April 29: The Man Who Saved the Constitution & Designed the U.S. Supreme Court


Oliver Ellsworth, who played a critical role in drafting both the U.S. Constitution and designing the federal court system and U.S. Supreme Court, was born today in 1745 in Windsor. A graduate of the College of New Jersey (modern-day Princeton), Ellsworth served as Connecticut state attorney for Hartford County. In 1777, he was elected to the Continental Congress, where he served throughout the Revolutionary War.

As a Connecticut delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, Ellsworth played an especially active and crucial role. When the convention nearly foundered after being unable to agree on how states should be represented in the proposed federal Congress, he and fellow Connecticut representative Roger Sherman saved the day, and the Constitution itself. They crafted the “Connecticut Compromise” (or “Great Compromise”) that established the bicameral model for the U.S. legislative branch, featuring proportional representation in the House of Representatives and equal representation among all states in the Senate. This protected the interests of both small and big states, and made a working national government possible.

A miniature of Oliver Ellsworth painted by John Trumbull.

After the Constitution was ratified, Ellsworth was elected one of Connecticut’s first U.S. senators, and served from 1789 to 1796. As senator, Ellsworth drafted and engineered passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789. It formed the federal court system – including the U. S. Supreme Court – whose functions Article III of the U.S. Constitution had only vaguely outlined. In 1796, Ellsworth was nominated by President George Washington to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he served with distinction for four years until ill health forced him to retire.

Ellsworth returned to his stately home in Windsor, where he died in 1807. His role in crafting the federal court system, coupled with the precedents he set as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, have earned Ellsworth lasting fame as the “Founding Father of the Supreme Court.” One of our nation’s most influential politicians and jurists, born today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

The most underrated Founding Father: Oliver Ellsworth?” National Consitution Center

Creating CT Banner Ad 2 Click on image to order via amazon.com

THE HISTORY TRIVIA CHALLENGE IS BACK ONLINE!  Thank you for your patience! Sorry you had to wait –– Hope you win!

Tom Thumb FB AD