house and mine brightens with the seasonal introduction of the poinsettia
plant with its red and green leaves and tiny yellow blooms. Perhaps
you would like to know how such came to be.
Joel Robert Poinsett, a son of South Carolina, was educated in Connecticut
and England in languages, law, and medicine, and traveled extensively
in Europe and Asia before accepting a diplomatic post as American
minister to Mexico
during the administration of John Quincy Adams.
Adams won the presidency over Andrew Jackson in 1824 due to what John
Randolph dubbed "a corrupt bargain between a Puritan and a blackleg."
Adams, of course, was the Puritan, and Henry Clay the blackleg, or
villain. Despite Jackson’s greater number of popular and electoral
votes in a field of four candidates, he failed to win a majority of
the electoral votes. The House, led by Clay, voted in second-place
finisher Adams, who then appointed Clay secretary of state.
Adams wanted to court western votes in the hope he could face down
a certain challenge by Jackson in 1828, so in 1825 he sent Poinsett
to Mexico to
move the boundary as far westward as possible from the Sabine
River line to which the U.S. and Spain had agreed in 1819, two
years before the successful Mexican revolution.
Adams, who had negotiated the treaty for the U.S. while serving as
President James Monroe’s secretary of state, appears to have been
more interested in impressing western voters than actually acquiring
more land—land that might one day host slavery.
Poinsett believed in his mission and made a sincere effort to achieve
it, but made serious blunders in the process. First, he disclosed
his mission in a public address prior to taking up negotiations with
the Mexican government. Then Poinsett helped to establish York Rite
Freemasonry in Mexico,
unaware that doing so created a rival political party to the Scottish
Rite Masons who ran the country. Thus the Escoceses now had to contend
with the Yorkinos for control of Mexico.
This did not make the government agreeable to transfer portions of
the country’s northern provinces to the U.S., even for the $1 million
Poinsett offered in 1827. So he came home only with the beautiful
flower he found in Mexico,
which was named, in his honor, the poinsettia.
P. McDonald, PhD
December 11 , 2005 column
(A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers.
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas.)
by Archie P. McDonald