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Lyman Trumbull

Lyman Trumbull

Lyman Trumbull was a U.S. Senator and co­author of the 13th Amendment. He was born on October 12, 1813 in Connecticut and lived to be 82 years of age. Although he was a seventh generation American from an affluent family and his father and grandfather were both Yale graduates, the size of his immediate family necessitated farm living. Without the family farm putting food on the table, Trumbull’s father’s income as a country lawyer could not support the 10 members of his family.

As a youth, Lyman attended the Bacon Academy while working on the family farm. Once he turned 18, he travelled to take various teaching positions and was considered a character of high morals. At 20, he took a position as the principal of the Greenville Academy in Greenville, Georgia. During this time as a schoolmaster, Trumbull occupied his free time studying law in the office of a local judge named Hiram Warner. His relationship with Warner, judge of the superior court of Georgia, would serve Lyman well, as Warner would later become a justice of the supreme court of Georgia and a Congressman.

Lyman Trumbull was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1840, then served as Secretary of State for two years before being asked to resign for speaking publicly against the governor. In 1848, Trumbull was appointed as a justice to the Supreme Court of Illinois and held that position until 1853. He was again elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1854, but did not serve his term. Instead, Trumbull was appointed by the state legislature to fill a vacant position as the Illinois representative to the U.S. Senate. He served as a U.S. Senator from 1855 to 1873, and frequently changed party affiliations.

Although Lyman Trumbull was an outspoken opponent of slavery in Illinois throughout his career, he did not consider himself an abolitionist. While Illinois struggled with slavery seeping into its borders as slave owners moved into the state, slaves in tow as private personal property, Lyman Trumbull could often be found in a courtroom, vehemently vying for their freedom. He staunchly believed the laws of Illinois prohibited slavery in any form. While a U.S. Senator, Trumbull co­authored the 13th Amendment, officially abolishing slavery within the Constitution. Lyman Trumbull was also one of a small handful of Congressmen to hold out against the impeachment of President Johnson, believing the evidence against him would not stand up against the test of time, and that such an act would ultimately weaken the nation. He broke party lines to stop the impeachment, and lost reelection.

Following the end of slavery and the end of his service as a U.S. Senator, Lyman Trumbull practiced law in Chicago. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Illinois in 1880. Continuing to tackle issues he felt were important to the betterment of the nation and the American people, Trumbull volunteered to serve on the legal team that represented Eugene V. Debs in 1895. Debs was a railroad union leader and strike organizer facing federal felony charges for his role in engineering a railroad strike, and Trumbull argued on his behalf all the way up to the Supreme Court, albeit ultimately without success.

Lyman Trumbull died on June 25, 1896. He was eulogized by several members of Congress, and was remembered as an affectionate husband, father, grandfather, a political debater well grounded in the law, and an honest American gentleman.

Works Consulted
Krug, M. M. Lyman Trumbull, Conservative Radical. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1965

“Lyman Trumbull.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872­1922), Oct 23, 1880.

White, Horace. The Life of Lyman Trumbull. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913.


— Randall McDowell

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