Connecticut Native Instrumental in Passage of the 13th Amendment

Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, co-author of the 13th Amendment, was born, raised, and educated in Colchester.


Last week marked the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. As noted in last week's column, Lincoln issued the proclamation following the Union's costly victory at Antietam in September of 1862.

The proclamation was to take effect on Jan.  1, 1863. However, its issuance did exact a political price in the Congressional elections of 1862, as it cost Lincoln's Republican party 28 seats in the House of Representatives. This loss of Republican influence in the House would make passage of the 13th Amendment — which outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude — in the House very difficult, as Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln dramatizes so well.

Passage of the 13th Amendment in the Senate, however, was much easier. In fact, Sen. John B. Henderson of Missouri submitted a bill on Jan. 11, 1864 — 149 years ago this week — for a constitutional amendment banning slavery. That a Missouri senator would propose such an amendment is interesting, as Missouri was still a slave-holding border state, even though it was part of the Union during the war. Furthermore, Henderson was also a Democrat, but he was a 'War Democrat' who shared many of the goals of Lincoln's Republican party. Henderson's colleague from Illinois, Connecticut native  Sen. Lyman Trumbull, was given the task of drafting the amendment.

Lyman Trumbull was born on Oct. 12, 1813, in Colchester, CT. Trumbull spent his formative years in Colchester and was a graduate of Bacon Academy. In his early 20's, Trumbull moved to Georgia where he taught school and later studied law. After being admitted to the bar, Trumbull moved to Belleville, IL, where he joined his brother, George, in a law practice. He soon entered the political arena and became a state legislator before being named Secretary of State for Illinois. He then was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court before being appointed a senator from Illinois in 1854. He would serve in the Senate first as a Democrat, then as a Republican and, finally, as a Democrat again for 18 years.

Abraham Lincoln defended Trumbull in a lawsuit in 1846; furthermore, Mary Todd Lincoln was a bridesmaid for Trumbull's first wife, Julia Maria Jayne. The initially close relationship, however, between the Lincolns and the Trumbulls became strained during the 1850s and 1860s for a variety of reasons — some political and some personal.

One reason for a strain in their relationship centered around Trumbull's much more aggressive stance toward abolition. Whereas Lincoln was more cautious about freeing the slaves, believing political timing was everything, Trumbull pushed incessantly for abolition and grew impatient with Lincoln. Both, however, shared the belief that a constitutional amendment to end slavery was necessary, as the Emancipation Proclamation did not affect the condition of nearly a million slaves not located in the South; additionally, the proclamation was seen by many as a temporary wartime measure and not a permanent legal solution to slavery.

A member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, Lyman Trumbull was largely responsible for drafting the language of the 13th Amendment. The amendment — the first amendment to the Constitution in over 60 years — sailed through the Senate on April 8, 1864, by a vote of 38-6.

Passage in the House was much more difficult and became a major test of Lincoln's political acumen and legislative maneuvering. The vote there was 119-56, just meeting the necessary standard for adopting an amendment with 2/3rds of the vote. One of the Connecticut congressmen voting for the amendment was Henry Champion Deming (1815-1872) who, like Lyman Trumbull, was born and raised in Colchester and was a graduate of Bacon Academy!

Senator Trumbull lost his first wife, Julia, in 1858. He subsequently married Mary Jane Ingraham of Old Saybrook, who was 30 years younger than he. Trumbull later voted against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson on May 16, 1868. After leaving the Senate, he resumed a law practice in Illinois for many years. He died on June 25, 1896, at age 82 of cancer, his legacy secured by being one of two Colchester, CT, natives who voted for the abolition of slavery by supporting the 13th Amendment.


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