The eldest son of a Congregational clergyman, Lovejoy taught school in St. Louis, Missouri, until he found the occupation unchallenging. He then bought a half-interest in the St. Louis Times, a political paper of which he became editor. Lovejoy was considered fairly “straitlaced,” the influence of a strong New England Christian home. “Converted” in 1831 during a religious revival sweeping the country, he sold his interest in the newspaper in order to study theology at Princeton so that he could become a Presbyterian minister.
After completing his theological training in thirteen months he returned to St. Louis in 1833 and launched a new newspaper, the St. Louis Observer, for a group of Christian business leaders. Intolerant of those not sharing his Presbyterian beliefs and growing disdain for slavery, he soon had many enemies in the slave state of Missouri. Lovejoy tried to explain in his editorials that he was not an abolitionist, and that he favored a gradual solution to the problem of slavery. Nevertheless, proslavery advocates circulated handbills denouncing Lovejoy as an advocate of miscegenation and advising him to leave St. Louis. Threats of mob violence led him to move his newspaper across the Mississippi River to Alton, in the free state of Illinois.
Even in Illinois, however, Lovejoy’s belief in “liberty to speak, to write, and to publish” won him new enemies as he took an increasingly strong antislavery stand and finally identified himself as an “abolitionist” in late July, 1837. Four months later a mob killed Lovejoy while he was protecting the warehouse where his press was stored.