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CONNECTICUT

oliver ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807)
Connecticut

Image: Independence National Historical Park

I. EARLY LIFE

Oliver Ellsworth was born on April 29, 1745, in Windsor, CT, to Captain David and Jemima Ellsworth. He entered Yale in 1762, transferring to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) after his second year. He studied theology, then turned to law. Ellsworth was admitted to the bar in 1771 and married Abigail Wolcott a year later.

Ellsworth's law practice had a very slow start -- so much so that he had to supplement his workby farming and chopping wood. Too poor to own a horse, Ellsorth had to walk ten miles to and from his farm in Hartford to the court in which he practiced. Eventually, though, he built up a prosperous law practice. His reputation as an able and industrious jurist grew, and in 1777 Ellsworth became Connecticut's State Attorney for Hartford County. That year he was also chosen as a representative to the Continental Congress. He served six annual terms there, ending in 1783.

Ellsworth also played a role in his state's efforts during the Revolution. As a member of the Committee of the Pay Table, he was one of five men supervising Connecticut's war expenditures. In 1779 Ellsworth assumed additional duties as a member of the Council of Safety, which, with the governor, controlled all military measures for the state.

II. CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, Ellsworth once again represented Connecticut and took an active part in the proceedings there. During a debate on the Great Compromise, Ellsworth, together with Roger Sherman,proposed a mechanism to resolve the conflict between the smaller and larger states over representation in the legislative branch of the government. Ellsworth urged thatrepresentation remain by state, as under the Articles of Confederation, rather than by population. His proposal, known as the Connecticut Compromise, provided for the establishment of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as they exist today.

Ellsworth left a lasting mark by changing the word "national" to "United States" in a resolution that would make "United States" the words used in the convention, and eventually the Constitution, to designate the government.

Ellsworth also served on the Committee of Five, which prepared the first draft of the Constitution. Though he left the Convention near the end of August and did not sign the final document, Ellsworth urged its adoption upon his return to Connecticut and wrote the Letters of a Landholder to promote its ratification.

III. GOVERNMENT OFFICES

Ellsworth served as one of Connecticut's first two senators in the new federal government between 1789 and 1796. In the Senate he chaired the committee responsible for structuring the federal judiciary, which is today still organized as he conceived it. Ellsworth's other achievements in Congress included framing the measure admitting North Carolina to the Union; devising the Non-Intercourse Act forcing Rhode Island to join; drawing up the bill regulating the consular service, and serving on the committee that considered Alexander Hamilton's plan for funding the national debt and incorporating the Bank of the United States.

In the spring of 1796, George Washington appointed Ellsworth the third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He served in that role until 1799 at which time John Adams appointed him as commissioner to France, where he negotiated a trade agreement with Napoleon. Upon his return to America in early 1801, Ellsworth retired from public life and lived in Windsor, CT until his death on November 26, 1807.

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william samuel johnson

William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819)
Connecticut

Image: The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

I. EARLY LIFE

William Samuel Johnson was the son of Samuel Johnson, a respected Anglican clergyman and philosopher as well as the first president of King's College (later Columbia). Johnson was born in Stratford, CT, in 1727. He graduated from Yale in 1744 and earned a Master of Arts degree there in 1747, as well as an honorary Master's degree from Harvard. Despite his father's wish that he become a minister, Johnson turned to the law, largely without the benefit of formal training. After being admitted to the bar, Johnson launched a practice in Stratford, representing clients from nearby New York State as well as Connecticut. At the bar he was known as an eminently graceful speaker and able advocate. In 1749, augmenting his already substantial wealth, Johnson married Anne Beach, the daughter of a local businessman. They were to have five daughters and six sons together, although many did not survive to adulthood.

Johnson did not shirk the civic responsibilities that came with his station. In the 1750s he launched his public career as a Connecticut militia officer. In 1761 and 1765 he served in the lower house of the colonial assembly. In 1766 and 1771 he was elected to the upper house. He later served as a judge of the Connecticut colonial Supreme Court.

As the Revolution began, Johnson found himself torn between deeply conflicting loyalties. Although he attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765; moderately opposed the Townshend Duties of 1767; and believed the majority of the British policies to be unwise, Johnson nevertheless retained strong transatlantic ties and found it difficult to ally himself against Britain. Johnson had close friends in England. He had been sent there in 1766 by the legislature of Connecticut to argue a great land cause before the Royal Council. He had remained there until 1771, during which time the University of Oxford conferred upon him a doctoral degree in civil law, and he was elected a member of the Royal Society. Johnson was also strongly affiliated with the Anglican Church, and was friendly with men such as Jared Ingersoll, Sr., who represented the British administration.

II. CONTINENTAL CONGRESS AND CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

Johnson finally elected to work for peace between Britain and the colonies and to oppose the extremist Whig faction. On that basis, he refused to participate in the First Continental Congress, to which he was elected in 1774. When hostilities broke out, he confined his activities to peacemaking efforts. In April 1775, Connecticut sent him to speak to British Gen. Thomas Gage about ending the bloodshed. But the time for negotiations had passed. Johnson fell out of favor with radical patriot elements who controlled the Connecticut government. He was arrested in 1779 on charges of communicating with the enemy, but managed to clear himself. Once the passions of war had ebbed, Johnson resumed his political career. In the Continental Congress (1785-87), he was one of the most influential and popular delegates. Playing a major role in the Constitutional Convention, he never missed a session after his arrival. Johnson espoused the Connecticut Compromise, and chaired the Committee of Style, which shaped the final Constitution. He also worked for ratification in Connecticut.

III. GOVERNMENT OFFICES

Johnson took part in the new U.S. Senate where he contributed to the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789. In 1791, the year after the government moved from New York to Philadelphia, Johnson resigned to devote all his energies to the presidency of Columbia College in New York City. During these years, he improved the school's reputation and recruited a fine faculty. Johnson retired from the college in 1800, a few years after his wife died, and wed Mary Brewster Beach, a relative of his first wife. They resided at his birthplace in Stratford until his death there in 1819 at the age of 92.

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roger sherman

Roger Sherman (1721-1793)
Connecticut

Image: The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

I. EARLY LIFE

Roger Sherman was born in 1721 in Newton, MA, but his family relocated to Dorchester (now Stoughton) when he was two. As a boy, Sherman studied and read widely to supplement the minimal education he received at a common school. He had little spare time, however, as most of his waking hours went to helping his father with farming chores and his cobbler's trade. In 1743, 2 years after his father's death, Sherman joined an elder brother who had settled in New Milford, CT.

Purchasing his own store, Sherman prospered and became a county surveyor, won a variety of town offices, and assumed a leadership role in the community. In 1749 he married Elizabeth Hartwell, with whom he had seven children. Without benefit of a formal legal education, Sherman wasadmitted to the bar in 1754 and embarked upon a distinguished judicial and political career. From 1755 to 1761, he served as a representative in the colonial legislature and held theoffices of justice of the peace and county judge. He also found the time to publish an essayon monetary theory as well as a series of almanacs incorporating his own astronomicalobservations and verse.

In 1761, Sherman abandoned his law practice, and moved to New Haven, CT. There, he managed twostores, one of which catered to Yale students, the other in nearby Wallingford. He became afriend and benefactor of Yale College, serving for many years as its treasurer. In 1763, three years after the death of his first wife, he wed Rebecca Prescott, who bore him eight more children.

Meanwhile, Sherman's political career blossomed. He managed to hold positions in all three branches of the Connecticut government (legislative, executive, and judicial). He rose from justice of the peace and county judge to an associate judge of the Connecticut Superior Court. He was a representative in both houses of the colonial assembly. Although politically conservative and opposed to extremism, he promptly joined the fight against Britain. Hesupported nonimportation measures and headed the New Haven committee of correspondence (organizations promoting intercolonial communication).

II. CONTINENTAL CONGRESS AND CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

Sherman was a longtime and influential member of the Continental Congress. He won membership on the committees that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation,as well as those concerned with Indian affairs, national finances, and military matters. To solve economic problems, at both national and state levels, he advocated higher taxes as opposed to excessive borrowing or the issuance of paper currency.

While in Congress, Sherman remained active in state and local politics, continuing to hold theoffice of judge on the Connecticut Superior Court, as well as membership on the Council of Safety from 1777 to 1779. In 1783 Sherman helped codify Connecticut's statutory laws. The next year, he was elected mayor of New Haven.

Although on the edge of insolvency, mainly as a result of wartime losses, Sherman could not resist the lure of national service. In 1787 he represented his state at the ConstitutionalConvention, attending virtually every session. Not known as a gifted speaker, Sherman spoke 138 times at the Constitutional Convention. Only James Madison, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris spoke more often. Sherman was the second oldest delegate behind 81 year old Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson once remarked, "There is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut,who never said a foolish thing in his life." Sherman not only sat on the Committee on PostponedMatters, but likely also helped draft the New Jersey Plan. Moreover, he was one of theforces, along with Olliver Ellsworth, behind the Connecticut, or Great, Compromise, which broke the deadlock between the large and small states over the issue of representation in the legislative branch. Sherman was also instrumental in Connecticut's ratification of the Constitution.

Sherman concluded his career by serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1791 and the U.S. Senate from 1791 to 1793, where he espoused the Federalist cause. He also supportedAlexander Hamilton's financial program of assumption of state debts, the establishment of a national bank, and enactment of a tariff to help the young nation stabilize its economy. He died in New Haven in 1793 at the age of 72, having fathered 15 children. He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery.

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