The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: William R. Wheeler (after Ralph Earl))
Oliver Ellsworth was born and raised in Connecticut. He attended Yale College but left after two years to complete his studies at Princeton. He prepared to enter the ministry but then switched to the study of law. Ellsworth eked out an existence as a farmer while nurturing his legal practice. (In his later years, Ellsworth wrote a newspaper column on farming advice.) His practice grew as did his income.
Ellsworth held elective office in Connecticut and was later elected to represent the state at the Constitutional Convention in Philadephia. He was the co-author of the Great Compromise that offered an acceptable representation formula for small and large states. He did not sign the document, however, because he left to attend to business in Connecticut.
Ellsworth was elected senator and played a vital role in the Congress as principal author of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which spelled out the structure and function of the national judiciary.
President George Washington appointed Ellsworth to the position of chief justice. Ellsworth resigned after three years with little to have shown for his efforts. Perhaps Ellsworth's most lasting contribution while on the Court was a reduction in the practice of each justice authoring a separate seriatim opinion. Ellsworth encouraged the use of a single opinion representing the consensus of the justices. Marshall elaborated on the single-opinion concept and it later became associated with his tenure as chief justice.