Lyman Trumbull

Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896), American statesman, was an influential senator during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Lyman Trumbull was born on Oct. 12, 1813, in Colchester, Conn. He displayed unusual intellect early in his youth: at 16 he was teaching school and, 4 years later, was superintendent of an academy in Greenville, Ga. After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1836 and opened an office in Belleville, Illinois. In 1840, as a Democrat, he was elected to the state legislature. He resigned a year later to become secretary of state for Illinois. In 1843 he left that post and practiced law until 1848, when he was elected justice of the state supreme court. In 1852 Trumbull was reelected to a 9-year term on the bench. In 1854, however, he relinquished his judicial seat to become a U.S. representative. Before he could assume his new duties in Washington, the state legislature named him to the U.S. Senate, and in 1855 Trumbull began his long senatorial career.

Trumbull, disillusioned by the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act and by the role of fellow Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas in fostering that bill, joined ranks with the Republicans. Trumbull campaigned throughout the late 1850s against further concessions to the South and slavery. During the Civil War, he served as chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and he was one of the acknowledged leaders of his party. Always a strict constructionist of the Constitution, Trumbull was alternately Lincoln's strongest supporter and his most inflexible opponent. In 1864 he introduced the resolution that became the basis for the 13th Amendment.

Following the Civil War, Trumbull worked tirelessly on behalf of civil rights legislation and the Freedmen's Bureau. Yet his moderate views on Reconstruction put him increasingly at odds with Radical Republican leaders in Congress. The final break came when Trumbull joined six other Republicans in opposing the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. The excesses of Ulysses S. Grant's administration caused Trumbull to support Horace Greeley in the 1872 presidential race.

Trumbull retired from the Senate in 1873, rejoined the Democrats, and resumed his law practice in Chicago. He was one of Samuel J. Tilden's defense counsels in the disputed 1876 presidential election. Trumbull himself ran unsuccessfully for governor of Illinois in 1880. Several times he was mentioned for the presidency, but he proved too unyielding in principles and had too little popular appeal to rise higher than he did. He died on June 25, 1896, in Chicago.

Further Reading on Lyman Trumbull

A number of Trumbull's senatorial speeches were published individually during his lifetime. Mark M. Krug, Lyman Trumbull: Conservative Radical (1965) remains the best treatment. An older study, by one of Trumbull's associates and admirers, is Horace White, The Life of Lyman Trumbull (1913).

Additional Biography Sources

Roske, Ralph Joseph, His own counsel: the life and times of Lyman Trumbull, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1979.