He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1895 and commenced practice in Jackson.
He taught school at Concord 1881-1886 and was Jackson County Register of Deeds 1886-1897. Townsend was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives for the Fifty-eighth and for the three succeeding Congresses, serving from March 4, 1903 to March 3, 1911. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1910 and was reelected in 1916, serving from March 4, 1911, to March 4, 1923.
He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1922.
He was chairman of the United States. Senate Committee on Coast and Insular Survey in the Sixty-second Congress, the United States. Senate Committee on Expenditures in the War Department in the Sixty-fifth Congress, and the United States. Senate Committee on Post Office and Post Roads in the Sixty-sixth and Sixty-seventh Congresses. He is interred in Maple Grove Cemetery, in Concord.
Charles East. Townsend at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Townsend was appointed in 1923 as a member of the International Joint Commission created to regulate the use of the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, in which capacity he served until his death in Jackson.