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member of the Continental Congress, U.S. Senator, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Oliver Ellsworth was born at Windsor, Connecticut, on April 29, 1745. He studied at Yale and Princeton, graduating from the latter in 1766, studied theology for a year, then law, and began to practice at Hartford in 1771.
Ellsworth represented the town of Windsor in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1773 to 1775; he returned to the Assembly in 1779, this time representing Hartford. He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1773 to 1775, a member of the Governor's Council of Connecticut from 1780 to 1785, and a Judge of the State Superior Court from 1785 to 1789.
In 1787, with Roger Sherman and William Samuel Johnson, Ellsworth was one of Connecticut's delegates to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. When disagreement seemed inevitable on the question of representation, he and Roger Sherman proposed what is known as the "Connecticut Compromise," by which the federal legislature was made to consist of two houses, the upper having equal representation from each state, the lower being chosen on the basis of population.
As one of the first two Senators from Connecticut (1789 to 1796), Ellsworth was chairman of the committee that organized the federal judiciary. He was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President George Washington in March 1796, replacing John Jay, who had resigned. In 1799, while on the court, he was sent by President John Adams to France with a commission (which included William Vans Murray and William R. Davie) to negotiate an end to the undeclared naval war with that nation. It was largely through the influence of Ellsworth, who took the principal part in the negotiations, that Napoleon consented to a convention, on September 30, 1800, which provided for freedom of commerce between the two nations.
The journey to France had an ill effect on Ellsworth's health, and he was forced to resign as Chief Justice in 1800. He died in Windsor on November 27, 1807.
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This page was last updated on June 25, 2017.