Lyman Trumbull

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Lyman Trumbull
Lyman Trumbull - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1873
Preceded byJames Shields
Succeeded byRichard J. Oglesby
Secretary of State of Illinois
In office
GovernorThomas Carlin
Thomas Ford
Preceded byStephen A. Douglas
Succeeded byThompson Campbell
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1813-10-12)October 12, 1813
Colchester, Connecticut, US
DiedJune 25, 1896(1896-06-25) (aged 82)
Chicago, Illinois, US
Political partyDemocrat
Liberal Republican
Spouse(s)Julia Jayne
Mary Jane Ingram

Lyman Trumbull (October 12, 1813 – June 25, 1896) was a United States Senator from Illinois and the co-author of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Born in Colchester, Connecticut, Trumbull established a law practice in Greenville, Georgia, before moving to Alton, Illinois, in 1837. He served as the Illinois Secretary of State from 1841 to 1843 and as a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court from 1848 to 1853. He was elected to the Senate in 1855 and became a member of the Republican Party. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1861 to 1873, he co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.

In the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, Trumbull voted to acquit Johnson despite heavy pressure from other Republican senators. He was a candidate for the presidential nomination at the 1872 Liberal Republican convention but the fledgling party nominated Horace Greeley instead. Trumbull left the Senate in 1873 to establish a legal practice in Chicago. Before his death in 1896, he became a member of the Populist Party and represented Eugene V. Debs before the Supreme Court.

Education and early career[edit]

Trumbull was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the grandson of the historian Benjamin Trumbull.[1] After graduating from Bacon Academy, he taught school from 1829 to 1833.[1]

At 20, he was hired as head of an academy in Georgia.[1] He studied (read the law) as a legal apprentice, and was admitted to the bar in Georgia. He practiced law in Greenville, Georgia until 1837, when he moved west to Alton, Illinois. His house in Alton, the Lyman Trumbull House, is a National Historic Monument.

Elected office[edit]

By 1840, Trumbull was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. He was appointed as Illinois Secretary of State, serving from 1841 to 1843. In 1848, he was appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, serving until 1853.

Although elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1854, he was elected by the state legislature to serve in the United States Senate before he could take his seat. He served for nearly two decades, from 1855 through 1873. During this time, he claimed party affiliations with the Democrats, the Republicans, the Liberal Republicans, and finally the Democrats again.

On August 7, 1858, Trumbull delivered a speech in Chicago stating "We, the Republican Party, are the white man's party, we are for free white men and for making white labor respectable and honorable, which it can never be when negro slave labor is brought into competition with it".

On December 16, 1861, Trumbull asked the Senate to consider his resolution:

Resolved, That the Secretary of State be directed to inform the Senate whether, in the loyal States of the Union, any person or persons have been arrested and imprisoned and are now held in confinement by orders from him or his Department; and if so, under what law said arrests have been made, and said persons imprisoned.

Senator James Dixon said of the resolution that "it seems to me calculated to produce nothing but mischief."[2]

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee (1861–1872), he co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited all kinds of slavery in the United States other than its use as punishment for crimes of which the party had been convicted; this became the sentence to "time at hard labor" that became assignable for certain crimes. It was also the constitutional loophole by which southern states abused convict lease labor, a practice lasting into the twentieth century.

Political cartoon by Thomas Nast: Senators Schurz and Trumbull in a scene from Shakespeare's Richard III

Johnson impeachment trial[edit]

During President Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial, Trumbull and six other Republican senators[3] were disturbed by their belief that Thaddeus Stevens and Benjamin Wade and those of similar position had manipulated the proceedings against Johnson in order to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence.[4] Trumbull, in particular, noted:

"Once set the example of impeaching a President for what, when the excitement of the hour shall have subsided, will be regarded as insufficient causes, as several of those now alleged against the President were decided to be by the House of Representatives only a few months since, and no future President will be safe who happens to differ with a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate on any measure deemed by them important, particularly if of a political character. Blinded by partisan zeal, with such an example before them, they will not scruple to remove out of the way any obstacle to the accomplishment of their purposes, and what then becomes of the checks and balances of the Constitution, so carefully devised and so vital to its perpetuity? They are all gone."[5]

All seven senators, resisting the pressure imposed on them, broke party ranks and defied public opinion, voting for acquittal, although they knew their decision would be unpopular.[6] None was reelected. After the trial, Representative Ben Butler of Massachusetts conducted hearings in the House on widespread reports that Republican senators had been bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal. Butler's hearings and subsequent inquiries revealed evidence that some acquittal votes were acquired by promises of patronage jobs and cash cards.[7]


Lyman Trumbull

During the December 1871 congressional debate on the creation of Yellowstone National Park, Senator Trumbull, whose son Walter Trumbull was a member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition to Yellowstone in 1870, spoke in favor of the park concept:

"Here is a region of the country away up in the Rocky Mountains, where there are the most wonderful geysers on the face of the earth; a country that is not likely ever to be inhabited for the purpose of agriculture; but it is possible that some person may go there and plant himself right across the only path that leads to the wonders, and charge every man that passes along between the gorges of these mountains a fee of a dollar or five dollars. He may place an obstruction there and toll may be gathered from every person who goes to see these wonders of creation."[8]

Later career[edit]

After leaving the Senate in 1873, Trumbull set up a law practice in Chicago. He worked in private practice except for a brief period when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor (as a Democrat) in 1880. In January 1883, Trumbull was given a seat of honor at the dedication of the Pullman Arcade Theatre in George Pullman's company town.[9]

He became a Populist in 1894. According to Almont Lindsey's 1942 book, The Pullman Strike, Trumbull took part in defending Eugene Debs and other labor leaders of the American Railway Union, who had been convicted for violating a federal court injunction during the 1894 Pullman railroad strike. Trumbull was part of the three-member legal team, which included Clarence Darrow, when their habeas corpus case Ex parte In the Matter of Eugene V. Debs 'et al.' was heard by the US Supreme Court in 1895.[10][11]


Front of Trumbull's house in Alton

During his explorations in the west John Wesley Powell named Mt. Trumbull (and now the Mt. Trumbull Wilderness) in northwestern Arizona after the Senator. The Lyman Trumbull House is a National Historic Landmark. Trumbull has a street named after him in the city of Chicago; Lyman Trumbull Elementary School in Chicago was named after the Senator. Trumbull Park and adjacent Trumbull Park Homes in Chicago are named after the Senator.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Trumbull, Benjamin" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. Lyman Trumbull is the subject of the second half of this article entitled with his father's name.
  2. ^ United States. Congress. The Congressional Globe: Containing the Debates and Proceedings of the Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Edited by John C. Rives. Washington, DC: Congressional Globe Office, 1862, p. 90.
  3. ^ These seven senators were William Pitt Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, James W. Grimes, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Peter G. Van Winkle, and Edmund G. Ross.
  4. ^ "Andrew Johnson Trial: The Consciences of Seven Republicans Save Johnson", JRank
  5. ^ White, Horace. The Life of Lyman Trumble. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1913, pp. 319.
  6. ^ "The Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868".
  7. ^ David O. Stewart, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy (2009), pp. 240-249, 284-299.
  8. ^ Amstutz, Jacquelyn R. The Art of Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson: Its Influence on the Formation of Yellowstone National Park, Bowling Green: Jacquelyn R. Amstutz, 1981, p. 88
  9. ^ Almont Lindsey, The Pullman Strike, 1942, p. 55
  10. ^ Lindsey (1942), The Pullman Strike, p. 55
  11. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Trumbull, Lyman" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Lewis Steward
Democratic nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Carter Harrison Sr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Stephen A. Douglas
Illinois Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Thompson Campbell
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James Shields
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Illinois
March 4, 1855 – March 4, 1873
Served alongside: Stephen A. Douglas, Orville H. Browning, William A. Richardson, Richard Yates, John A. Logan
Succeeded by
Richard J. Oglesby