Oliver Ellsworth (April 29, 1745 - November 26, 1807)

Oliver EllsworthOliver Ellsworth, an American lawyer and politician, was a revolutionary against British rule, a drafter of the United States Constitution, and third Chief Justice of the United States. On June 20, 1787, while at the Federal Convention, Ellsworth moved to strike the word National from the May 30, 1787 motion made by Edmund Randolph of Virginia, that called for the government to be called a National Government of United States. Ellsworth moved that the government continue to be called the United States Government.

Oliver Ellsworth was born in Windsor, Connecticut, to Capt. David and Jemima Leavitt Ellsworth. He entered Yale in 1762, but transferred to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) at the end of his second year. He continued to study theology and received his A.B. degree after 2 years. Soon afterward, however, Ellsworth turned to the law. After four years of study, he was admitted to the bar in 1771 and later became a successful lawyer.

On May 28, 1787, Ellsworth joined the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate from Connecticut along with Roger Sherman and William Samuel Johnson. More than half of the 55 delegates were lawyers, eight of whom, including both Ellsworth and Sherman, had previous experience as judges conversant with legal discourse. Ellsworth in particular played an important role in having participated in the exclusion of judicial review from the Constitution at the Convention and later in having put it into force in the 1789 Judiciary Act.

In the spring of 1796, Ellsworth was appointed Chief Justice of the United States, but his contribution was brief and deservedly overshadowed by the accomplishments of his successor, John Marshall, who succeeded him in 1800.¹

Oliver Ellsworth Quotes

"Liberty is a word which, according as it is used, comprehends the most good and the most evil of any in the world. Justly understood it is sacred next to those which we appropriate in divine adoration; but in the mouths of some it means anything, which enervate a necessary government; excite a jealousy of the rulers who are our own choice, and keep society in confusion for want of a power sufficiently concentered to promote good."
"All good men wish the entire abolition of slavery, as soon as it can take place with safety to the public, and for the lasting good of the present wretched race of slaves. The only possible step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix a period after which they should not be imported."

"The Thirteen States are Thirteen Sovereign bodies."

"The powers of congress must be defined, but their means must be adequate to the purposes of their constitution. It is possible there may be abuses and misapplications; still, it is better to hazard something than to hazard at all."

"Legislatures have no right to set up an inquisition and examine into the private opinions of men. Test-laws are useless and ineffectual, unjust and tyrannical."

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