Judging the Nation

September 24, 1789

When discussing the birth of our nation, we are familiar with names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams…names our basic history books referenced over and over again. One name that mistakenly escapes recognition among many Americans is Connecticut-born Oliver Ellsworth. Senator Ellsworth is the reason our government is known officially as the “United States Government” as opposed to the “National Government of the United States.” He aided Connecticut throughout the Revolutionary War, was a member of the Committee of Appeals (the pre-cursor to the Supreme Court), helped prepare the first draft of the Constitution, was integral in the passage of the Connecticut Plan,  and basically wrote the Judiciary Act, which was signed into law by President Washington on September 24, 1789.

Among other things, the Judiciary Act determined the number of Supreme Court justices, established the circuit court and district court, created the Office of the Attorney General, determined the thirteen districts in the United States, creating a US Attorney and US Federal Marshal for each district, and gave jurisdiction to the district court to oversee lawsuits by aliens for torts which violate the law of nations or treaties of the United States.

Although this all seems commonplace within our government structure today, it was a tremendously controversial topic at the time of the first session of the First United States Congress. There was a group of Anti-Federalists who were in strong opposition to the Constitution of the United States. This group was led by Thomas Jefferson, who did not sign the Constitution (he was busy in France), nor was he present at the Constitutional Convention. The Anti-Federalists were known as the Anti-Administration faction; Jefferson directly opposed the policies created by George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. By 1792, this faction became an official political party known as the Republican Party…it is often referred to in history books as the Democratic-Republican Party.

Oliver Ellsworth ran for president in the 1796 election as a Federalist, though the Federalist party officially nominated John Adams (who became our second president). Ellsworth remained in his seat as the Chief Justice of the United States, having been nominated to that position earlier in the year by President Washington.

Ellsworth led an group of delegates to France in 1799, in an effort to talk Napoleon into reducing restrictions on US shipping. The delegation was successful, which meant that we narrowly escaped a military conflict with France over the matter. Some historians believe that Ellsworth’s successful diplomatic relations with Napoleon paved the way for the Louisiana Purchase a couple years later.

Legacies left behind from Connecticut include Oliver Ellsworth as one of the greatest, and also include this recipe for Election Cake which first showed up in the Connecticut General Assembly in 1771. There were huge competitions among colonial women, each trying to create the best cakes for family and friends. Election Day in New England was a holiday that was second only to Thanksgiving Day.

Election Cake

2 .25-ounce envelopes dry active yeast
1 cup warm, but not hot, water (about 105 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 cup mixed dried fruit, such as golden raisins, cranberries and pitted prunes, chopped if large
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup American whiskey, bourbon or rye
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a medium bowl. Stir a few times and let stand to allow the yeast to dissolve and begin bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Sift 1 1/2 cups of the flour into the bowl and stir until mostly smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes. The mixture will expand, loosen in texture and will have large bubbles on the surface.

While that sits, generously butter a 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside. Place the dried fruit, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar and all of the whiskey in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Heat in the microwave until hot and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour with the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt.

Beat the butter with the remaining 1/2 cup brown and the granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined (the mixture may look slightly curdled at this stage), and then add 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Beat in the yeast mixture and then reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the plumped dried fruit with any remaining liquid and beat on medium speed until the fruit is well blended. The dough should be soft and elastic at this point.

Transfer the dough to the prepared Bundt pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until the dough fills the pan about three-quarters of the way, about 2 hours. When is the cake is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and turn onto the wire rack to cool completely.

Before serving, stir the confectioners’ sugar with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk. Gradually add as much as needed of the second tablespoon of milk to make a thick glaze that will just gently run. Spoon over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to slowly run down the outside and inside of the cake.

modern Election Cake recipe from cookingchanneltv.com

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