In the fall of 1837, an abolitionist newspaper editor named Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a pro-slavery mob while trying to defend himself and his printing presses near Alton, Illinois. The murder riveted and polarized the nation, and although Abraham Lincoln did not mention Lovejoy by name in his speech to the Young Men's Lyceum in January 1838, most historians consider it obvious that he had the incident in mind as he deplored mob violence and urged Americans to uphold their faith in law and republican institutions. In the excerpts from the speech below, Lincoln focused on the threat from what he termed a "Towering genius" who might disturb the successful American experiment in self-government because he desired a new form of glory. Lincoln ominously warned that such a figure might assert himself by "emancipating slaves" or "enslaving free men." Lincoln was merely in his late twenties at that time, a young, novice attorney and state legislator, still unmarried and renting a room above a store in town. (By Matthew Pinsker)
"Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois," in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1: 8-14, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.
The Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois
Transcription adapted from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), edited by Roy P. Basler
Adapted by Matthew Pinsker, Dickinson College