Bringing Truth to Light

“It is worth while to have lived and suffered, to have labored and waited, long years for such an opportunity of pleading for the Slave mothers of our land, before such an audience.”

Jane Swisshelm

February 26, 1860*

In a letter to her brother, Jane Swisshelm, expressed with satisfaction the hard-earned acceptance of her abolitionist message in the Minnesota frontier following a lecture she gave at the Minnesota State Capitol building within the Representatives Hall. Swisshelm was not always so appreciated for her strong opinions on abolition in Minnesota. At age 42 she arrived in St. Cloud as a single mom to live with some distant relatives after escaping from an abusive relationship. Already a well accomplished as a writer, upon her arrival she was soon working as an editor of a new paper within the city.

Not being a timid soul she unleashed her very affective editorial skills on one General Sam Lowrie. One of Minnesota’s dark secrets is that several southern slave owners had significant business and property interests in Minnesota due to the easy access created by the superhighway of the time, the Mississippi River. It was very common for the slave owners to bring their slaves north to do their bidding in the Minnesota territory.

Lowrie was one of the southern slave owners who had by 1857, when Swisshelm arrived in St. Cloud, established himself as essentially the political boss of the region. As a slave owning Buchanan Democrat Lowrie made the fatal error of calling on Swisshelm to ask her to editorialize in favor of Buchanan. To her colleague’s surprise she agreed with Lowrie to write an editorial “for” Buchanan with the meeting between the slave owner and abolitionist ending peacefully. That would be the last peace between them. She followed up the next day with a satirical “positive” editorial that laid bare the evils of slavery. This began a several year feud that included death threats against the editor and the destruction of her presses by Lowrie’s minions.

Swisshelm’s dogged determination to get the truth out eventually led to Lowrie’s demise. Prior to the Civil War he had been groomed for a possible top political position in Minnesota but soon disappeared from the political scene dying as a small postscript in St. Cloud’s history at a young age in 1868.

During the Civil War Swisshelm sold the paper to a relative so she could serve as a nurse on the battlefront. She was later able to secure a government position but had to leave that after blasting the Johnson presidency for ineptness in the reconstruction efforts. She would return to her ancestral home outside Pittsburgh to live out her days where she established a suburb and continued writing until she died in 1884. Her autobiography, Half of a Century, was published in 1881 and is considered a classic on the struggle for women’s rights during the first part of the 19th century.

What was a driving force for Swisshelm was a sense of justice and need for the truth to be brought to light. As a result she was able to change the course of our state’s history in just a few short years. It is our desire at Conservation Minnesota to follow in her footsteps and get the truth out about our political process as it relates to the Great Outdoors we all love. We have developed two tools you can use to get informed on important outdoor issues. First is Conservation Minnesota’s webpage entitled “Check My Legislator” which allows you to look back at how your legislator voted in the last session on critical conservation issues in an easy-to-use electronic format. The second is a webpage to help you get educated on the important mining issue that is occurring in northern Minnesota. Northern Minnesota’s wild forests and pristine lakes are the focus for a new type of mining that could forever change the region. These new mines, much different than Minnesota’s traditional iron mines, would extract copper, nickel and other metals from sulfide ore. To learn more about this mining go to the “Mining Truth” website.

We have labored and waited to get these tools set up and running for several months and hope that it will be worth your while to become informed participants in our public square. Jane Swisshelm would have wanted nothing less.

*Jane Swisshelm, Letters of an Abolitionist 1858 and 1865,

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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