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Lovejoy, Owen

Born: 1811-01-06 Albion, Maine

Died: 1864-03-25 Brooklyn, New York

Born into a devout Presbyterian family, Owen Lovejoy studied at Bowdoin College but left in 1833 before graduating due to his father’s death. He moved to Alton, Illinois, in 1836 to study religion under his brother, Elijah P. Lovejoy. Owen was an abolitionist like his brother and became firmly committed to the cause following Elijah’s 1837 lynching. In 1838, he and his other brother, Joseph, wrote a biography of Elijah. Lovejoy initially planned to preach in the Episcopal Church but became a Congregationalist when the Episcopalians tried to suppress his abolitionism. He became a pastor in Princeton and took an active part in the Underground Railroad. In 1843, he married Eunice Storrs Denham, with whom he had seven children.

Lovejoy’s political career began in earnest in the 1840s. In 1846, he ran for Congress as a member of the Liberty Party but lost. Two years later, he ran as a Free Soil candidate but again failed to secure a seat. By 1854, he was primarily endorsing the Wilmot Proviso and won election to the Illinois General Assembly. He was an active organizer for the emerging Illinois Republican Party and became closely associated with Abraham Lincoln in these efforts. In 1856, he finally won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and remained there until his death in 1864. Lovejoy supported Lincoln’s 1858 senatorial campaign and 1860 presidential campaign. He briefly left Congress in the beginning of the war to serve as a colonel under John C. Fremont but returned to Congress that year as one of the primary advocates of emancipation. He proposed a broad emancipation bill late in 1861 and pushed for African-American enlistment. He steadfastly supported Lincoln throughout the war and supported both the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railroad Act. He died in 1864 of Bright’s disease.

Frederick J. Blue, “Lovejoy, Owen,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14:6-7.