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After the passage of the Constitution in 1787 the central government of the United States still lacked full federal sovereignty. Two years later this deficiency was remedied with the passage of the Judiciary Act, which gave the federal Supreme Court the power to review and reverse state Supreme Court decisions. The author of this crucial legislation was Oliver Ellsworth, who had served on the Committee of Detail that had written the first draft of the Constitution and later effectively became the Senate majority leader.

With the Judiciary Act, Ellsworth gave "teeth" to federal sovereignty in a single tortuous 307-word sentence, one of the most important sentences in our nation's official historical documents. In retrospect it seems that he intentionally obscured its meaning and buried ti in Section 25 of the Judiciary Act to ensure its passage. Today the sentence is all but forgotten.

Most historians ignore Ellsworth's contribution of judicial review by attributing its origin to Chief Justice Marshall's Marbury v. Madison decision fifteen years later. They also overlook Ellsworth's other contributions: his role in naming the United States, achieving the Connecticut Compromise linked with slave-states demands, guaranteeing the U.S. having set the stage for the Louisiana Purchase. Sometimes historians mention his brief tenure as the third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but seldom do they note his many remarkable successes during the rest of his career. Here, then, is the fully story.



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Oliver Ellsworth His Central Role in the Establishment of Federal Sovereignty