Owen Lovejoy was a minister for a Congregationalist Church and a passionate abolitionist who believed that the "liberty of all men was an inalienable gift from God."
In 1837 his brother, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, an abolitionist newspaper publisher, was killed trying to defend his Illinois printing press from an angry proslavery mob. "Beside the prostrate body of my murdered brother Elijah," Lovejoy said following the tragedy, "while fresh blood was oozing from his perforated breast, on my knees while along with the dead and with God, I vowed never to forsake the cause that was sprinkled with his blood."
And so Lovejoy became even more ardently committed to the cause, believing slavery could be abolished through political action.
After losing elections as an abolitionist candidate he modified his tactics and won election to the Illinois State Legislature in 1854. There he built a reputation as a vigorous, convincing speaker against slavery, which helped lay the foundation for the emerging Republican Party.
He was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives for four terms beginning in 1856, with Abraham Lincoln's behind-the-scenes help.
Throughout his life Lovejoy aided black slaves escaping to Canada. This defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law marked Lovejoy's chief difference with Lincoln. Lincoln was also very aware that abolitionists were still considered in the public mind as "fanatic incendiary agitators" and in the early days distanced himself from Lovejoy politically.
In time the two became close friends, and Lovejoy one of Lincoln's most passionate supporters. Lincoln wrote of Lovejoy: "it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend".
Lovejoy played a leading role in passing legislation in Congress to end slavery in the District of Columbia and prohibit slavery in the territories, which Lincoln signed into law.
Lovejoy died of liver disease in Brooklyn on March 25, 1864. His friend Abraham Lincoln wrote: "My personal acquaintance with him commenced only about ten years ago, since then it has been quite intimate; and every step in it has been one of increasing respect and esteem, ending with his life, in no less than affection on my part."