The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

46 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 1 2 uring the Napoleonic era, when Span- ish America saw the opportunity to seek independence, the United States seized the opportunity to increase its political and commercial influence in the area, while limiting or excluding that of European powers. Beginning in 1810, a primary agent for the implementation of these policies was Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851). A botanist, traveler and politician, Poinsett was the first U.S. envoy to the pre-independence Spanish colonies in the cone of South America; he was later envoy to Mexico. He was involved in the independence movements of Argentina and Chile; and while in Mexico, he tried to purchase Texas and limit British influence. Joel Roberts Poinsett was born in Charleston, S.C., in 1779, the descendant of a family of French Huguenots, who had moved to the U.S. in the 1660s. He was educated in Connecticut and Europe, and traveled extensively overseas from 1802 to 1807. While in St. Petersburg, U.S. consul Levett Harris , the first U.S. representative posted in Russia, introduced Poin- sett to Czar Alexander I (1777-1825). Harris was still at his post when the consulate was raised to the level of a lega- tion in 1809, and worked for the head of the U.S. mission (and later Secretary of State and president), John Quincy Adams (1767-1848). Adams would later write that Harris “made a princely fortune by selling his duty and his office at the most enormous prices.” Though Harris lost his po- sition in 1819, he surfaced again in 1833 as chargé de af- faires in Paris. In January 1807 Czar Alexander I tried to recruit Poin- sett to take a post at his court but advised him to “see the empire, acquire the language, study the people,” before de- ciding. With that advice in mind, Poinsett left St. Peters- burg on an adventurous journey through southern Russia. When he returned to St. Petersburg, the czar offered him a commission as a colonel in the Russian Army, but Poinsett decided to return home. Busy in Buenos Aires During the first decade of the 19th century, the foreign policy of the United States encountered many challenges. Apart from the brewing conflict with Great Britain on the impressment of U.S. sailors of British extraction, Napoleon’s actions in Spain and Portugal had created an opening for most of their Latin American colonies to seek independ- ence. The United States, already faced with harassment of its seaborne commerce by Great Britain and France, viewed FS HERITAGE J OEL R. P OINSETT : F IRST U.S. E NVOY IN L ATIN A MERICA T HOUGH MAINLY KNOWN TODAY FOR GIVING HIS NAME TO A C HRISTMAS FLOWER , J OEL P OINSETT ACHIEVED MUCH MORE . B Y L UCIANO M ANGIAFICO Luciano Mangiafico, a Foreign Service officer from 1970 to 1991, served in Milan, Palermo, Bucharest, Manila, Bridge- town and Washington, D.C. Since his retirement from the Service, he has continued to work as an inspector for the State Department. The author of two books, Contemporary Amer- ican Immigrants (Praeger, 1988) and Italy’s Most Wanted (Po- tomac Books, 2007), he writes on foreign policy, business and the arts for various publications. D