Lovejoy, Owen

Born: 1811-01-06 Albion, Maine

Died: 1864-03-25 Brooklyn, New York

Owen Lovejoy was a teacher, minister, abolitionist, state legislator, and U.S. representative. Born into a devout Presbyterian family, Lovejoy attended common schools in his native Albion, Maine, before matriculating to Bowdoin College in 1830. He left Bowdoin in 1833 before graduating due to his father’s death. He taught school, read law, and dabbled in abolitionism. Influenced by Theodore D. Weld, Owen moved to Alton, Illinois, in 1836 to study for the ministry under his brother, Elijah P. Lovejoy. Following Elijah’s lynching by an anti-abolitionist mob in 1837, Owen vowed to continue Elijah’s abolitionist work. In 1838, he and his other brother, Joseph, wrote a biography of Elijah. Owen continued his theological studies, initially seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church but became a Congregationalist when the Episcopalians tried to suppress his abolitionism. In 1839, he became a pastor of the Congregational church in Princeton, Illinois, remaining with the church until 1856. Lovejoy often used his pulpit to attack slavery and took an active part in the Underground Railroad. In 1843, he married Eunice Storrs Denham, with whom he had seven children.

Lovejoy carried his abolitionism into the political arena in the 1840s. In 1846, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the Liberty Party. Two years later, he ran as a Free Soil candidate but again failed to secure a seat. In the early 1850s, Lovejoy modified his anti-slavery stance, moving away from radical abolitionism in favor of endorsing the Wilmot Proviso. He opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and in November 1854, Lovejoy was among the anti-Nebraska candidates to win election to the Illinois House of Representatives. In 1856, Lovejoy was a delegate to the Illinois Anti-Nebraska Convention and the Republican National Convention, becoming an active organizer for the Republican Party in both Illinois and the nation. These activities brought Lovejoy into close association with Abraham Lincoln. In 1856, he finally won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving in that body from March 1857 to his death. Early in his tenure, Lovejoy concentrated on preventing the admission of Kansas as a slave state, blocking southern efforts to annex Cuba, and condemning the pro-slavery policies of President James Buchanan. Lovejoy supported Lincoln’s 1858 senatorial campaign and 1860 presidential campaign. Upon the commencement of the Civil War, he favored a vigorous prosecution of the war against the Confederacy. He briefly left Congress in the beginning of the war to serve as a colonel under John C. Fremont but returned to Congress in late 1861 determined to destroy the institution of slavery. He proposed a broad emancipation bill, pushed for African American enlistment, and urged equal pay for black recruits. He steadfastly defended Lincoln throughout the war and supported the Homestead Act, Pacific Railroad Act, and the Emancipation Proclamation. He died 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; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950), 1478.