- Owen Lovejoy: His Brother’s Blood, Speeches and Writings, 1838-1864
Owen Lovejoy is perhaps most often remembered as the brother of murdered abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. He was, however, an important antislavery voice in his own right, helping to form the Republican party in Illinois and serving in the United States Congress. Attempting to assist scholars better understand the contributions of Owen Lovejoy to the political antislavery movement, William F. Moore and Jane Ann Moore, co-directors of the Lovejoy Society, have collected and edited Lovejoy's public letters and addresses and printed sermons and speeches. By drawing together printed materials from a variety of sources and locations, His Brother's Blood provides a useful collection for scholars of the Civil War era.
Owen Lovejoy, a Congregational minister, became a political abolitionist soon after the murder of his brother in 1837. He actively canvassed for the Liberty Party in 1842 and joined the Free Soil Party in 1848. In the political wake of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lovejoy and a small group of radical antislavery men formed a nascent Republican party in Illinois. Although his effort to create a new antislavery party failed, Lovejoy won election to the Illinois General Assembly, where he continued his uncompromising attacks on slavery. In 1856, Abraham [End Page 190] Lincoln and other moderate antislavery leaders carefully maneuvered around the radical Lovejoy to form a new Republican party. Despite being ushered aside, Lovejoy was able to capture the Republican party nomination for Congress and win the election, where he served until his death in 1864. In Congress, he often played a critical role as a liaison between Lincoln and the radicals, frequently defending the president to his radical colleagues.
The Moores' collection of Lovejoy's more significant printed speeches, sermons, addresses, and letters traces Lovejoy's political career and brings together important primary documents from a variety of repositories. Although His Brother's Blood does not include any of Lovejoy's scattered letters, found mostly at the Bureau County (Illinois) Historical Society and the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, historians will find this collection of Lovejoy's speeches and addresses useful in understanding political abolitionism.
In editing these documents, the Moores preserved the spelling, punctuation, grammar, and colloquialisms of the mid-nineteenth century. Because only one unprinted manuscript was included in the collection, the Moores did not have many difficult issues with illegible handwriting or fragmentary and incomplete manuscripts. Nevertheless, they still faced important editing decisions regarding annotation and footnotes. The completeness, extent, and quality of these annotations greatly enhance the value of His Brother's Blood. The identification of individuals mentioned in the text of Lovejoy's speeches, the explanation of his arcane literary references, and the translations and meanings of his use of obscure Latin phrases all greatly strengthen the value and use of the collection.
The editors frame the collection with an introductory essay, a discussion of the editorial method, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. They divided the collection chronologically into eight sections. An essay setting the historical context for the documents introduces each section. While the bibliography is excellent, the utility of the essays is less so. They begin the volume with the surprising statement that "Owen Lovejoy became Abraham Lincoln's best friend" (xiii). It would be very difficult to find many of Lincoln's and Lovejoy's contemporaries who would agree with this assessment. Equally optimistic is the Moores' statement that "Lovejoy was the leader of the antislavery movement in Illinois" (xix). While Lovejoy was an early and strong antislavery voice in Illinois, he was more of a gadfly than a political leader, at least as viewed by most Illinois Republicans.
Despite essays that tend to sentimentalize Lovejoy rather than set a historical context for understanding the documents, historians will find His Brother's Blood useful. The collection, enriched by ample footnotes, offers valuable insights into the political antislavery movement, and the editors are to be commended for bringing...