William and Jane Ann Moore hope people will discover the words of abolitionist Owen Lovejoy and, like them, find his words as powerful today as they were 150 years ago.
Retired ministers, the Moores spent a decade writing “Collaborators for Emancipation,” a book that examines the surprising relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy and how that relationship helped to end slavery. The University of Illinois Press officially released the 158-page book Monday.
“The theme is really trusting people that you disagree with,” William Moore said. “If that isn’t a theme of today, I don’t know what is.”
In the book, the authors dive into the men’s politics, personal traits and religious convictions, some of which made Lincoln and Lovejoy an unlikely pair. Lincoln was a cautious lawyer who deplored abolitionists breaking the law while Lovejoy was a vocal anti-slavery activist who manned a stop on the underground railroad, William Moore explained.
However unlikely their friendship, Lincoln referred to it as “one of increasing respect and esteem.” It’s also one that has captivated the Moores for the past 25 years.
Before William and Jane Ann Moore arrived as pastors for the First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeKalb in 1986, they had never heard of Owen Lovejoy. But soon after their arrival, they found a history book that revealed the church had been part of the anti-slavery movement. All members of the denomination had to live by a covenant promising to treat others with kindness and respect regardless of their skin color. The discovery led them to Lovejoy.
Impressed by his pragmatism and high ideals about how you attain power and what you do once you have it, they quickly developed an affinity for the Illinois Congregationalist clergyman who lived from 1811 to 1864
“I think we are all looking for people that we admire,” Jane Ann Moore said, as her eyes began to well up with tears. “And people who give us hope, people who have accomplished the things that need to be accomplished. We found that in him.”
William Moore founded the Lovejoy Society in 1995. He also portrayed Lovejoy on C-SPAN in 1994 after the first Lincoln-Douglas debate re-enactments in Ottawa. The couple has spent nearly 25 years searching for Lovejoy’s sermons and writings, following clues that would lead them to more material across the country. After they retired from the church in 2001, they edited a book that was published in 2004 called, “His Brother’s Blood: Speeches and Writings, 1838 to 1864.”
The couple quote Lovejoy with ease, though they’re not surprised many other people have never heard of him. When they started their research years ago, they found only one of his dozens of sermons had been published.
Lovejoy also is often overshadowed by his younger brother, Elijah Lovejoy, who was assassinated in 1837 for printing an antislavery newspaper. After Elijah’s assassination, Lovejoy vowed to end slavery.
“This man knew how to direct his anger,” William Moore said. “If there’s any lesson we need to learn from him, it’s that he didn’t take revenge.”
The foundation of their fondness for Lovejoy was laid much earlier, the couple said, because they were blessed to have professors in their respective divinity schools who instilled a respect for the social sciences relationship to their theological commitments.
“He really personifies all they taught us about the relationship between religion and politics and theology,” William Moore said. “The big thing that they have helped us to see is the importance, as Lovejoy says, it’s really trust and faith more than beliefs and theology.”