Poinsett, Joel Roberts

Poinsett, Joel Roberts

(poin`sĕt), 1779–1851, American diplomat and politician, b. Charleston, S.C. In 1810 he was sent as a special commissioner to South America to investigate political conditions of the countries struggling for independence. He served in the South Carolina legislature, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1821–25), and later was minister (1825–29) to Mexico. A strong opponent of nullificationnullification,
in U.S. history, a doctrine expounded by the advocates of extreme states' rights. It held that states have the right to declare null and void any federal law that they deem unconstitutional.
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, he was Secretary of War (1837–41) under Martin Van Buren. He introduced the flowering plant called the poinsettia (named after him) into the United States.

Bibliography

See biography by J. F. Rippy (1935, repr. 1972).

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Poinsett, Joel Roberts

(1779–1851) cabinet member, diplomat; born in Charleston, S.C. After studying medicine and languages in Britain, he traveled widely (1801–08). President Madison sent him as a special agent to observe and deal with independence movements in Latin America (1810–15). He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., S.C.; 1821–25) and the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico (1825–29), where his machinations made him highly unpopular. (An amateur botanist, he developed a plant that he brought back from Mexico and it was named after him, the poinsettia.) He opposed the nullification movement in South Carolina (1830–32). All his life he had hoped for a military career but the closest he came was when President Van Buren named him secretary of war (1837–41). A man of wide interests, he was happy to return to his estate in South Carolina. He opposed the Mexican War and the secession movement that began to emerge in the South after 1847.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.