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Picture of Oliver Ellsworth


Delegate to the Constitutional Convention (Connecticut, did not sign due to absence)

Biographical Data
Religious Views
References, Links, & Further Reading

Education: Yale, College of New Jersey (Princeton)

Occupation: lawyer, Supreme Court Justice

Political Affiliation: Federalist

Religious Affiliation: Congregationalist

Summary of Religious Views:

Ellsworth took his degree in theology, but switched to law shortly after graduation. He was an active member of the Congregational First Church of Windsor.

Views on Religion & Politics:


"Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his conscience. If he be a good and peaceable person he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution.
But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe." -- Landholder, No. 7, 17 Dec. 1787

"A religious test is an act to be done, or profession to be made, relating to religion (such as partaking of the sacrament according to certain rites and forms, or declaring one's belief of certain doctrines,) for the purpose of determining whether his religious opinions are such, that he is admissable to a publick office. A test in favour of any one denomination of Christians would be to the last degree absurd in the United States. If it were in favour of either congregationalists, presbyterians, episcopalions, baptists, or quakers, it would incapacitate more than three-fourths of the American citizens for any publick office; and thus degrade them from the rank of freemen. There need no argument to prove that the majority of our citizens would never submit to this indignity." -- Landholder, No. 7, 17 Dec. 1787

"Civil government has no business to meddle with the private opinions of the people. If I demean myself as a good citizen, I am accountable, not to man, but to God, for the religious opinions which I embrace, and the manner in which I worship the supreme being. If such had been the universal sentiments of mankind, and they had acted accordingly, persecution, the bane of truth and nurse of error, with her bloody axe and flaming hand, would never have turned so great a part of the world into a field of blood." -- Landholder, No. 7, 17 Dec. 1787

References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links


William C. Brown, The Life of Oliver Ellsworth, Macmillan, 1905; reprint, The Life Of Oliver Ellsworth
William R. Casto, Oliver Ellsworth and the creation of the federal republic, Second Circuit Committee on History and Commemorative Events, 1997
Ronald John Lettieri, Connecticut's Young Man of the Revolution: Oliver Ellsworth, American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut, 1978
Michael C. Toth, Founding Federalist: The Life of Oliver Ellsworth (Lives of the Founders), Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2011



Works by Oliver Ellsworth

A Landholder: The Letters: I-V, VIII (The Online Library of Liberty)
A Landholder: The Letters: VII, XIII (The Online Library of Liberty)
A Landholder I (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder II (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder III (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder IV (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder V (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder VI (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder VII (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
Landholder, No. 7, 17 December 1787 (The Founder's Constitution)
A Landholder VIII (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder IX (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder X (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder XI (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder XII (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
A Landholder XIII (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth to Governor (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
Letter from the Hon. Roger Sherman, and the Hon. Oliver Ellsworth, Esquires, Delegates from the State of Connecticut, in the Late Federal Convention (The Online Library of Liberty)
Oliver Ellsworth and William Samuel Johnson Speeches in the Connecticut Convention (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
James Wadsworth and Oliver Ellsworth Speeches in the Connecticut Convention (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)

Biographical Sites

ELLSWORTH, Oliver, 1745-1807 (Biographical Directory of the US Congress)
Oliver Ellsworth (National Archives -- The Founding Fathers)
Oliver Ellsworth (The OYEZ Project -- Northwestern University)
Oliver Ellsworth
Ellsworth, Oliver (A Princeton Companion)

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