Jacksonville Daily Progress - Jacksonville, TX
Dec. 12, 2005
By Archie P. McDonald - All Things Historical
Every Christmas your 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.
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.