November 6, 2012
By Sheila Simon
EDITOR'S NOTE: We asked Sheila Simon, the lieutenant governor of Illinois and the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., to reflect on Elijah Lovejoy on the 175th anniversary of his death, which is Wednesday. Her late father wrote "Lovejoy Martyr to Freedom," later republished by SIU Press as "Freedom's Champion: Elijah Lovejoy."
When I was little, Elijah Lovejoy seemed like a member of my family.
Before you calculate that I must be hundreds of years old, let me explain. My dad, who was the editor and publisher of the Troy Tribune, and later held elected office, wrote a biography of Lovejoy.
The book was published in 1964, when I was 3. Dad spoke at many meetings about Lovejoy, and I heard the story often. Mom and Dad later enjoyed retelling how I one day recited my interpretation of Dad's speeches about Lovejoy. I was apparently able to explain how a mob dumped Lovejoy's printing presses into the Mississippi, repeatedly, and how eventually Lovejoy was killed by a mob. Then I asked Mom and Dad what a mob was. Obviously, I was missing some key parts of the story.
For those who didn't grow up with Elijah Lovejoy, he is a true local hero. His presses were indeed dumped into the river, and he was killed. The important part is why. Lovejoy was an abolitionist, and he used his newspaper to spread his views. And even in the free state of Illinois, his views were not popular. Yet he continued to publish, despite the violent reactions of the people around him.
Dad wrote the book to make sure that more people could be inspired, as he had been, by Lovejoy. Dad drew on that inspiration over his lifetime. One of the last books Dad wrote was "Our Culture of Pandering," a critique of elected officials who do what is popular rather than what is right.
As I write this column, we are one week away from a national election, and the incumbent president is a man from Illinois. I remember when Dad introduced me to then-state Sen. Obama. Dad said that Sen. Obama had the courage to do what was right rather than what was popular on two issues that were important to Dad: death penalty cases and campaign finance reform. I could see how much Dad admired that skinny young senator.
As you read this column, it is Election Day. By the end of the evening, our fellow Illinoisan may be re-elected, or he may be replaced. And the world is far different from Elijah Lovejoy's time. Lovejoy's violent end was a precursor to a civil war, also fought over the issue of slavery. And even though Lovejoy did not live to see it, the freedom he fought for has been won. As a nation, we still face many challenges. But thanks to the courage of Elijah Lovejoy and others who have championed freedom of the press, we can read and write about those challenges, and less often respond with violence.
As we look toward solving our nation's challenges - challenges like poverty, unemployment and inequality of opportunity - we can look to Elijah Lovejoy for inspiration.
So, read more about Lovejoy. He might be a good fit in your family, too.