Thomas Jefferson Papers
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James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, 3 September 1818

From James Monroe

Albemarle Sepr 3. 1818

Dear Sir

mr Poinsett, whose name & character are I presume well known to you will have the pleasure of giving you this introduction. He was employd very usefully in So America, several years, under mr Madison, & had previously travelled thro’ most of the European countries & particularly Russia, by whose Sovereign he was known, & treated with much attention. I expected to have presented him personally, but as he returns to Charlottesville to night that will not be in my power. He is of So Carolina.

mr Harrison a very respectable gentleman, of our own country, will have the pleasure of accompanying mr Poinsett, whom, I also take the liberty of presenting to you—

with great respect yr friend

James Monroe

RC (NNPM); endorsed by TJ as received 4 Sept. 1818 and so recorded in SJL.

Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779–1851), diplomat and public official, began his education under his father in his native South Carolina, continued it under Timothy Dwight in Connecticut, and then spent roughly a decade studying and traveling in Europe, 1796–1800, 1801–04, and 1806–09. In 1810 the Madison administration dispatched Poinsett to Buenos Aires as commercial agent, and a year later he was appointed consul general for Buenos Aires, Chile, and Peru. After a tumultuous term marked by his direct involvement in Chilean political and military affairs, he returned to South Carolina in 1815. Poinsett represented Saint Philip and Saint Michael Parish in the South Carolina House of Representatives, 1816–18, where he actively supported internal improvements, and he served in the United States House of Representatives, 1821–25. Under a special appointment from President James Monroe, he visited Mexico and Cuba to report on the potential for revolution there, 1822–23. From this experience Poinsett published Notes on Mexico (Philadelphia, 1824; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 7 [no. 351]; TJ’s copy in DLC, with authorial inscription [possibly trimmed] “Thom. Jefferson from the Author”), and in 1825 he became the first American envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Mexico. His service there was again controversial, and after being asked to leave by the Mexican government, Poinsett obtained his own recall from the United States government and returned to South Carolina in 1830. There he served another term in the state house of representatives (1830–31) and one in the state senate (1836). During this time Poinsett became the leader of the Unionist faction in the state, opposing Nullification and allying himself with President Andrew Jackson. From 1837–41 he was Martin Van Buren’s secretary of war. Poinsett was an active Mason, a member of the American Philosophical Society from 1827, and founder and first president of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, the collections of which were later absorbed by the Smithsonian Institution. His interest in horticulture and botany was recognized in 1836 when one of the plants he brought back from Mexico, the Poinsettia pulcherrima, was named in his honor (ANB; DAB; N. Louise Bailey and others, eds., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985 [1986], 2:1286–90; James Fred Rippy, Joel R. Poinsett, Versatile American [1935]; PHi: Poinsett Papers; PTJ, esp. 34:628; Madison, Papers, Pres. Ser., esp. 2:487–8, 500, 502n, 3:164–5; JEP, 2:188, 190, 3:441, 443–4 [13, 18 Nov. 1811, 7, 8 Mar. 1825]; APS, Minutes, 19 Jan. 1827 [MS in PPAmP]; Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 20 [1836]: 412; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 20 Dec. 1851).

Index Entries

  • Harrison, Mr.; visits Monticello search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of introduction to search
  • Monroe, James; introduces J. R. Poinsett search
  • Monroe, James; letters from search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Harrison, Mr. search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Poinsett, Joel R. search
  • Poinsett, Joel Roberts; and South America search
  • Poinsett, Joel Roberts; European travels of search
  • Poinsett, Joel Roberts; identified search
  • Poinsett, Joel Roberts; introduced to TJ search
  • Poinsett, Joel Roberts; visits Monticello search