The Man Who Would Buy Mexico for $1,000,000

With the “Projet of a Constitution” Attributed to Stephen F. Austin

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492. [POINSETT, Joel Roberts]. Notes on Mexico, Made in the Autumn of 1822. Accompanied by an Historical Sketch of the Revolution, and Translations of Official Reports on the Present State of that Country. With a Map. By a Citizen of the United States. Philadelphia: H.C. Carey and I. Lea, Chesnut Street, 1824. [i-v] vi, [2], [1] 2-359 [1 blank] pp., copper-engraved folded map (frontispiece): Map of a part of Mexico Exhibiting the author’s Route from Vera Cruz to Mexico, and thence to Tampico. Drawn from the Author’s notes and other documents by H[enry] S[chenck] Tanner. [below lower neat line] Longitude 21 West from Washington; neat line to neat line: 45.3 x 58 cm; overall sheet size: 49 x 60.2 cm; symbols at left (Capital. Important town. Village. Place of meeting of the Provincial Council of Mines. Mine. Public House of Hacienda). 8vo (24 x 14.6 cm), original drab blue boards, backed with modern green cloth, original printed paper label preserved, untrimmed. Frederick William Beinecke and Carrie Sperry Beinecke bookplate on upper pastedown. Contemporary ink ownership inscription on title of Wm. Bayard (1761-1826; New York merchant; see DAB). Original boards stained and rubbed, printed paper label rubbed and chipped at lower right. Interior with a few scattered stains. Map very fine. Overall a very good copy, untrimmed, in original boards. Preserved in a black cloth folding box.

     First edition. American Imprints 17655. Griffin 3562. Gunn, Mexico in American and British Letters 979. Hill I, p. 540 & Hill II:1368 (citing London edition). Palau 230084. Raines, p. 166 (nebulously attributing authorship of the “Projet of a Constitution” [pp. 297-309] to Stephen F. Austin: “While in Mexico, 1823, Austin delivered a copy of his Projet to his confidential friend, Ramos Arizpe, for consideration. As chairman of the Committee on the Constitution in the Constitutional Congress, Arizpe reported the Constitution, which was adopted and known as the Constitution of 1824. And this seems to have been but the elaboration of Austin’s Projet, with such changes as were necessary to adapt it to the genius of the Mexicans. See Bryan’s Collection Austin MSS.”) See also Austin Papers, Vol. I, pp. 601-627 & 656-669. Sabin 63692.

     Controversial South Carolinian Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) was the most influential U.S. citizen of the early nineteenth century with reference to Mexico. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1820, he interrupted his term to take a special mission to newly independent Mexico in 1822 and 1823, being the first American diplomatic envoy to this newly independent nation. In 1825, Poinsett became the first U.S. minister to Mexico, a post he held until 1829. An ardent supporter of a republican Mexico, Poinsett was popular and influential in Mexico at first, but soon his behavior led to the coining of the term “poinsettismo,” to mean an intrusive and officious manner.

     Richard Drinnon, “The Metaphysics of Empire-Building: American Imperialism in the Age of Jefferson and Monroe” in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 677-679:

Joel R. Poinsett saw himself as an apostle of liberty to Spanish America. In Congress he had supported the Monroe Doctrine as though it were a divine commandment.... Poinsett saw the world as Jefferson’s two spheres, the American and the European, with all Mexicans, in fact everybody, falling into two classes, those friendly to the United States and those opposed to the freedom it represented.... There followed one of the more bizarre chapters in American diplomacy as Poinsett launched a campaign to change the Mexican government.... [Poinsett] had been ordered to get Texas for his government.... Poinsett was trying to extend the United States border from the Sabine to the Rio Grande. And, on the level of his personal schemes, Poinsett had discovered that service in the cause of Progress did not preclude keeping an eye out for the main chance: He was deeply involved in speculations in Mexico and had become a Texas land empresario in partnership with Lorenzo de Zavala, the Mexican liberal who had acquired a grant stretching along the Sabine.

     This work was the first detailed description of the country that was published in the United States and introduced Mexico to many in the United States. As a result of the information set forth in this work, Poinsett recommended that the United States purchase Texas from Mexico for $1,000,000 (a concept which lives in infamy in Mexican history). Poinsett notes on p. 237: “The most serious difficulty the government labours under, arises out of the state of the finances of the country, exhausted, as they have been, by protracted civil wars, and by the lavish expenditures of former administrations.”

     Bancroft glosses his description of Poinsett’s book with the following understatement: “His sojourn there was a short one but long enough to enable him with his remarkable keen insightedness to foresee coming events, and to pave the way for his country to have a greater influence in Mexico than the commercial countries of Europe.”

     At the end is Alaman’s report to Congress, in which he comments on the problem of Indian depredations in the borderlands and the poor state of the California and Texas missions. On the other hand, he praises the agricultural prospects of vacant lands in California and the internal provinces east and west. Mines and mining, of course, are included is the country’s industries and assets. In the section on health he says the country of Mexico is healthy in general, except for diseases rampant along the coast, such as the black vomit. The inability of the Mexican government to provide smallpox vaccine is lamented, although it is noted that the government is making renewed efforts to increase the supply of “Jenner’s vaccine” (p. 321). In another report, Humboldt’s population statistics are presented.

     The map, drawn by Henry Schenk Tanner, showing Poinsett’s route from Vera Cruz, where he landed, to Mexico City, and then to Tampico, was one of the first detailed mappings of the interior of Mexico published in the United States. For more on Tanner and his maps, see herein.


Sold. Hammer: $500.00; Price Realized: $612.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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