Russell, John Russell, 1st Earl

Russell, John Russell, 1st Earl, 1792–1878, British statesman; younger son of the 6th duke of Bedford, known most of his life as Lord John Russell. He became a Whig member of Parliament in 1813 and soon began his long career as a liberal reformer. He worked for Catholic Emancipation, leading the attack on the Test and Corporation acts, which were repealed in 1828. As paymaster general in the ministry of the 2d Earl Grey, Russell helped prepare and introduce the Reform Bill of 1832 (see under Reform Acts). His advocacy of the reduction of Irish church revenues helped bring down the Whig government in 1834, but when the Whigs returned to power (1835), Russell became home secretary and later secretary for war and the colonies (1839). In the meantime he had given the name to the newly emerging Liberal party and become one of its chief spokesmen. Russell led the opposition during the second ministry (1841–46) of Sir Robert Peel and, following the repeal of the corn laws (which Russell supported), succeeded him as prime minister. During his ministry Russell used public works, grants, and other relief to help the Irish during the potato famine and supported the bill (1847) that limited the working day to 10 hr for many laborers. In 1851 he demanded the resignation of his foreign secretary, Viscount Palmerston, for his unauthorized approval of Napoleon III's coup in France, and the following year Palmerston helped secure the fall of Russell's ministry. Russell served (1852–55) in Lord Aberdeen's coalition government and represented (1855) England at Vienna in an unsuccessful conference to end the Crimean War. He was reconciled with Palmerston and, as his foreign secretary (1859–65), vigorously advocated neutrality in the American Civil War and supported the Risorgimento in Italy. He had been made an earl in 1861 and became prime minister again on Palmerston's death in 1865. For many years an advocate of further parliamentary reform, he attempted to push through a new Reform Bill, but the bill was defeated and caused the fall of his ministry in 1866. Among Russell's literary and historical writings are a translation of Schiller's Don Carlos and biographies of Lord William Russell (1819) and of Charles James Fox (3 vol., 1853–57).

See his Recollections and Suggestions, 1813–1873 (1875); early correspondence (ed. by R. Russell; 2 vol., 1913) and later correspondence (ed. by G. P. Gooch; 2 vol., 1925); biographies by S. Walpole (2 vol., 1889, repr. 1968) and J. Prest (1972); W. P. Morrell, British Colonial Policy in the Age of Peel and Russell (1930, repr. 1966).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies