Lyman Trumbull was
a Republican senator from Illinois. As chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, he steered the Thirteenth Amendment through
the Senate to passage by that body in April 1864.
Lyman Trumbull was born on October 12,
1813, in Colchester, Connecticut, to Elizabeth Mather Trumbull
and Benjamin Trumbull. He was educated at Bacon Academy in
Colchester, and began teaching school in Connecticut in 1829.
Four years later, he moved to Georgia seeking better teaching
opportunities. He was a schoolteacher in Greenville, while
studying law in his off time. In 1836, he was admitted to the
Georgia state bar and established a law practice in Greenville.
While in Georgia, he developed the belief that slavery degraded
both slave and slaveowner. In 1837, he moved to Belleville,
Illinois, where he established a prosperous law partnership with
John Reynolds, a former congressman, governor, and state
In 1840, Trumbull was elected to the Illinois General
Assembly as a Democrat and, just 27 years old, as that chamberís
youngest member. He sponsored a bill to register free blacks in
order to prevent them from being identified as fugitive slaves
and returned to their alleged masters. During his legal career,
he defended blacks in several lawsuits related to their alleged
status as slaves. In 1841, Trumbull resigned from the state
legislature to serve as the Illinois secretary of state after
the resignation of Stephen Douglas, who had taken a seat on the
Illinois Supreme Court. In 1843, Trumbull resigned as state
secretary of state and married Julia Jayne; they later had three
children. He continued to practice law in Belleville, losing a
congressional race in 1846. He was elected as a justice of the
Illinois Supreme Court in 1848 and reelected four years later.
In 1854, the
Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened
the Western territories to slavery, divided Illinois Democrats.
An angry Trumbull became a leader of the opponents of the act.
That fall, he was elected to Congress with the backing of
Anti-Nebraska Democrats, Whigs, and Free Soilers. A few months
later, in February 1855, the Illinois legislature chose Trumbull
on the tenth ballot over Abraham Lincoln and two other
candidates to represent the state in the U.S. Senate. In 1857,
Trumbull became a Republican. In the Senate, he voted against
the proposed proslavery (ďLecomptonĒ) constitution
for Kansas and the
Crittenden Compromise during
the secession crisis of 1860-1861.
Early in the Civil War, Trumbull was one of five senators to
oppose the war aims resolution of July 1861 because he thought
its focus on preserving the Union and Constitution was too
narrow. However, he strongly supported the Union war effort and
generally backed the Lincoln administration, while expressing
concerns about civil liberties violations and government
centralization. Trumbull held a powerful position as chairman
of the Senate Judiciary Committee (1861-1873). As chairman, he
added emancipation sections to the
Confiscation Acts, freeing slaves coming
into Union lines. He steered the
which abolished slavery in the entire United States, to
passage by the Senate in April 1864.
On Reconstruction, Trumbull was a moderate who supported the
policies of Presidents Lincoln and, initially, Andrew Johnson.
Although supportive of property and legal rights for blacks,
Trumbull opposed granting them the political rights of voting
and jury duty. He crafted legislation to extend the life of the
Freedmenís Bureau and for a civil rights act, and was shocked
when President Johnson vetoed them. In the spring of 1866,
Congress overrode the vetoes, but the presidentís actions pushed
moderates like Trumbull to cooperate with radical Republicans in
controlling the Reconstruction process. Consequently, Trumbull
voted for the Military Reconstructions Acts (1867), the
Fourteenth Amendment (ratified, 1868), and the Fifteenth
Amendment (ratified, 1870).
Despite his animosity toward the president, Trumbull opposed
the effort to impeach and remove Johnson from
office. Trumbull did vote in February 1868 for a resolution
condemning the president for firing War Secretary Edwin Stanton
(who was cooperating with Congress on Reconstruction); however,
the Illinoisan was one of seven Republican senators who voted
for Johnsonís acquittal, and thereby prevented the presidentís
During the first presidential term of Republican Ulysses S.
Grant (1869-1873), Trumbull came to oppose further efforts at
Reconstruction as counterproductive. In 1871, he voted against
the Ku Klux Klan Act, which aimed to suppress anti-black
violence in the South. He also opposed the Grant administration
on allegations of aggression in foreign policy, inattention to
civil service reform, and corruption in the federal
bureaucracy. In 1872, Trumbull sought the presidential
nomination of the splinter Liberal Republican Party, but lost to
New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who, in turn,
lost the general election to Grant.
the end of his third senatorial term in March 1873, Trumbull
retired to practice law in Chicago, and thereafter associated
with the Democratic Party. During the
controversy of 1876-1877, he served as legal
counsel for Democratic presidential nominee Samuel J. Tilden.
The Electoral College Commission awarded the disputed votes and
the presidency to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Trumbullís
first wife had died in 1868, and he remarried in 1877 to Mary
Ingraham; they had no children. In 1880, he was the
unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial nominee. In the early
1890s, he worked with the Populist movement in Illinois. Lyman
Trumbull died on June 25, 1896, in Chicago.