in the North. Many of the speeches in the collection also include spectator interruptions and Lovejoy's responses to these interruptions. His impassioned April 1860 speech on slavery, for example, which was widely reprinted in newspapers across the nation, triggered a raucous reply from southern congressmen in part because Lovejoy strolled over to the opposition's side—apparently a violation of congressional decorum. The physical and verbal confrontation that followed gives readers a real sense of the electric atmosphere in Congress that would explode within a year.
Perhaps the most important achievement of His Brother's Blood is the illumination of the distinct nature of midwestern antislavery. Aside from a biography written in 1967, there is very little published material on Owen Lovejoy (see Edward Magdol, Owen Lovejoy: Abolitionist in Congress ). He became a victim of his brother's...