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Richard Rush served as U.S. attorney general from 1814 to 1817. Although he was recognized as an able lawyer, Rush's greatest contributions came in the field of diplomacy. He negotiated treaties that demilitarized the Great Lakes and set the northernmost boundaries between the United States and Canada. He also played a part in the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution.
Rush was born on August 29, 1780, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the towering intellectual figures of his day. Rush entered Princeton University in 1793 at the age of 13 and graduated in 1797. He went on to study law and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1800. In 1811 he became Pennsylvania attorney general but left that position when President James Madison appointed him comptroller of the U.S. Treasury.
In 1814, after declining the office of secretary of the treasury, Rush was appointed attorney general under President Madison. At age 34, he was the youngest attorney general in U.S. history. His major contribution was to edit the Laws of the United States (1815), a Codification of all federal statutes enacted between 1789 and 1815. For a short time in 1817, Rush performed the duties of the Secretary of State and was instrumental in the drafting of the Rush-Bagot Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, which restricted the use of naval forces on the Great Lakes.
Late in 1817 Rush resigned as attorney general to serve as the U.S. minister to Britain. He remained in this position until 1825. While in London he negotiated the 1818 agreement between the two countries that fixed the forty-ninth parallel as the boundary between Canada and the United States, from the Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains. Rush also participated in discussions with British foreign minister George Canning concerning South America. These discussions led to the announcement of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which declared that the Western Hemisphere was closed to further European colonization and that any European intervention would be regarded as a threat to the security of the United States.
President John Quincy Adams recalled Rush in 1825 to serve as his secretary of the treasury. In 1828 he was Adams's unsuccessful vice presidential running mate. In the 1830s, Rush published A Residence at the Court of London (1833) and returned to England, where he served as an official agent of the United States. In this capacity he received the bequest by which James Smithson founded the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Rush became involved with the planning of the Smithsonian and served on its Board of Regents.
In 1847 President james polk appointed Rush minister to France. He served for two years before retiring from public service and devoting himself to his writing. Rush died on July 30, 1859, in Philadelphia.
U.S. Department of Justice. 1985. Attorneys General of the United States, 1789–1985. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.