By Philip R. Devlin
The country celebrated the 204th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth this week. Lincoln has been much in the news lately, with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation last month and with the widespread popularity of Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated movie named after the 16th president.
Additionally, controversy now swirls around the inaccuracy of the votes cast by Connecticut’s congressional delegation in the movie — a fact that prompted Congressman Joe Courtney to write a protest letter to director Steven Spielberg.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862 following the Battle of Antietam. Its issuance did exact a political price in the Congressional elections of 1862, as it cost his party 28 seats in the House of Representatives. This loss of Republican influence in the House would make passage of the 13th Amendment there 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, 1863, for a constitutional amendment banning slavery. 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 and then to Belleville, IL. He soon entered the political arena and became a state legislator, a judge, and then a senator from Illinois in 1854.
A member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, Connecticut native Lyman Trumbull was largely responsible for drafting the language of the 13th Amendment. The amendment sailed through the Senate on April 8, 1864, by a vote of 38-6.
In addition to Lyman Trumbull, three other men in the Senate with strong Connecticut ties also voted for the 13th Amendment.
One of those men was a senator from New York named Edwin Denison Morgan. Morgan spent most of his formative years in Windsor, CT, later moving to Hartford. A successful grocer in Hartford by trade, Morgan then moved to New York City in 1836 and actively entered politics in 1850.
Morgan became the first national chair of the Republican Party in 1854, serving longer in that capacity (12 years) than anyone else in history. He also became governor of New York in 1859. He then served as a Major General in the Civil War from 1861-1863. Following his military service, Morgan was elected to the Senate, where he served one full term from 1863-1869.
It was in this capacity as senator from New York that Edwin Morgan voted for the 13th Amendment. Known as a generous man, Edwin Morgan died 130 years ago this week on Valentine’s Day in New York City. A cousin of Connecticut Gov. Morgan G. Bulkeley, Edwin Morgan lies buried in Hartford in the Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Another notable senator who is buried in Hartford’s Cedar Hill Cemetery is Sen. James Dixon of Enfield, CT. Born in Enfield in 1814, James Dixon was a graduate of Williams College. Beginning in 1837, Dixon served in the Connecticut House sporadically and became Speaker of the House there during his first term!
Eventually, Dixon was elected to the United States Senate in 1856. He served two terms in that capacity as a Republican. During his second term, Dixon was one of 38 senators who voted for the 13th Amendment on April 8, 1864. Although appointed to serve as minister to Russia in 1869, Dixon declined in favor of pursuing literary interests until his death at age 58 on March 27, 1873.
Connecticut Senator Lafayette S. Foster (1806-1880) was born in Franklin, CT. He graduated from Brown University in 1828, taught school in Providence for a while, and then began the study of law. Settling in Norwich, Foster represented that city in the Connecticut House for over 15 years and was eventually elected Speaker of the House.
Additionally, Foster was the mayor of Norwich before being elected a senator. He represented Connecticut in the Senate for two full terms from 1854-1867; in fact, he was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate during the 39th Congress. It was during the 39th Congress that Senator Foster voted for the 13th Amendment. Following his career in the Senate, Foster taught law at Yale before becoming a state rep again. He was then appointed to the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1870, where he served with distinction until his retirement in 1876. Few people in Connecticut history can match the public service record of Lafayette S. Foster. Foster died in 1880 at age 74 and is buried in the Yantic Cemetery in Norwich.
Next week, in addition to examining the four Congressmen from Connecticut who voted for the 13th Amendment, we will also see how a Haddam native from Iowa and a Southington native from Michigan also cast critically important votes to put an end to slavery.