City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
Jonathan Russell (2/27/1771- 2/17/1832)
Jonathan Russell (February 27, 1771 – February 17, 1832) was a United States Representative from Massachusetts and diplomat.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island on February 27, 1771, Russell graduated from Brown University (then Rhode Island College) in 1791. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, but did not practice. He engaged in mercantile pursuits for a number of years. In 1808 he was appointed Collector of the Port of Bristol.
He was appointed by President James Madison to the Diplomatic Service in France in 1811. He transferred to England, where he was Chargé d'Affaires when war was declared by the United States in 1812. He was Minister to Sweden and Norway from January 18, 1814 to October 16, 1818.
"Jonathan Russell and the Capture of the Guerriere," by Lawrence S. Kaplan in The William and Mary Quarterly,Third Series, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Apr., 1967), published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, discusses the circumstances of Russell's authorship of a patriotic poem about the famous sea battle found in Russell's private papers (now mainly at Brown University's Library). The article quotes the entirety of the poem, dates it to approximately 1812, and speculates that Russell was motivated to write this anti-British work by the humiliation he had suffered while at the Court of St. James.
Russell was one of the five commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Ghent with Great Britain in 1814, ending the War of 1812. He returned to the United States in 1818 and settled in Mendon, Massachusetts.
He became a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1820 and was elected to the Seventeenth Congress (March 4, 1821 – March 3, 1823). He was chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (Seventeenth Congress).
In 1822, Russell authored a pamphlet accusing John Quincy Adams, one of Russell's former fellow-negotiators at Ghent in 1814, of having favored British interests in those treaty talks. Russell intended the pamphlet to further Henry Clay's presidential candidacy against Adams in the 1824 election. Adams' responsive pamphlets were so devastating in impugning Russell's veracity that they engendered the phrase "to Jonathan Russell" someone, meaning to use facts and truth to refute an attacker's falsehoods so effectively that it destroys the attacker's reputation and political career.
Russell died in Milton, Massachusetts on February 17, 1832, and was interred in the family plot on his estate in Milton.