In January 1838, 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Springfield, Illinois, condemning a series of vigilante attacks that had recently taken place in the fledgling republic. A few weeks earlier, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, avid abolitionist and editor of the St. Louis Observer, was shot dead outside his warehouse in Alton, Illinois, by a pro-slavery gang.
"Whenever the evil part of the population is allowed to gather in groups of hundreds and thousands," said Lincoln, "and burn churches, destroy and rob food stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang unpleasant people. and burn. At will, and with impunity; depending upon it, this government cannot stand. "
Lincoln's warning about the mob's threat to the nation is suddenly – and sadly – relevant again. Over the past year, we've witnessed months of rioting and looting fueled by Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths of George Floyd and others, the destruction of a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, the illegal occupation of part of the downtown Seattle, and finally last week's invasion of the Capitol by violent supporters of Donald Trump.
It is now all too common to read stories of activists showing up at night among elected officials and implicitly or explicitly threatening them and their families. It is still disturbing, but no longer surprising, to see video clips of private citizens and innocent bystanders being bullied and in some cases attacked by & # 39; protesters & # 39; on the streets of American cities.
Equally ruthless is the digital crowd, descending upon its prey with a vengeance for actual or suspected offenses, some of which are current and several decades old. These keyboard warriors are destroying careers, reputations and livelihoods. It is whimsical, devoid of mercy or forgiveness, and responds only to submission.
Although our country is full of tribalism, recognizing and condemning the mob should not be, and cannot be, a partisan exercise. Peaceful protests are a fundamental right of our democratic republic. Mob violence is its antithesis. Whatever the underlying motivation, it cannot be excused as a benign byproduct of protests that – as the media continued to describe them last summer – "mostly peaceful" goods. That phrase is an oxymoron, as the moral leaders of this country have always known.
Mobs are fueled by passions that stem from a sense of grievance, and modern elected leaders of both parties and the media have fueled those passions for years, rather than demeaning them. Is it fair to judge rioters based on their stated intentions, rather than the crimes they commit? Well, it is human nature to give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom we agree. Americans who believe that many police officers in this country are too bold, especially when operating in communities of color, were willing to overlook the excesses of last summer's protests. Among those who made excuses for violent behavior were the country's most prominent Democrats. Those who stormed the Capitol last week convinced themselves (against all available evidence) that they are correcting a major mistake: that is, 'stealing' it. of an election. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what they thought. It's what they did. That's what Abraham Lincoln told his countrymen 183 years ago.
"There is no complaint that is an appropriate subject of Mafia redress," said young Abe Lincoln. While still trying to reason with slavery advocates in 1838, Lincoln & # 39; s own sympathies were with Elijah Lovejoy.
Born in Maine, Lovejoy had radicalized on slavery. He was less diplomatic than Lincoln and less careful. After graduating first in his class from Waterville College, he went to St. Louis, where he opened a school and bought a stake in a local newspaper, the St. Louis Times. In 1832 he was the editor, but his passions were absorbed in a religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening. Lovejoy temporarily returned to the East, where he attended the theological seminary at Princeton and emerged two years later as an ordained Presbyterian minister.
He returned to Missouri to preach a small Presbyterian congregation while rescuing the St. Louis Observer. When his former newspaper endorsed the mafia's action against a woman running a slave Sunday school, Lovejoy joined the fight. His first essay looked for a middle ground. But as Lovejoy's anti-slavery writing escalated, so did the violent threats against him.
Three times his printing presses were destroyed by domestic terrorists. After a white gang broke into a local prison and burned a black man, an aptly named St. Louis judge (Luke Lawless) ordered a grand jury not to charge anyone in the lynching party. In the kind of demagoguery that modern American ears would be familiar with, Lawless then began a rant against the abolitionist press in general, and Elijah Lovejoy in particular. Since Mafia rule was essentially sanctioned by the Missouri courts, the pastor / publisher moved across the river to Illinois.
Lovejoy was now in a free state, but not in a safe city. And there, in the fall of 1837, a fourth printing press was delivered to him. A crowd gathered in the Alton warehouse to confiscate it. This time Lovejoy held out. But he and other armed men were overwhelmed. Two days before his 35th birthday, this crusading morning newspaper man was felled by gunfire. The warehouse was set on fire and his presses were thrown into the Mississippi.
"At what point will we expect the approach of danger?" Lincoln asked. & # 39; By what means will we strengthen ourselves against it? Will we expect a transatlantic military giant to take to the ocean and smash us with a bang? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasures of the earth (except ours) in the military chest, with a Bonaparte in command, would not forcibly take a drink from the Ohio, or trail up the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. "
No, they couldn't, as Lincoln knew, but his point was that the danger lay within. Some days – January 6, 2021, one of them was – it seems again. So how do we proceed, aside from fighting again the Civil War that sustained Lincoln's presidency and cost him and nearly 700,000 other Americans their lives? Lincoln & # 39; s answer to the rise of the & # 39; mobocratic spirit & # 39; to fight was that the public would rededicate itself to "respect for the laws". True to the law, he insisted, it must "become the political religion of the nation".
. (tagsToTranslate) Elijah Lovejoy (t) Abraham Lincoln (t) mob rule (t) Capitol violence