He was educated at Canton Academy, and at age 16 began to teach school. Then he studied law at Albany, New York and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He was admitted to the bar in 1861, and commenced practice in Canton, New New York He was a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1867. In 1869, he was elected District Attorney of Saint Lawrence County, and County Judge in 1877. He was New York Attorney General from 1882 to 1883, elected at the New York state election, 1881.
Afterwards he resumed the practice of law at New York City.
He was a delegate to the 1884 and 1900 Republican National Conventions. He resigned from the bench on October 1, 1902.
He was buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Canton, New York
Review Samuel Russell (1660–1731) was his great-great-great-grandfather.
He was a member of the 52nd United States Congress and served until September 11, 1891, when he resigned to become a justice of the New York State Supreme Court.