Poinsett, Joel Roberts (1779–1851)

By: Lewis W. Newton

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 1, 1995

Joel Roberts Poinsett, diplomat, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on March 2, 1779. He was educated under private instructors, in a Connecticut academy, and in London and Edinburgh, and became proficient in French, Spanish, Italian, and German. He also studied medicine, military science, and law. In early manhood he traveled for eight years in Europe, western Asia, the United States, and Canada. Through keen observation, wide acquaintance with prominent men, and study of various societies, he cultivated a liberal political philosophy. Several years as legislator and state senator helped to fit him for diplomatic service. Poinsett's relation to Texas history grew chiefly from his instructions to buy Texas while he served as first United States minister to Mexico, 1825–29. In spite of his more favorable qualifications for the service, his pronounced republicanism and the turbulence of Mexican politics all but wrecked his hopes. Among other instructions his government told him to try to get the consent of Mexico to readjust the boundary fixed by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 to include land as far toward the Rio Grande as possible. In 1827 he was authorized to agree to pay a million dollars for land bounded by the Rio Grande and the Pecos and by a line from the source of the Pecos due north to the Arkansas River. The sensitiveness of the Mexican government did not permit him to press this offer, and in 1828 he signed a treaty, not ratified by the Mexican Senate until 1832, to accept the treaty boundary of 1819. He believed that the peaceful settlement of Texas by Anglo-Americans then going on would make its acquisition easier in the future. Because Mexico forced his recall in 1829, Poinsett did not get to present President Andrew Jackson's instructions to offer $5 million for a line running between the Nueces and Rio Grande northward to the forty-second degree north latitude. Poinsett was a pronounced Unionist in the South Carolina nullification controversy, served four years as secretary of war under Martin Van Buren, and spent his last days on a South Carolina plantation. He died on December 12, 1851.

William R. Manning, Early Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Mexico (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1916). William R. Manning, "Poinsett's Mission to Mexico: A Discussion of His Interference in International Affairs," American Journal of International Law 7 (1913). José Fuentes Mares, Poinsett, historia de una gran intriga (Mexico City: Editorial Jus, 1951). Dorothy Martha Parton, The Diplomatic Career of Joel Roberts Poinsett (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1934). J. Fred Rippy, Joel Poinsett, Versatile American (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1935).

Time Periods:

  • Mexican Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Lewis W. Newton, “Poinsett, Joel Roberts,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/poinsett-joel-roberts.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

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