MacDonald was born February 22, 1838 in Glasgow, Scotland. He immigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada, with his parents. In 1847, the family settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They again moved in 1855, to Minnesota, and settled in Scott County, where MacDonald studied law.
MacDonald was admitted to the bar in 1859 and commenced practice at Belle Plaine, Minnesota. He served as a judge of the probate court of Scott County in 1860 and 1861. During the Civil War he was commissioned to enlist and muster volunteers for the Union Army. He also served as prosecuting attorney of Scott County in 1863 and 1864.
MacDonald served as county superintendent of schools in 1865 and 1866. He was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, serving in 1869 and 1870; and then served in the Minnesota Senate in 1871 and 1873 – 1876.
He ran unsuccessfully candidate for attorney general in 1872 on the Democratic ticket. He was then elected mayor of Shakopee in 1876. He was elected judge of the eighth judicial district of Minnesota in 1876 for a term of seven years and reelected without opposition in 1883.
In 1886, he was elected as a Democrat to the 50th congress; he subsequently resigned as judge. He served in Congress from March 4, 1887 to March 3, 1889. He ran again in 1888, but lost. He subsequently returned to being a lawyer in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In 1898, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he continued to practice law.
MacDonald died of injuries received in a streetcar accident of July 13, 1903. He was working as a lawyer until his death. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
- United States Congress. "John L. MacDonald (id: M000003)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
Horace B. Strait
| U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 3rd congressional district
1887 – 1889