Lyman Trumbull

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Lyman Trumbull
Lyman Trumbull LOC picture.png
Former U.S. Senator from Illinois
From: March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1873
Predecessor James Shields
Successor Richard J. Oglesby
Secretary of State of Illinois
From: 1841–1843
Predecessor Stephen Douglas
Successor Thompson Campbell
State Representative from Illinois
From: 1840–1841
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Democrat (before 1856)
Republican (1856–1872)
Liberal Republican (1872)
Democrat (1872–1896)
Populist (1896)

Lyman Trumbull (October 12, 1813 – June 25, 1896) was a judge, lawyer, and Democrat-turned-Republican from Illinois who served as the state's U.S. senator from 1855 to 1873. He was previously a justice on the state Supreme Court, and the Illinois Secretary of State prior to that.

Trumbull's earlier political career was marked by fierce opposition towards slavery, switching party affiliation in the 1850s and later joining Radical Republican ranks. However, he later turned against his earlier pro-civil rights record, joining the Liberal Republican Party[1] and opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1871.[2] He subsequently failed to win elected office again, and spent the last year of his life vainly fighting on behalf of left-wing causes.[3]

During his congressional career, Trumbull sided with conservatives only 38% of the time.[4]

U.S. Senate

Trumbull was elected to the U.S. House in the 1854 midterms as an anti-Nebraska Democrat from the 8th congressional district.[5] However, before he could take office in the position he was elected to, the state legislature voted in February 1855 to make him U.S. senator,[6][7] a position he then took instead.[1]

Switch to the Republican Party and Lincoln years

In 1856, Trumbull left the Democratic Party to become a Republican due to his anti-slavery views[1] and disillusionment with senatorial colleague Stephen A. Douglas for supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act.[7] His successful re-election in in 1860–61 over Democrat Samuel S. Marshall[8] was supported by Abraham Lincoln, who wrote to him:[9]

Yours of the 29th. is received. The article mentioned by you, prepared for the Chicago Journal, I have not seen; nor do I wish to see it, though I heard of it a month, or more, ago. Any effort to put enmity between you and me, is as idle as the wind. I do not for a moment doubt that you, Judd, Cook, Palmer, and the republicans generally, coming from the old democratic ranks were as sincerely anxious for my success in the late contest as I myself, and the old whig republicans were. And I beg to assure you, beyond all possible cavil, that you can scarcely be more anxious to be sustained two years hence than I am that you shall be so sustained. I can not conceive it possible for me to be a rival of yours, or to take sides against you in favor of any rival. Nor do I think there is much danger of the old democratic and whig elements of our party breaking into opposing factions. They certainly shall not, if I can prevent it.

—Lincoln, February 1859

Lyman Trumbull between 1860 and 1875.png

When the American Civil War broke out, Trumbull initially supported President Lincoln's policies.[1] He soon broke with Lincoln, stating of the latter:[9]

He’s a trimmer, and such a trimmer as the world has ever seen. …He is secretive, communicates no more of his own thoughts and purposes than he think will serve the ends he has in view; he has the faculty of gain the confidence of others by apparently giving them his own, and in that way attaches to himself many friends; he is one of the shrewdest men I have ever known; he is by no means the unsophisticated, artless man that many take him to be.


Trumbull's economic positions were mixed; true to his populist inclinations, he was previously a Democrat rather than a member of the Whig Party prior to the GOP's inception.[3] Despite voting for the Legal Tender Act that authorized printing bank notes with no connection to "hard money," he also voted against the Banking Act which provided national currency.

Their personal lives differed as did some of their political viewpoints; Trumbull was considerably more family-oriented than Lincoln had been, and a biography asserted that he "never relished the rough masculine company of the judicial circuit."[9] In addition, Trumbull's increasing inclination for supporting Radical Republicanism, joining calls made by Benjamin Wade and Zachariah Chandler to replace General Winfield Scott with George B. McClellan.[9]

In the 1864 presidential election, Trumbull did not adamantly support President Lincoln's re-election, instead focusing on antagonizing the Democratic Party.[9] The same year, he spearheaded the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery,[7] and ensured its passage in the Senate.[3]

Vote to acquit Johnson

Although Trumbull had initially been in line with the policies of Radical Republicans who bitterly opposed President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat who succeeded Lincoln and pushed for lenient policies on the South, his viewpoints moderated and he bucked from his party on impeachment.[7] When articles of impeachment introduced against Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act came to the Senate, Trumbull was one of seven Republican senators voting to acquit,[1] personally viewing the trial as unfair.[10]

The other Senate Republicans voting to acquit Johnson included William P. Fessenden and Edmund G. Ross, the former of which opposed the notion of making Ohio Radical Republican Benjamin Wade U.S. president.[10]

Trumbull further breaks from Radical Republicanism

During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, Trumbull grew increasingly disenchanted with widespread corruption present;[1] the spoils system was utilized efficiently by Republicans to safeguard the constitutional rights of Southern blacks. He was one of three Senate Republicans to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1871,[2] also known as the Third Enforcement Act or Ku Klux Klan Act. Trumbull even began to object towards having blacks serve on juries.[3]

In the 1872 presidential election, Trumbull opposed re-electing President Grant and joined the Liberal Republican Party[1] spearheaded by Charles Sumner and Horace Greeley. Greeley failed to defeat Grant when heading the party ticket for the general election, and Trumbull retired at the end of his third Senate term.


In 1871, Trumbull advocated creating a national park at Yellowstone in Wyoming.[3] Legislation enacting such was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Grant the following year.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Lyman Trumbull | United States senator. Britannica. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 TO PASS H.R. 320. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 January 26, 2020. Lyman Trumbull – The Senator from the Land of Lincoln. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  4. April 15, 2020. MC-Index Scores of People I Have Profiled. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  5. IL District 08 Race - Nov 07, 1854. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  6. IL US Senate Race - Feb 09, 1855. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Lyman Trumbull. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  8. IL US Senate Race - Jan 09, 1861. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Members of Congress: Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896). Mr. Lincoln and Friends. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  10. 10.0 10.1 December 18, 2019. The Johnson Impeachment. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved November 27, 2021.

Further reading

External links