Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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ELLSWORTH, Oliver, jurist, born in Windsor, Colin., 29 April 1745; died there, 26 November 1807. He entered Yale in 1762, but afterward went to Princeton, where he was graduated in 1766. with high rank as a scholar. After a year's study of theology he abandoned it for the law, and was admitted to the bar of Hartford County in 1771. He married in the following year, and for three years divided his attention between farming and practice. Becoming states' attorney in 1775, he sold his farm, removed to Hartford, and soon acquired a larger and more remunerative practice than any other member of the Connecticut bar. As a Whig he was chosen, at the outbreak of the Revolution, to represent Windsor in the general assembly, was one of the committee of four, called "the Paytable," that managed all the military finances of the colony, and in October 1778, took his seat as a delegate to the Continental congress, where he served on the marine committee (acting as a board of admiralty) and the committee of appeals. By yearly election, from 1780 till 1784, he was a member of the governor's council, in which he held unrivalled influence, and in June 1783, left his seat in congress and, although reelected, declined to serve.
In 1784 he declined the appointment of commissioner of the treasury, tendered by congress, but accepted a legislative assignment as judge of the Connecticut superior court, which he held until made a member of the Federal convention at Philadelphia in May 1787. Here he was conspicuous in advocacy of the rights of the individual states, and it was on his motion that the words "National government" were expunged from the constitution and the words "Government of the United States" substituted. His name was not affixed to that document, because pressing domestic considerations compelled his return home as soon as all of the provisions of the constitution had been completed; but his force and energy were successful the next year in securing its ratification, against much opposition, in the Connecticut state convention.
When the new government was organized at New York in 1789, he was one of the senators from Connecticut, and was chairman of the committee for organizing the U. S. judiciary, the original bill, in his own handwriting, passing with but slight alterations, and its provisions being still in force. His watchfulness over the public expenditures earned for him the title of "the Cerberus of the Treasury," and his abilities were strenuously exercised in building up the financial credit of the government, and for the encouragement and protection of manufactures. John Adams spoke of him as "the finest pillar of Washington's whole administration," and he was, by common consent, the Federalist leader in the senate.
He suggested the mission of John Jay to England in 1794, and by his influence Jay's treaty, though strenuously opposed in the House of Representatives, was defended and approved by the senate. In March 1796, he was appointed chief justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, and served with distinguished ability till 1799, when President Adams, on the recommendation of the senate, appointed him, with Patrick Henry and Governor William R. Davie, an extraordinary commission to negotiate with France, the relations between which nation and the United States were then severely strained. On reaching Paris, 2 March 1800, they found Napoleon Bonaparte at the head of the new republic, and soon concluded a satisfactory adjustment of all disputes.
The negotiations and discussions were conducted almost exclusively by Judge Ellsworth, and secured all the points most essential to the securing of peace, including a recognition from France of the rights of neutral vessels, and an indemnity for depredations on American commerce. Ill health preventing his immediate return, Mr. Ellsworth sent home his resignation as chief justice and visited England, where, while trying the mineral springs at Bath and elsewhere, he became the recipient of marked attention from the court and from leading public men, as well as from the English bench and bar. After his return to his home in April 1801, his impaired health decided him to remain free from the cares of public life, but in 1802 he was again elected a member of the governor's council, which acted as a Supreme Court of errors, being the final court of appeals in Connecticut from all inferior courts of state jurisdiction.
In May 1807, on a reorganization of the state judiciary, he was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, but failing health compelled his resignation within a few months, and he died soon afterward. His extraordinary endowments, accomplishments as an advocate, integrity as a judge, patriotism as a legislator and ambassador, and sincerity as a Christian, were fitly complemented by a fine personal presence and by manners at once plain, unaffected, and social, yet tinctured with a courtliness and dignity which impressed all with whom he came in contact. In 1790 Yale, and in 1797 both Dartmouth and Princeton conferred on him the degree of LB. D.
His son, Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, commissioner of patents, born in Windsor, Connecticut, 10 November 1791 ; died in Fairhaven, Connecticut, 2'7 December 1858, was graduated at Yale in 1810. After studying law under Judge Gould, at Litchfield, Connecticut, he settled first at Windsor and then at Hartford, where he remained eight or ten years. At the close of this period he accepted a government appointment, and went as resident commissioner among the Indian tribes to the south and west of Arkansas. >From July 1836, till May 1848, he was U. S. commissioner of patents. His reports, especially those on the science of agriculture, were much prized. He afterward settled for a time as a land agent in Lafayette, Indiana, but in 1857 returned to his native state and settled at Fairhaven. He published" Digest of Patents from 1770 to 1839" (1840).
Henry Leavitt's twin brother, William Wolcott Ellsworth, jurist, born in Windsor, Connecticut, 10 November 1791 ; died in Hartford, 15 January 1868, was graduated at Yale in 1810, studied law in Litchfield and Hartford, and was admitted to the bar in 1813. In the same year he married Emily, eldest daughter of Noah Webster, and established a successful practice in Hartford. In 1817, when his brother-in-law, Judge Williams, then the foremost lawyer at the Hartford bar, was elected to congress, he made Mr. Ellsworth his partner. In 1827 Mr. Ellsworth became professor of law in Trinity College, and held this office till his death. In 1829 he was elected to congress as a Whig, and served till 1834, when he resigned and returned to the practice of his profession. During his congressional service he was a member of the judiciary committee, and in this capacity took an active part in preparing and reporting measures to carry into effect President Jackson's proclamation against nullification. He prepared and reported for the committee the present law of copyright, after exhaustive and comparative research into the laws of the United States and other countries.
He was also one of the committee to investigate the U. S. bank at Philadelphia. In 1838 he was chosen governor of Connecticut, and reelected the three following years, during which period he twice declined an election to the U. S. Senate. In 1847 he was elected by the legislature a judge of the superior court and of the Supreme Court of errors, and remained on the bench till he reached the age of seventy, when his term expired by limitation. He received the degree of LL.D. from the University of New York in 1838. An oration delivered at his funeral by George A. Gould was published (Hartford, 1868). Henry Leavitt's son, Henry William, lawyer and author, born in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1814; died in New Haven in August 1864, was graduated at Yale in 1834, studied in the Law School, and removed to Indiana in 1835. He was charg5 d'affaires to Sweden, 1845'50, and after this counsel for Samuel F. B. Morse in suits connected with his telegraph patents. He was author of "Sketches of the Upper Wabash Valley, Indiana" (New York, 1838), and "American Swine Breeder" (1840), and was a contributor to the "Knickerbocker Magazine."
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