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Lyman Trumbull

Lesley Piersall
New Hebron Christian School, Robinson

Illinois was the adopted home of a remarkable man eventually nicknamed Judge Trumbull. His family tree was filled with illustrious relatives with a strong faith in God and a knowledge of the value of human life. As he grew, lived, and worked, he followed his family and was able to make a difference in the lives of people in Illinois and across the country.

The Trumbull family tree was planted in America in 1639 when John Trumble (changed to Trumbull in 1776) and his wife Ellenor Chandler migrated from Newcastle, England, to Rowley, Massachusetts. Their grandson Jonathan Trumbull was nicknamed "Brother Jon" by George Washington. Jonathan was a judge, chief justice, and governor of the state for fifteen years. He also supported George Washington and became Washington's close friend. Brother Jon's son was a famous artist whose painting "Battle of Bunker Hill" and "Death of Montgomery" are well known in American art history. Lyman Trumbull's grandfather, Benjamin Trumbull, was a Yale graduate and a minister for sixty years. Lyman Trumbull's father was also a Yale graduate. He served in the Connecticut legislature and was also a judge. Lyman's mother, Elizabeth (Mather) Trumbull, had well respected ancestors in England. One of them was Cotton Mather, a renowned Puritan writer and minister. Many of Elizabeth's forefathers were respected ministers. Both the Trumbulls and the Mathers were religious people of strong moral convictions and did not like the idea of one person owning another. They believed all men were equal, despite their color. Lyman worked hard to uphold the proud tradition of law and politics, but he also showed his strong moral background.

On October 12, 1813, Lyman was born to Benjamin and Elizabeth Trumbull. He was the seventh of eleven children. They grew up in a good-sized farmhouse. Lyman went to the Bacon Academy in Colchester, Connecticut, until he was eighteen. A tight financial situation did not allow him to attend Yale, like his father and grandfather.

Lyman began teaching at eighteen, but in time he moved to Georgia where he became an attorney. He eventually settled in Belleville, Illinois, and practiced law with John Reynolds, a former governor of Illinois. After a few years he had his own office with his brother George. Much of his time as an attorney was spent riding the circuit. Later he was elected to the lower house of the Illinois legislature along with several others, including Abraham Lincoln. Not long after that, he was chosen to replace Stephen Douglas as secretary of state. After a disagreement, Governor Ford asked for Trumbull's resignation in 1843.

Also in 1843 Lyman Trumbull married Julia Jayne, a devoted wife and very religious person. Mary Todd Lincoln was a bride's attendant at the wedding. Julia was also at Mary's wedding. The two families were close at that time.

Lyman became a successful lawyer in southern Illinois by the late 1840s. When he won the Jarrot case, it virtually ended indentured slavery in Illinois. Lyman's regret was that the victory did not banish slavery altogether. He went on to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court for four years.

Abraham Lincoln ran for senator against Trumbull in 1855. Trumbull won, with Lincoln's support, when Lincoln realized he could not win. Lincoln encouraged people to vote for Trumbull. That 1855 election resulted in grudges between Lincoln and Trumbull supporters that lasted more than twenty years. The media got the impression that Lyman was jealous of Lincoln's presidency. It seems as though Lyman might have wished he was president or thought he deserved to be, but he supported Lincoln on the issue of slavery.

One of Trumbull's important political moves was his vote against the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Many Trumbull supporters were shocked, and he was criticized. Every Republican that voted with Trumbull was never returned to Congress. At that time Trumbull said, "I did not vote to save the president but to save the presidency."

Most of Trumbull's political life was centered around the fight against slavery. Slavery was a major topic in the 1800s, and Trumbull opposed it. During his years as a lawyer, he spent a lot of time on cases related to the issue. The majority of those cases profited him little, Lyman Trumbull's biggest accomplishment in that regard was his authorship of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. Lyman was proud of it, and it reflected something he had worked for throughout his political life. Lyman knew that every man is equal and should be treated that way. He opposed involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime.[From Remy and Edward Finch, "The Other Senator from Illinois," Illinois Magazine, July-Aug. 1991; Mark M. Krug, Lyman Trumbull;

Elizabeth Padden, "The Question of Presidential Impeachments," Illinois History, Dec. 1987; and Horace White, The Life of Lyman Trumbull.]


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