Born: Lebanon; March 26, 1740 Died: Lebanon, August 7, 1809
Trumbull. the second son of Jonathan Trumbull. Sr., Connecticut’s famed Revolutionary War governor, attended Tisdale’s school in Lebanon and graduated in 1759 from Harvard where he ranked first socially and gave the salutatory address and the valedictory address for his M.A. Earlier in 1759 he joined his father and brother Joseph in a partnership and in 1767 took over the operation of his father’s store, which he and his brother David ran from 1784 to 1789.
He carried on the family’s tradition of public service beginning with town and colony offices: lister, grand juror, surveyor of highways, justice of the peace, and selectman. In 1774 he was elected deputy-the first of seven terms representing Lebanon. Prior to the Revolution he served on Lebanon’s committees of correspondence and safety. Like his father he displayed remarkable tenacity, industry, and efficiency in whatever position he held.
With the outbreak of war, Congress in 1775 appointed him paymaster for the New York Department, with the rank of colonel. After he resigned in 1778, Congress appointed him the first comptroller of the treasury, but he served for only six months.From June 1781 to August 1783 he served as military secretary for General Washington, who became a steadfast and intimate friend. This service with Washington enabled him to witness and participate in the British surrender at Yorktown.
After the war he was a charter member and secretary of the Connecticut Society of the Cincinnati which engendered charges of exclusivism. This, plus his support for commutation and his nationalist views put him in disfavor with his fellow townsmen who denied him election to public office until 1788 when he was elected to the first of four terms in the Federal House of Representatives, resigning in 1794 to take a seat as United States senator. Elected Connecticut’s lieutenant governor in 1796, in 1798 he was elected governor, a position he held until his death in 1809.
As governor, expounding ultraconservative Federalist principles, he had the difficult task of guiding Connecticut through a turbulent period. Like most ardent Federalists, he viewed revolutionary France as a grave threat. In October 1798 he warned legislators that “an intimate connection with a nation of infidels and atheists … is to be avoided as the worst of evils.” Obviously, he wanted no changes in Connecticut’s political and religious organizations. Beginning in 1800 the Jeffersonian Republicans ran a gubernatorial candidate against him each year, but he always won.
An uncompromising exponent of Federalism, he clearly perceived that Connecticut’s well-being was contingent on a strong union which would provide economic expansion and prevent another disastrous war. His intensely conservative policies as governor, enhancing the social, intellectual, and moral good of the people, provided the type of leadership preferred by most of Connecticut’s voters.
For Further Reading: Ifkovic, John W. Connecticut’s Nationalist Revolutionary: Jonathan Trumbull. Junior. Hartford, 1977.
Purcell, Richard J. Connecticut in Transition: 1775-1818. Middletown, Connecticut, 1963. See especially pp. 113-180.