Brown University Library Special Collections

Jonathan Russell and the War of 1812: The Inside Scoop on America’s First War

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on September 20, 2012

The papers of American diplomat Jonathan Russell provide an intimate look inside the grievances that caused the War of 1812 and its ultimate resolution in December 1814.

Major causes of the war stemmed from Great Britain’s fight with France which had been raging since 1803.  Eager to bolster its own resources and reduce supplies for France, Great Britain impressed American seamen into service with the British Navy and blockaded the American coast to prevent provisions from reaching France.  Those actions, among others, did not sit well with the Americans and President James Madison declared war on Great Britain in June 1812.

Jonathan Russell was a witness to all of the intrigue.  His diplomatic career began when President James Madison appointed him chargé d’affaires in Paris in 1810. The next year he was given the same position in London and from 1814 to 1818 he was United States minister to Sweden and Norway. Russell was also one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812.

The papers of Jonathan Russell include correspondence with all the prominent politicians, diplomats, and businessmen of the day.  They also include letters from seamen, who were impressed by the British, seeking his assistance to return home again.  Of particular note are the “Records of U.S. Commissioners to Negotiate with Great Britain at Ghent” which provide a detailed account of the negotiations with Great Britain to end the war.

To learn more about the Jonathan Russell papers, see the finding aid available on the Rhode Island Archives and Manuscripts Online website.