WHILE the Western States, or rather those of the Mississippi valley, have usually sent men to the Senate who were educated to the legal profession, it has generally been the case that they were those to whom the law had been, for the most part, a stepping-stone to political preferment, rather than men profoundly versed in the higher principles of law, men of judicial mind, and those who had for years presided with dignity and ability over the highest courts. Illinois is one of the few exceptions to this general rule. Judge Trumbull, one of her Senators, had a wide reputation as a jurist for years before he was chosen to a place in the Senate.
A close and eager student of his profession, he soon began to attract notice, and found himself in possession of a large and growing practice in the young and thriving city of Chicago. In 1840, he was sent to the State Legislature, and, in 1841 and 1842, was elected Secretary of State. But local politics were not to his taste, and for the six years following he devoted himself with the utmost assiduity to his profession, in which his extensive attainments, and the calm, comprehensive view which he took of' his cases, perceiving and meeting beforehand the points which his opponents would make, had given him a high rank. In 1848, he was chosen justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, and presided in that court, with extraordinary ability, for five years.
At the election, in November, 1851, Judge Trumbull was elected a Representative in Congress from the first Congressional district (Cook county) to the XXXIVth Congress. At the assembling of the Legislature in the following January, the Republicans, who were in a majority in both branches of the Legislature, were to elect a United States Senator in place of General James Shields, whose term expired on the 4th of March ensuing. Two candidates seemed to have a nearly equal following, viz.: Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, and Lyman Trumbull, of Chicago. The State had been revolutionized and carried for the Republican party through Mr. Lincoln's influence; but preferring the triumph of his principles to a personal victory, he magnanimously withdrew from the canvass, and brought his friends to support Judge Trumbull. The judge took his seat in the Senate in December, 1855, and so fully satisfied were the people with his conduct, that he was re-elected in 1861, and again in 1867.
Senator Trumbull is of a somewhat cold temperament, and though from conviction a Republican, he was conservative in his tendencies. In the last session of the XXXVIth Congress _-December, 1860, to March, 1861—he opposed secession with decision and firmness, yet advocated conciliation; and though he did not believe the Constitution needed amending, he was ready to vote for a convention to consider amendments. Fortunately for the cause of freedom, and unquestionably controlled in this by him who causes "the wrath of man to praise him," the southern leaders were not to be coaxed or soothed. They were determined on war, believing that through it they should obtain the complete ascendancy; and, as one of them said, they would not have staid in the Union if they could have had carte blanche to dictate their own terms.
The temporary weakness which had caused the knees of some of the Republicans to smite together, and made them willing to accede to what would have been disgraceful compromises, passed away, and when the shock came, and war was actually begun, they stood shoulder to shoulder, and wondered at their own firmness. Mr. Trumbull had never been particularly timid, but his whole feelings were averse to war, and he had hoped to prevent it. Yet when it came, he was firm and true. In the new Senate, he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, of which he had been, from his entrance into the Senate, a member, and he acted with judgment and promptness in bringing forward such measures as the occasion demanded. On the 24th of July, 1861, Mr. Trumbull moved, as an amendment to the confiscation bill, then under consideration, a provision "that whenever any person, claiming to be entitled to the service or labor of any other person, under the laws of any State, shall employ said person in aiding or promoting any insurrection, or in resisting the laws of the United States, or shall permit him to be so employed, he shall forfeit all right to such service or labor, and the person whose labor or service is thus claimed, shall be thenceforth discharged therefrom, any law to the contrary notwithstanding." This amendment and the confiscation act passed the Senate, but was opposed in the House, and after long discussion, a substitute for it, proposed by Mr. Bingham, embodying the same principle, but more definite in its details, was passed. When this was returned to the Senate, Mr. Trumbull moved a concurrence with the House, and the amended bill was then passed. This was, for the time, a bold move on the part of Mr. Trumbull, though such has been the progress of opinion since that time, that it seems very weak and timid to us.
As the war progressed, his faith, like that of most of his party, in the eventful triumph of universal freedom, grew stronger; and, throughout the war, he was found in the front rank, with Sumner and Wilson and Wade and Harlan, in the development and advocacy of measures looking to the overthrow of slavery, and the protection of the wards of the nation. He advocated and defended the Emancipation Proclamation, sustained the act suspending the habeas corpus, reported the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution in the form in which it finally passed, (abolishing slavery throughout the Union) defended the first Freedmen's Bureau bill, and attached to it an amendment providing for permanent confiscation of rebel property; drew up, or materially modified, the second and third Freedmen's Bureau bills, matured and presented the Civil Rights bill, and devoted much labor and time to the perfecting and advocacy of the reconstruction acts.
In the trial of President Johnson, on the articles of impeachment presented by the House of Representatives, in February, 1868, Senator Trumbull, as one of the Grand Inquest of the nation, before whom the alleged culprit was to be tried, maintained from the first a marked reticence, and though often importuned in regard to his future action gave such vague and mysterious responses that he was claimed by both sides. That the President had been guilty of a violation of the spirit of the Constitution and laws, very few doubted; and probably Senator Trumbull was not one of the few who had any doubts on this point. But there was more
difficulty in proving him guilty technically of the letter of the law; and Mr. Trumbull at first, perhaps, undecided on this point, at length voted in the President's favor, greatly to the chagrin of many of his party associates. That he did this simply on legal grounds, and not from any wrong or corrupt motive, was patent to every one who knew his purity of character, and his uniform integrity and high moral principle. Yet it brought down upon him at the time a storm of indignation, which resulted in a partial alienation of feeling for years.
Senator Trumbull has the reputation of being cold and wanting in sympathy; but those who know him best say that under I somewhat impassive and frigid exterior there beats a very warm and loving heart, one of strong sympathies and passions.
He is a man of highly cultivated intellect and a decidedly Judicial cast of mind. His dignity of manner and his great attainments as a jurist eminently fit him for a prominent position in our highest judicial tribunal.
Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872
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