Jonathan Russell Gets 'Eviscerated' By John Quincy Adams

Jonathan Russell Gets 'Eviscerated' By John Quincy Adams

Jonathan Russell was an early American Foreign Minister who signed the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812.

Russell also notably published a pamphlet critical of John Quincy Adams. He was not prepared for Adams’ response.

Jonathan Russell

Recently, we briefly discussed the Treaty of Ghent in an article about James A. Bayard. This is the Treaty, which ended the War of 1812, was signed by five Americans. The most overlooked of these men is Jonathan Russell. This is his story.

Jonathan Russell was born just four years before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. His place of birth (Providence, Rhode Island) was a hotbed of rebellious ideologies.

Jonathan studied at Brown University but, despite passing the bar, decided to work in the merchant business instead..

Minister to Great Britain

In his mid-30’s, Jonathan Russell was chosen by President Thomas Jefferson as Collector of the Port of Bristol, Rhode Island. In this position, his knowledge of both the law and mercantilism helped further his career.

In 1811, Russell was appointed by James Madison as a Minister to France but was quickly reassigned to Great Britain.

Jonathan was in this position when the War of 1812 broke out, leaving him the responsibility of politely informing the King that it was time to put up his dukes.


Russell then became a Peace Commissioner and, as stated earlier, signed the Treaty of Ghent along with Albert Gallatin, James A Bayard, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. He was then selected as the first United States Minister to Sweden.

After four and a half years in Sweden, Jonathan finally returned home. He lived in Massachusetts, where he began a political career.

Russell spent one year in the Massachusetts Assembly before receiving election to the US House of Representatives.

Attacking Adams

During his time as a Congressman, Russell attempted to swing the Election of 1824.

This contest was between two of his fellow Peace Commissioners from a decade earlier: John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. For reasons all his own, Russell supported Clay.

In an attempt to sway the public behind Clay, Russell published a pamphlet. In short, this publication accused Adams of being decidedly pro-British during the Peace Negotiations. He gravely underestimated the power of Adams’ pen.


John Quincy Adams quickly responded to Russell with several pamphlets of his own.

Adams’ response entirely vindicated him in the eyes of the public. He debunked Russell’s claims so viciously that Adams became President (albeit in an extremely close race) and Jonathan lost his next election. In fact, he was forced to retire from politics.

The saying has fallen out of favor now, but for some time in the United States, to ‘Jonathan Russell’ someone was a well-known phrase. His name was used as a synonym for a person who was proven so wrong their career was destroyed.

If you would like to read more about other early United States Ministers to Great Britain, check out these articles on Rufus King and Thomas Pinckney.

Although it is technically after the American Revolution (in my opinion), I am recommending you read ‘The One-Party Presidential Contest’ which is a groundbreaking account of the Election of 1824. Pick up a copy through the affiliate link below.

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