Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth Ends the Quasi-War

Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth Ends the Quasi-War

Oliver Ellsworth was unbelievably important to the founding of the United States.

Ellsworth was an original Senator and third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

This is the second day of our discussions regarding Oliver Ellsworth. If you did not read about the first half of his life you can do so here.


We left Oliver Ellsworth yesterday after he created the Judiciary Act of 1790 which organized the basis for the Federal Judiciary system the United States uses today.

Ellsworth sponsored the Judiciary Act in the Senate, after which it was sent down to the House of Representatives for approval. Longtime associate James Madison motioned to vote on this Act in the House and it was passed.

In return, when Madison’s Bill of Rights were accepted by House of Representatives, it was Oliver Ellsworth who brought it to the Senate. After Oliver’s motion was approved, the Bill of Rights were ingrained into American law.

During this time, the Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties became established. Ellsworth became solidly Federalist and, as such, became Alexander Hamilton’s primary ally in the Senate. He played an important role in passing the famous financial plans in which the Federal Government assumed the State debts and established a national bank.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Oliver Ellsworth resigned his position in the Senate when he was nominated and approved as third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (technically his predecessor, John Rutledge, was only an interim Chief Justice, making Oliver the second approved person in that office).

He also received eleven electoral votes for President in 1796. While this might not sound like a lot, it put him in sixth place, only behind winner John Adams, his new VP Thomas Jefferson, their respective running mates Thomas Pinckney and Aaron Burr, and perpetual fan-favorite Samuel Adams.

Ellsworth sat as Chief Justice for five years. Though no major cases took place under his watch, he did oversee the first resolution of an inter-State dispute.

Oliver’s most notable contribution as Chief Justice was the change in the way decisions were reported. Before Ellsworth, each Supreme Court Justice wrote their own opinions of the case. Oliver made that change which still remains today: that the Court as a whole submits one decision.

Envoy Extraordinary

While still Chief Justice, Ellsworth was appointed by President Adams as Envoy Extraordinary to the Court of France.

His mission, with two other Ambassadors, was to put an end to the Quasi-War with France. The negotiations took almost two years and, although unpopular through the United States, managed to hold off all-out war.

The Convention of 1800, as it became known, ended the Treaty of Alliance signed with France during the Revolutionary War and permitted the Americans to trade freely without concern about European Wars.

Essentially, it was a peace treaty and ended the war that ‘never was.’

Upon his return stateside, Ellsworth resigned as Chief Justice. He’d been growing sick over the years and suffered excruciating pain. He was replaced by John Marshall and spent his remaining years in ‘retirement’ serving as an adviser to Connecticut’s Governor.

Follow this site to read about another Founder tomorrow!

Until then, check out another Founder who was representing the US in Europe around this time:

Francis Dana and the League of Armed Neutrality

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William Short - Jefferson’s First Disciple

Want to read a great book about the early years of the United States’ Judicial Branch?

‘The Creation of American Law’ does a great job of discussing the early days of the American judicial system and Ellsworth’s role in it.

Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same) but be warned, it is very rare and therefore expensive.

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