Thompson, Waddy (1798–1868)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 1, 1995

Waddy Thompson, United States diplomat and political leader, son of Waddy and Eliza (Blackburn) Thompson, was born in Pickensville (now Pickens), South Carolina, on September 8, 1798. He graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1814 and then read law in the offices of two South Carolina attorneys. He was admitted to the bar in 1819 and practiced for five years in Edgefield before moving to Greenville. In Edgefield he married Emmala Butler. He was elected to the state legislature from the Greenville District in 1826 and served until 1830, when he retired due to an incompatibility with his constituency over the question of the Union. Thompson was a staunch advocate of states' rights. After election by the legislature as solicitor for the Western District, he opposed the tariffs of 1824 and 1828 and became an ardent Nullifier. When forces were organized in South Carolina to resist enforcement of the tariffs, he was appointed a brigadier general and served until 1842. He was elected to Congress as a Whig in 1835 and held the office until he retired in 1841. In Congress he was highly vocal in his calls first for the recognition and later for the annexation of Texas.

When Mexican forces captured the men of the Texan Santa Fe expedition, public reaction in the United States demanded official intervention on their behalf. Secretary of State Daniel Webster first instructed the United States minister in Mexico, Powhatan Ellis, to secure the release of any United States citizens taken captive in the expedition and to urge Mexican authorities to treat citizens of the Republic of Texas with humanity and to give them fair trials. Texas urged the United States to appoint a special envoy to Mexico to treat for the prisoners, and the Texas chargé d'affaires in Washington, Nathaniel C. Amory, called upon Senator William Campbell Preston of South Carolina for support. Preston nominated Thompson, likewise a South Carolinian, for the post, and Webster and President John Tyler approved. Thompson was sent to Mexico as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. His instructions were to demand the release of those prisoners who were United States citizens and to require that Texan prisoners be treated with consideration. His mission met with significant success. He obtained the release of some 300 prisoners, mostly United States citizens, and generally strengthened United States relations with Mexico. He returned from this posting in 1844 and two years later published Recollections, a judicious and reliable memoir of his mission. After settling once more in Greenville, Thompson resumed his law practice and amassed a good deal of wealth in South Carolina and Florida land speculations. Because he disapproved of the Mexican War and secession, he retired from politics. After the death of his first wife he married Cornelia Jones, in 1851. Thompson lost his fortune in the Civil War, moved to Madison, Florida, in 1867, and died on a visit to Tallahassee on November 23, 1868. He was buried in the Episcopal Cemetery in Tallahassee.

Henry T. Thompson, "General Waddy Thompson," The Libertarian: A Southern Magazine Upholding the Principles of Liberty, December 1925. Dudley Goodall Wooten, ed., A Comprehensive History of Texas (2 vols., Dallas: Scarff, 1898; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1986).

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Thompson, Waddy,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995