A U.S. senator from Connecticut and third chief justice of the United States, Oliver Ellsworth was described by a contemporary as "tall, dignified, and commanding."  Born in Windsor, Connecticut, Ellsworth was educated at Yale and Princeton. He practiced law, served as a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court, and was politically active during the Revolutionary War. For six years he represented Connecticut in the Continental Congress. Later, as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he helped shape the Connecticut Compromise, which assured each state equal representation in the Senate and population-based representation in the House of Representatives.
After ratification of the Constitution, Ellsworth was elected to the first United States Senate; he served from 1789 to 1796. A wise figure whose authority in the Senate was said to surpass even that of Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, Ellsworth reported the first set of Senate rules and drafted the bill organizing the federal judiciary. John Adams considered Ellsworth the "firmest pillar" of Washington's administration.  When appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1796, Ellsworth resigned from the Senate.
In 1799 Ellsworth was named diplomatic commissioner to France, a temporary assignment that permitted him to continue his position with the Court. He was then sent abroad to negotiate a treaty with Napoleon Bonaparte. The demands of the trip apparently contributed to a breakdown in the chief justice's health. After completing his mission, Ellsworth wrote to President John Adams on October 16, 1800 to resign as chief justice. Returning to America the following spring, Ellsworth served on the Connecticut Governor's Council and later accepted–-but then declined–-the chief justiceship of the state supreme court. Semi-retired, Ellsworth remained in Connecticut where he died in 1807.
1. Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, vol. 1 (New Haven, CT: T. Dwight, 1821), 302.
2. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, vol. 10, edited by Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown, 1856), 112.