Narrative of the Riots at Alton
Edward Beecher
Alton: G. Holton, 1838


  The leading facts of the case are now before the public. And in view of these facts, one main question arises: Who are responsible, not merely legally but morally, for such deeds of unparalleled atrocity as have been narrated? On the one hand efforts have been made to throw the responsibility on Mr. Lovejoy; on the convention; on myself; or, on all of us united. On the other hand it is maintained that the responsibility of these transactions rests first of all on the guilty agents; and next on all who excited, instigated, or countenanced; or who did not rebuke and oppose them in their guilty deeds.

  In order to come to a correct conclusion we must take enlarged views of all the principles involved: and of the series of events taken as a whole; and in all its relations to the existing condition of the Christian world.

  There are those whose minds are so constantly under the influence of the narrow, limited local interests around them that the lofty standard of eternal, immutable truth and duty is by them disregarded or unknown. Whose only divinity is wealth or popular applause; and who "with an eastern devotion kneel at the shrine of their idolatry." To all such I have nothing to say.

  But, I thank God, all are not such. That our nation as a mass is not utterly fallen and degraded—that a noble host of lofty spirits still remains. I speak of no party, of no locality, of no section of our land. I speak of the redeeming spirit, which I trust in God pervades it all; and the power of which is still felt in every party of every name. No: all are not thus sunk and degraded. Multitudes there are who still can rise above the narrowness of local interests, and party prejudice, and allow their minds to move in the current of the destinies of the human race, who can recognize the sublimity of principle, and with prophetic foresight anticipate the judgment of future ages on great moral questions; who have not yet bowed the knee of idolatry at the shrine of popular favor, or of mammon; who admit that there are higher principles of action than mere political expediency, or the voice of a crowd; who reverence the immutable and eternal principles of right; and believe that there is a law higher than all human laws: and who are not ashamed, with Blackstone and Grotius and Vattel, and all the great founders and expounders of national and municipal law, to believe that "this law, being dictated by God himself, is superior in obligation to any other; is binding over all the globe, in all countries, at all times, and that no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this."

  To all such I appeal. To all who are not ashamed of the spirit of their fathers, who considered true freedom the noblest gift of God; even that freedom which guaranties to every man the full exercise of the loftiest of human rights—the right fully to know, and fearlessly to proclaim and to do the will of God: the right to regard the opinions of that One as of more weight than the universe besides: and the right to do his will though the public sentiment of millions oppose.

  To such I appeal. Such I know there are. Though as a nation we have long been sinking from the lofty ground of principle with which we began; though the cursed love of gold has left to multitudes no standard of right and wrong but dollars and cents; and the thirst for political promotion has left to others no criterion of truth but the opinions of the majority, however profligate; I trust there are some left who still believe that their souls belong to none but God and the truth: and who by the grace of God are determined to resist, even unto death, the tyranny which would compel the soul to forego communion with the loftiest spirits of all ages; shut it out from participation in the mightiest movements of the age—yea, and prohibit it from being a coworker with God in the execution of his vast designs of renovating a ruined world.

  To all such I shall submit the following positions; which, in view of the preceding facts, I shall endeavor to maintain:

  —That the great discussion which gave rise to these transactions is an essential part of the movement of the providence of God in the present age of the world; and that to evade it is impossible; to oppose it, vain.

  —That to the manner in which it came up in this state there is no just ground of objection.

  —That the first development of mob violence has not even a plausible pretext for its justification; and to palliate it, connive at it, or attempt to justify it, is treason, both against God and man.

  —That after the first development of violence, every possible effort was made, in a cool, kind, temperate, and judicious way, to arrest its course by plans of conciliation and concession and by efforts to unite the wise and the good against the lawless and riotous disturbers of the peace.

  —That these efforts were defeated by a spirit of intolerance and persecution that rejected all conciliation or compromise; that excluded all argument, and would be satisfied with nothing but the entire and unconditional surrender of the noblest rights and privileges of the human mind.

  —That all hopes of evading this spirit by retreat was vain; that to retire before it would but give it new malignity and power; and that there was no alternative but to defeat it there, or, by falling in the contest, compel it to disclose to the civilized world its real nature and its malignant power.

  —That in conducting this opposition, our principles were sound and judicious, such as have received the united approbation of the civilized world, and that the efforts made by many to excite odium against them, can be the result of nothing but inexcusable prejudice or malignity.

  —That there cannot be, to a candid mind, the slightest reason to question on whom the whole guilt of these transactions rests.