When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadclpliia in 1787, Oliver Ellsworth arrived as one of three Connecticut delegates. In this capacity he helped negotiate the compromise that forged a union of both small and large states by creating a bicameral legislature that partially protected the interests of each. The House of Representatives favored the populous states, because their populations would guarantee them proportionately greater representation in the chamber. The Senate protected the interests of less populous states by giving them an equal voice there. Ellsworth is also credited with suggesting the title for the framework of government as “the government of the United States.” After making these important contributions, though, Ellsworth’s responsibilities in Connecticut forced him to leave the Constitutional Convention early and thus prevented him from signing the proposed Constitution.
Upon his return to Connecticut, Ellsworth labored vigorously for ratification of the Constitution, and when his state joined the others in the new union, it promptly selected Ellsworth as one of its first senators. He served in the U.S. Senate until 1796 and commanded such respect among the other legislators that Aaron Burr is said to have suggested that “If Ellsworth had happened to spell the name of the Deity with two d’s, it would have taken the Senate three weeks to expunge the superfluous letter.” While in the Senate, Ellsworth’s most important legislative contribution was drafting, along with future Supreme Court justice William Paterson, the Judiciary Act of 1789, signed into law by President George Washington on September 24, 1789. This seminal act established the structure of the federal court system, providing for the Supreme Court to consist of a chief justice and five associate justices and creating 13 district and three circuit courts. The first nine sections of the act arc written in William Paterson’s hand, while tire remaining sections—10 through 23— are in Ellsworth’s.
Immediately after the Judiciary Act became law, President Washington nominated John Jay to serve as the Court’s first chief justice. Jay served in this post for six years but resigned in 1795 after being elected governor of New York. Washington sought first to elevate Associate Justice John Rudedge to replace Jay as chief justice, but although Rutledge served temporarily in the position for a few months, the Senate ultimately refused to confirm his appointment. Washington then approached Associate Justice William Cushing to accept the chief seat, but Cushing refused the nomination. Finally, die president nominated Oliver Ellsworth to become chief justice of the Court. The Senate confirmed the appointment die following day, and a few days later Ellsworth took the oath of office.
Party affiliation: Federalist Party