Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896)

U.S. senator from Illinois whose independent views during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras caused him to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican to the Liberal Republican and back to the Democratic Party in his long political career.

Lyman Trumbull, Senator from Illinois, was born in Colchester, Connecticut on October 12, 1813. He attended Bacon Academy, began teaching school in Connecticut at the age of sixteen (1829-1833), and later studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1837. He commenced practice in Greenville, Ga., moved to Belleville, in southern Illinois kn 1837, and became active in state government. He served in the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1840 to 1841, was secretary of State of Illinois in 1841 and 1843, and justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois from 1848 to 1853. He was elected to the 34th Congress in 1854, but before the beginning of the Congress was elected by the state legislature to the United States Senate. He became a Republican because of his opposition to the expansion of slavery, and was reelected to the Senate as a Republican in 1861 and 1867. With the coming of the Civil War, Trumbull staunchly supported President Abraham Lincoln's efforts to suppress rebellion. He served in the Senate from March 4, 1855, to March 3, 1873, and was chairman for the Committee on the Judiciary (37th through 42nd Congresses).

Trumbull pressed for making the emancipation of the slaves a Northern war aim, and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1864, he helped draft the Thirteenth Amendment. He aligned himself with the Radical Republicans in advocating vigorous prosecution of the war and an early end to slavery. Following Lincoln's assassination, he at first supported President Andrew Johnson but then broke with the president over Reconstruction policy. He supported Radical Reconstruction, often allied with the radical Republicans on Reconstruction measures, but nevertheless was one of seven Republicans who broke party ranks and voted against the conviction of President Johnson during his impeachment trial in the Senate. The Senator was dubious about the legitimacy of the impeachment process, had fears that it would ultimately hurt the Republican party politically, and was contemptuous of Benjamin Wade, who was next in line for the Presidency.

His waning enthusiasm for Radical Reconstruction, his break with the Republican leadership in the trial of Andrew Johnson, and his revulsion at the corruption rampant in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant led Trumbull to back the Liberal Republican Party in 1872. In 1872, he joined other Liberal Republicans in supporting Horace Greeley's presidential candidacy against the reelection of President Grant. When Greeley lost and the party collapsed, Trumbull finished out his third term as senator and then retired to his Chicago law practice. By 1876 Trumbull had returned to the Democratic Party, serving as one of the counsels for Samuel J. Tilden in the contested Hayes-Tilden election of 1876. Trumbull was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Illinois in 1880. A long-time advocate of "soft money," he supported the Populist party in the 1890s.

He died in Chicago, Ill., June 25, 1896, and is buried in Oakwoods Cemetery.