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Lyman Trumbull
(October 12, 1813 - June 25, 1896)

 

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 justice.

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 First and Second Confiscation Acts, freeing slaves coming into Union lines.  He steered the Thirteenth Amendment, 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 removal. 

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.

At 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 Electoral College 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.


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