James Russell Wiggins

Editor at The Washington Post

1954 Convocation Address

The angry mob that marched on the Gilman warehouse at Alton, bent on the destruction of a press and the death of an editor, did not intend to give to the cause they most detested a martyr who would win for abolition, in death, more followers than he might ever have attracted to its banners had he lived.Neither did they intend to make for Elijah Parish Lovejoy a place in American history among those who have fixed freedom of the press so securely in our principles, traditions and institutions.

Yet, such are the unpredictable consequences of mob action that they did both.

The roistering Jack Whetstones, the rowdy barroom hangers-on and the jeering slavery men could hardly have foreseen the consequences of their night’s work. Surely, no one of them would have believed it if they had been told that Americans 117 years hence, still would honor the memory of the man they meant to silence forever.

Some Americans in 1837, thought and dared to say that the abolitionists at Alton had got their just desserts. The uncompromising advocates of emancipation and abolition were shunned and condemned by most respectable people. Parrington noted that they made “troublesome citizens who are certain to get themselves heartily disliked by those who approve of the world as it is.” He quite truly points out that:

“Amongst comfortable folk, conscience is rarely at home when justice knocks at the door; it is gone a-visiting, or it is busy, or is waiting upon Caesar, or is gone forth to pray. Comfortable folk do not like clamor, even from the prophets, and are content to leave justice to God with the hope that he will not disturb their business.”

Abolitionists hold that all men are born free and equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

And so the comfortable folk, at St. Louis and Alton frowned on Lovejoy. And the comfortable and respectable folk of those decades frowned on all the abolitionist printers and editors. They were annoyed by Charles Osborn who started thePhilanthropist at Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, in 1817, the first press advocate of immediate emancipation. They were annoyed at Benjamin Lundy who in 1821 began to print his Genius of Universal Emancipation. They were annoyed by William Lloyd Garrison who started the Liberator in January, 1831. They were annoyed by Wendell Phillips, by William Cullen Bryant, by James Russell Lowell and by all those who pressed for the end of slavery.

Lovejoy was not as incendiary as Garrison. He could hardly have exceeded him. But he spoke plainly enough when he set forth his creed in The Alton Observer of July 20, 1837, saying:

“Abolitionists hold that all men are born free and equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

“They do not believe that these rights are abrogated, or at all modified by the colour of the skin, but that they extend alike to every individual of the human family.

“As the above mentioned rights are in their nature inalienable, it is not possible that one man can convert another into a piece of property, thus at once annihilating all his personal rights, without the most flagrant injustice and usurpation . . .

“Abolitionists, therefore, hold American Slavery to be a wrong, a legalized system of inconceivable injustice, and a SIN against God … ”

When such utterances as these prodded the slavery men of Illinois to violence, a great many Americans thought the abolitionists had got what was coming to them. William Cullen Bryant put the crisis in proper perspective, and put Lovejoy among the ranks of the great exponents of press freedom when he countered these critics by saying of Lovejoy and his colleagues:

“Whether they erred or not in their opinions, they did not err in the conviction of their right, as citizens of a democratic to express them; nor did they err in defending their with an obstinacy that yielded only to death.”

It can be said of Lovejoy as Lowell said of Garrison: “He was possessed of a dauntless courage … and a press.”

The two, together, have made trouble, and issues, and crises and history, many times, before 1837 and since, in the long story of our country and our civilization.

The right which Lovejoy asserted and which Bryant defended has not had to be defended, in this country, in our time, against private citizens, armed and ready to destroy presses and to take the lives of their owners.

It would be a mistake, however, to congratulate ourselves on the utter security of our press freedom. The deeply rooted human impulse to silence information and opinions that are unpopular and unwelcome is not to be eliminated by a single martyr. The impulse to withhold, to suppress, to obstruct , to censor, to curtail, to subdue utterance, printed or spoken, whenever and wherever it challenges prevailing authority or beliefs probably will be with us until the end of time. It will express itself in different generations in different ways.

It is not in the nature of society, whatever its reverence for freedom of expression as an abstract principle, to submit without reprisal to the enjoyment of that freedom by others, when its exercise runs counter to the deeply felt beliefs and prejudices of the time. The devices of reprisal vary with circumstance. Sometimes they may be as blunt as mob rule. Sometimes they may be infinitely more subtle. And it is when the means are subtle that we ought to fear them most. There are more editors than you might think who would cheerfully confront a mob before they would surrender a press. At worst, the result would be a martyr’s crown; at best, a hero’s triumph. That complicated, infinitely intricate, endlessly involved right is subject to a thousand threats so subtle and so refined that even wise men sometimes do not identify them as such. And, even when the threats are recognized, they are not to be turned back by weapons as simple as the muskets that faced the mob at Alton.

Perhaps, on this anniversary of Lovejoy’s death we could no better celebrate his memory than by examining some of these threats, that we may better meet them when they arise in our day.

Perhaps we may better understand them if we separate into its major parts the elements of our press freedom, and divide it into the interlocking freedoms that unite to make effective the people’s right to knowledge and to the free use thereof.

First, in the order of its exercises, and perhaps first in the order of importance, is the right of people to get the facts, the right of access to information, the right to discover the truth. Citizens must be free to discover the truth about the society around them, the truth about the world of science, the truth about new discovery and invention, the truth about the economic institutions that shape their own property rights and earnings, the truth about government.

We usually put the right to know the truth about our government first in this catalog of things about which we have a right to discover the truth. And this is a sound priority. Macaulay wisely said “nothing can be more irrational than to give the people power and to withhold from them the information without which there is the greatest danger that power may be abused.”

The testimony of the English historian is augmented by that of American philosophers and statesmen.

James Madison firmly declared: “The right of freely examining public characters and measures and free communication thereon, is the only effectual guardian of every other right.”

Thomas Jefferson thought it a duty of government to impart information to the people.

John Calhoun thought every government justly rested under the suspicion and that only unwavering scrutiny could keep it “decently honest.”

In our own time, Woodrow Wilson in his New Freedom boldly declared: “I hold the opinion that there can be no confidence as against the people with respect to their government, and that it is the duty of every public officer to explain to his fellow citizens, whenever he gets the chance-to explain what is going on inside his own office.”

Similar opinions might be quoted without limit.

Notwithstanding the long tradition that supports the people’s right to get the truth about their own government, that right continues to be denied frequently in practice at local, state and federal levels, in executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Politicians and statesmen are never without ingenious explanations why this is so. Some of them are sound. Sometimes matters of national security are involved. Sometimes sufficiently urgent public considerations may exist. Occasionally the special nature of some proceedings may warrant some secrecy. Once in a while the nature of an action in court may require some limits on public access to judicial transactions. Nevertheless, whatever the reason given for secrecy in government, at any level or department, citizens ought to scrutinize it carefully in the knowledge that each departure from the public transaction of business may constitute the slow erosion of rights upon which all of our democratic institutions depend.

In our society, we have not given all power to government, nor given away forever such powers as we have delegated to those in authority. Sovereignty continues to reside in the people themselves and it can only be fulfilled and exercised where the people are fully informed.

Perhaps it is a freedom that in this country is more secure than any other.

It is not the facts about government alone that are involved however. Citizens must be free to get at all the facts in the life about them. The truth is no man’s monopoly. What we need to know in order to come by a decent understanding of the world about us, we have an inherent right and an inalienable right to seek. It rests upon basic rights more ancient than laws or constitutions. It is an aspect of the character of each individual as a child of God. No man has a right to impoverish the mind of his neighbor by withholding from him access to the truth without which his very intellect may be diminished.

Second, in the order of its exercise, is the right to print, to speak or to disseminate the truth as we understand it, without the prior restraint of government. Here, in our country, no agent of the state has the right or power to give or withhold approval of what may or may not be broadcast or disseminated to others, by any means whatsoever. This is the right that English government made secure with the termination of licensing in the 17th century. It is what Blackstone understood really to constitute the whole freedom of the press. It by no means includes all the rights that Americans associated with the First Amendment, either at the time of its adoption or since. It is nevertheless a basic press freedom. Perhaps it is a freedom that in this country is more secure than any other. We may consent to its infringement in the reporting of military affairs, or security matters, from time to time. But no one ever had dared suggest that this waiver constitutes any admission of the government’s power to precensor nonsecurity and non-military matters.

In spite of our general security, however, it must be noted that the last Congress passed a measure under which organizations listed as subversive by the Attorney General will be required to register all their printing presses and duplicating machines. This is the nearest thing to press licensing that has existed on this continent since colonial times. Not only is it a departure from principles established for three centuries in the English speaking world; it is, inferentially, a tribute to the efficacy of Communist propaganda that no American ought to make. American Democracy has nothing to fear from the free expression of Communist doctrine and efforts to restrain it serves to confuse a people who do need to be on their guard against Communist imperialism and Communist subversion.

Third, is the right to print without the menace of arbitrary reprisal by government or lawless reprisal by citizens. In some ways this is a right that is most difficult to explain and most difficult to defend.

What is arbitrary reprisal by government?

History is filled with examples of it. Long after the end of licensing in England, the House of Commons made a nullity of press freedom by savage acts of reprisal against those who dared print anything that reflected upon the members of the House. Lecky points out that “Almost every injury in word or act done to a member of Parliament was, during the reign of George II, voted a breach of privilege.” Printers were hailed before the bar of the House and caused to kneel and retract their remarks about members. As Lecky pointed out, fraud was sheltered by laws making all reflections on members punishable. It little mattered whether there was truth in them or not. Parliament for decades claimed for itself collectively and for each of its members in his parliamentary capacity, a complete freedom from hostile criticism.

Other agencies of government were equally savage. Macaulay pointed out that “the liberty of unlicensed printing was of little or no use to the vanquished party; for the temper of the judges was such that no writer whom the government prosecuted for libel had any chance of escaping. The dread of punishment therefore, did all that a censorship could have done.”

The law of seditious libel, for generations, was used to crush all real political discussion. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen has pointed but that the enforcement of the law of seditious libel in England “was wholly inconsistent with any serious public discussion of political affairs.” As long as it was recognized, James Morton Smith declares in his study of the Alien and Sedition Laws, “any political discussion existed only by sufferance of the government.”

It has taken a long struggle to make the press free from reprisal by government in this country. The Colonial governments, in the beginning of printing in this hemisphere, habitually used the power of the executive or the legislature, or the doctrine of seditious libel, against those guilty of expressions hostile to government. Slowly, there developed in the colonies, often in advance of like developments in England, a concept of press freedom that included freedom from arbitrary reprisal, either by the executive, the legislature or the courts.

Only at infrequent intervals in our history has government departed from these principles.

Benjamin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, and the editor of the Aurora, in Philadelphia, was the first American editor to suffer this kind of reprisal under the government of the United States. He was indicted under the Alien and Sedition Laws for publication of the text of the Jay treaty, on the allegation that he was in treasonable correspondence with the French. His death cheated the Federalists of their first intended victim.

William Duane, who succeeded him as editor of the Aurora, was also the early victim of congressional reprisal. He printed an allegation that a Senate committee proposed a measure calculated to “influence and effect the approaching presidential elections and to frustrate in a particular manner the wishes and interests of the people of Pennsylvania.”

The Senate committee on privileges held the publication tended to defame the Senate. By Senate resolution on March 14, 1800, he was ordered to attend at the bar of the Senate. But his counsel, Thomas Cooper, was denied the right to defend Duane by submitting proof of the truth of his allegations. So Duane declined to appear. The Senate, on March 27, 1800, concluded that Duane was guilty of contempt and ordered his arrest. He was not to be found, however, and instead a prosecution for seditious libel was instituted against him. It failed with like prosecutions under the Alien and Sedition Law when Jefferson came into power.

Other editors in this period suffered arrest, imprisonment, fines and penalties for offenses that the authors of the Constitution had intended to make beyond the power of government. Since the controverted statute expired by internal limit, no Constitutional test of its validity was ever had. But these prosecutions served to define more dearly American concepts of the immunity -of the press to arbitrary reprisal for utterances hostile to an administration. The political defeat of the Federalists did as much as the courts could have done to condemn this kind of usurpation of power.

The lesson was so well learned, in fact, that it lasted for 115 years when once again Congress attempted to assert its power over the press. In 1915, a committee of the United States Senate investigated the New York Times because of its opposition to a ship subsidy bill. The committee was sharply told by the editor of the Times:

“I can see no ethical, moral or legal right that you have to put many of the questions you put to me today. Inquisitorial proceedings of this kind would have a very marked tendency, if continued and adopted as a policy, to reduce the press of the United States to the level of the press in some of the Central European empires, the press that has been known as the reptile press, that crawls on its belly every day to the foreign office or to the government officials and ministers to know what it may say or shall say … to receive its orders.”

In 1936, a Senate Lobby Investigating Committee seized some inter-office messages of the Hearst newspaper chain, setting off a court test of congressional powers against the press. The committee action finally was condemned by the court, but the committee was not restrained from making use of the information it had wrongfully obtained. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in its opinion on the case outlined the remedy available to the press confronted with the wrongful exercise of legislative power. It said:

“If appellant were before the Senate committee as a witness and were questioned as to matters unrelated to the legislative business at hand … he would be entitled to refuse to answer; and if, for his supposed contumacy, he were imprisoned, he could secure his release on habeas corpus.”

On April 3, 1936, the House Committee on Military Affairs summoned before it Frank C. Waldrop who had reported some transactions of that committee in a manner disliked by the chairman, the Hon. John J. McSwain. Waldrop refused to answer any questions, holding the inquiry improper. No action was taken against him.

In 1949, the House Committee on Lobbying required Edward A. Rumely to yield up the lists of persons who subscribed to documents he published in the name of the Committee on Constitutional Government. When Rumely refused, he was cited for contempt. On March 9, 1953, the United States Supreme Court held that the Lobbying Committee had exceeded its jurisdiction, in a majority opinion that did not proceed to the constitutional issues involved. A separate opinion by Justice Douglas did address itself to these issues, however, and in that opinion Douglas said:

“If the present inquiry were sanctioned, the press would be subjected to harassment that in practical effect might be as serious as censorship. A publisher, compelled to register with the federal government would be subjected to harassing inquiries. A requirement that a publisher disclose the identity of those who buy his books, pamphlets, or paper is indeed the beginning of a surveillance of the press. True, no legal sanction is involved here. Congress has imposed no tax, established no board of censors and instituted no licensing system. But the potential restraint is equally severe. The finger of government leveled against the press is ominous.”

Justice Douglas warned that: “through the harassment of hearings, investigations, reports, and subpoena, government will hold a dub over speech and over the press. Congress could not do this by law. The power of investigations also is limited. Inquiry into personal and private affairs is precluded.”

On April 24, 1953, when the ink was hardly dry on the opinions in the Rumely case, the Senate Committee on Government Operations summoned before it the editor of the New York Post to interrogate him allegedly in connection with books which he had written and which had been circulated abroad in the libraries of the Government Information Service. He was questioned about his views in general and about the policies and editorials of his newspaper. The interrogation was in the pattern of prior efforts at legislative reprisal against the press. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that Congressional interrogation such as then took place, if frequently repeated would extinguish without the passage of a law that free and unfettered reporting of events and comment thereon, upon which the preservation of our liberties depend. More is comprehended in the term “freedom of the press” than just immunity to punitive statutes, it having been the intent of the founding fathers to free the press from all restraints and harassment by government.

There also have been some notable attempts at reprisal by the executive arm of the government. Probably the most notorious in our history took place in 1908. The Indianapolis News and the New York World attacked the Theodore Roosevelt administration for acts of the United States government in the purchase of the Canal Zone from Panama and for the purchase of the rights of the French company to the canal right of way. The News first broke the story. The New York Worldjoined in with a shrill demand to know “Who got the money?” Roosevelt sent an unprecedented special message to Congress attacking Joseph Pulitzer by name and said the government would prosecute him for criminal libel. Two suits were brought by the U. S. Attorney General–one against the News’ editors and one against the World and Joseph Pulitzer. Indictments were returned in the District of Columbia. Federal judges in both Indianapolis and New York held that the editors could not be forced into court in this manner. The United States Supreme Court upheld the newspapers and declared that Roosevelt was without power to institute the suits except in the state courts. The result, Emery and Smith relate in their new book, The Press and America, was to “stop cold any effort by the federal government to seek criminal libel actions against newspapers through its own courts.” Cobb, the World‘s editor, said his paper had won “the most sweeping victory for freedom of speech and press in this country since the American people destroyed the Federalist party more than a century ago.” We ought to note a postscript here to the effect that subsequent events proved the newspapers essentially correct and Congress finally compensated Columbia for the loss of the Panama area.

The stubborn vitality of wrong principles is notorious. Within the last year, in the State of Maryland an action for criminal libel was brought against Fulton Lewis for allegations made against officials of a Maryland county. Surely, it was this sort of reprisal by accused government that Colonial Americans most detested, and certain it is that it was one of the infringements upon freedom of the press which they sought to guard against.

Slowly and certainly through the years the American press has been substantially freed from the risk inherent in retaliatory construction of the laws of libel and in the vengeful use of the powers of the courts to impose penalties for contempt. Probably nowhere on earth is there a press less harassed by these hazards to the publication of truth. Court constructions, of course, can change, but it ought to be noted that this sort of reprisal is a minimal risk in this country now.

It is not, of course, reprisal by government alone that is a threat to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The American concept of constitutional guaranties is one consisting chiefly of restraints upon the action of government itself. However, such protections can be rendered ineffectual and inoperative if government permits others to do outside the law that which it is restrained from doing under the law.

This was, of course, the case in Alton in 1837, when the mob destroyed the presses of Elijah P. Lovejoy. The city government to which the editor had every right to look for protection, by its failure to defend them against the forceful intervention of the mob, made those rights a forfeit. And they always will be forfeited wherever and whenever those who. are too weak to defend themselves in the exercise of their rights are not defended by government. In such crises as these, it is not enough that the government itself decline any adverse action. Whatever its sentiments toward the person who would print or utter, or with reference to the views he voices or prints, its protection is required, if the plain guaranties of the Constitution are to have any practical meaning.

The first amendment was poor comfort indeed to Elijah Lovejoy. And in our own time, the equally eloquent guaranties of the constitution of Argentina were poor comfort to the greatest newspaper in South America when lawless mobs sacked the office of La Prensa, mobs that were tolerated if not inspired and incited by the government itself.

A fourth right essential to press freedom is the right of access to printing materials and equipment. Where paper or equipment is in the control of the state, to be extended or withdrawn at the pleasure of government, no press can be free to write honestly or speak frankly of politicians or politics.

In days of newsprint shortage, such as occurred during and immediately after the war, this is an ever present threat to press freedom. The power to ration newsprint is the power to destroy the press. Under the watchful scrutiny of the public, during the unusual crises of war or famine, such rationing may be endured; but press freedom is always in jeopardy where such power is exercised by government.

A fifth freedom, and the last in the order of its exercise, if not in the order of its importance, is the freedom to distribute. All the freedoms that have gone before avail but little if they lead to nothing more than accumulating piles of wastepaper in warehouses and press rooms. Our society has not yet dealt with this problem with which it may one day have to deal if effective press freedom is not to be temporarily suspended or even permanently extinguished. Americans may have to consider on some subsequent occasion just how far they wish to allow the rights of those who distribute newspapers to strike (and the rights of publishers to resist such strikes) to interfere with rights of citizens to uninterrupted access to information and the unobstructed enjoyment of the advantages of a free press which it was the object of the first amendment to secure.

The enormous importance of a government agency–the Post Office Department–in the distributive process is another factor in this final right. Within the last year, measures have been proposed in Congress under which the Post Office Department would be given powers greater than it heretofore has enjoyed to bar from the mails publications deemed adverse to the interests of the country. Such a power–to interrupt, by administrative action, the dissemination of publications, would make whole sections of the press answerable to government for policies to an extent never before countenanced in our system.

The last link between the editor and the reader is by no means last in importance and its defense must not be neglected.

These then are the five major freedoms of the press: the freedom to get the truth, the freedom to print it without prior restraint, the freedom to print it without arbitrary reprisal, the freedom of access to facilities on which to print it, the freedom to distribute.

Where these do not exist, freedom of the press does not exist.

Let us face the melancholy fact that even where these freedoms exist, citizens may not, in fact, enjoy the freedom of the press-the full right to knowledge and its use.

“The inquisition of public opinion overwhelms in practice the freedoms asserted by the laws in theory,” Thomas Jefferson declared at one critical period in American history.

It is a declaration that those of our own generation can comprehend.

Alton, in 1837, lay under such an inquisition. But even when “the inquisition of public opinion” does not assert itself in violence, it can operate to curtail the free flow of information, the unobstructed access to the truth that our constitutional safeguards were designed to secure.

In times of great excitement, the public mind tends to harden into attitudes and freeze into prejudices that first render the people indifferent to contrary persuasion and then indignant at it. When slavery attitudes began to harden, in the thirties, there were 300 abolition societies south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and any number of newspapers that dared disagree with slavery advocates. Then set in an “inquisition of public opinion” so violent that debate on the issues of slavery no longer was possible.

Countries so beset, divested of counsels of caution and contradiction, deprived internally of the clash of opinion that may be depended on to sharpen public facilities, are soon sped by a coerced unanimity onto paths of recklessness from which they would otherwise be saved.

From such “inquisitions” we ought to pray that our own country, in our time, may be delivered. Laws and constitutions cannot save our society from the consequence of a stultifying conformity that leaves no room for difference or dissent.

Moreover, the press, beneficiary of so many legal defenses, is itself, one of the nation’s strongest bulwarks against this sort of oppressive tyranny if it vindicates tile faith and trust that the founding fathers put in it. Newspapers have an especial duty to see to it that they do not themselves contribute to the fever and passion that deny debate.

Many share in the blame for it, when the times get so out of joint that men are denied the free expression of opinion notwithstanding the constitution, the laws, the courts and the enforcing arm of the government.

Newspapers certainly are not the least among these.

The riot at Alton did not start on November 7, 1837, nor the day before, the month before or the year before. Citizens, hitherto cognizant of the rights of their fellows, previously aware of the privileges of a free press, until then conscious of the right of dissent, did not, in one instant, burst forth into violence.

A people do not suddenly and unaccountably abandon a tradition of tolerance, a custom of give and take, a habit of debate and discussion to take up arms against an editor and against his press.

The riot at Alton commenced years and even decades before it took place. It was preceded by a generation of illtemper, violent incitation, reckless and inflammatory utterance by fire-eaters and flannel mouths who, wittingly or unwittingly, labored to bring the public temper to the point of intolerant and fanatical combustion.

The events that followed the death of Lovejoy tell more about that climate than even those which preceded it. It sometimes is forgotten that immediately after the murder of Lovejoy, a grand jury issued an indictment.

It indicted those who had defended Lovejoy and his press. It charged that they “resisted and opposed with force and arms, violently and tumultuously and unlawfully, an attempt of certain persons to break up and destroy a printing press, the property of said defendant.”

As ridiculous as this sounds, legally, today, the language of the indictment reflected the sentiment of many in 1837. The public mind had become so inflamed, public opinion so irreconcilable, public anxiety over abolition agitation so great that it seemed reasonable to citizens and to lawyers to indict citizens for resisting “in a violent and tumultuous manner” the defense of press freedom against the lawless endeavors of an armed mot.

The defenders of Lovejoy finally were acquitted. It is to be noted, however, that those in the mob who murdered him, after subsequent indictment and trial, also were acquitted.

Yet, perhaps there was an element of justice in it. The mob was only the ugly visible part of the vicious public sentiment behind it. The real mob included hundreds and thousands of irresponsible men in public places who had so lacerated the popular feelings that rage everywhere succeeded reason. The Alton mob was incited not only by those who swarmed from saloons and “groceries” and taverns that night. They were inspired by Heaven knows how many unremembered, unrecalled, unrecorded words of hatred and violence. So it is with every mob. The right time to restrain a mob is before it is a mob. And the right way to restrain a mob is to elevate and uplift the public mind, to broaden and enlighten the people, to quicken and awaken the public conscience, to inspire and invoke public tolerance and consideration for others, to arouse their love and understanding and not their passions and their hates.

Before the mob made a martyr of Lovejoy, public opinion of the 1830’s made the mob. Newspapers, politicians, orators and preachers put an edge on public fury. That fury tried to coerce all into conformity, to bludgeon public opinion everywhere into compliance.

Those who excited the public passion were not at Alton. They often are not on the stage for the final act. They play their role in the earlier scenes, shouting that they will have their way, constitutions and courts be damned, as long as they have blood in their veins or gunpowder explodes. But when the blood is let out of the veins of some citizens and gunpowder does explode, they usually are elsewhere. They may even deplore the violence they have produced. So it was at Alton.

The red-hots and fire-eaters of press, forum and pulpit were not there. But the mob was there, the mob and a man by the name of Bishop. Today, 117 years after the riot, we remember Lovejoy, but what about Bishop? The proceedings at the trial, the eye-witness account of Henry Tanner and many other documents name him just as “Bishop.” He was bending over to pick up a stone to throw at the warehouse windows when a ball from one of the warehouse defenders struck him and went through his body. In a way, Bishop was a martyr, too. He was a martyr for a bad cause, for an irresponsible cause that denied others the right even to speak in opposition to it. He was carried from the warehouse yard, just as dead as if he had died in a good cause. No doubt his family and friends mourned him. He paid a high price for his prejudice, his intolerance, his hate, his contempt for the rights of others. He paid that price for others whose incitation had brought him to the warehouse yard to hurl stones and sticks at a printer and a press.

Those who made Bishop what he was built no memorial on the spot where he fell. They put no marker on his grave. They did not exalt his name. Yet, his grave ought to be marked, his name ought to be remembered and a memorial ought to be built to him. This ought to be done so that other men of ill will, bad temper and loose passion may know what martyrdom awaits those who follow appeals to hate and violence and prejudice.

Let us take care, we who have at our disposal the press, the pulpit, the forum and the platform. Let us take care that we make no such martyrs in our day. Let us take care that we do not call forth another Bishop to throw a stone at a press or a printer whose views we despise, that we do not create crises that require the martyrdom of another Lovejoy.

If we live up to American traditions, if we fulfill the high hopes and expectations of those who made our freedoms secure in the faith we would use them wisely, we will loose upon dissent in our time no such mobs as that which murdered Lovejoy. We will not fill society with such antipathies and animosities and frustrations that release is to be found only in suppression and in violence.

It is indeed an appropriate thing that each year, at the College which he attended, people foregather to express anew their grateful thanks that there was at a critical juncture in the history of American freedoms a martyr as bold, as courageous and as unflinching as Elijah Parish Lovejoy. We can give no better expression to that gratitude than to voice upon this and like occasions our determination to prevent, by all measures within our power, circumstances within our own time that might require another such martyr in the cause of freedom.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award

About the Lovejoy Award

Colby College remembers alumnus Elijah Parish Lovejoy through the annual Lovejoy Award, which honors journalists who demonstrate courage, integrity, and craftsmanship.

Born in Albion, Maine, Lovejoy graduated from Colby in 1826. On Nov. 7, 1837, in Alton, Ill., the newspaper editor and publisher was killed after he refused to stop publishing anti-slavery editorials. He was called America’s first martyr to freedom of the press by John Quincy Adams.

Current Lovejoy Selection Committee Members include Matt Apuzzo ’00, reporter and investigative correspondent, New York Times; Nancy Barnes, senior vice president and editorial director, NPR; Sewell Chan, editorial page editor, Los Angeles Times; Marcela Gaviria, producer, PBS FRONTLINE; Neil Gross, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology, Colby College; Martin Kaiser, former editor and senior vice president Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Mindy Marqués, vice president and executive editor, Simon and Schuster, former editor, Miami Herald; and Ron Nixon, global investigations editor, Associated Press.

For more information, visit colby.edu/lovejoy