Nicholas Trist's Mission to Mexico:
W HEN WORD OF THE SUCCESSFUL AMERICAN LANDING AT VERACRUZ
reached the White House, President James K. Polk announced
to his Cabinet that an end to the conflict was, perhaps, within sight
and that a commissioner, having full powers to negotiate a peace treaty,
should be ordered to Mexico. The principal difficulty which faced
the administration lay in selecting the proper agent. No prominent
member of the President's own party could be selected, for jealousy
within that party over the forthcoming presidential nomination was at
a high pitch. To choose a member of the opposition party was out of
the question. Nor could Secretary of State James Buchanan abandon
his duties and attach himself to the armies of General Winfield Scott,
commander of the invasion forces. After an unprofitable considera-
tion of several prospective envoys, Buchanan suggested the appoint-
ment of Nicholas P. Trist, chief clerk of the State Department.
Trist's nomination ultimately received unanimous approval of the
Cabinet, and the Secretary of State was appointed to draw up a treaty
for its approval. Trist's duties were to be those of simply tendering the
treaty to the Mexican commissioners and concluding the treaty with
them, should they accept it. In the event Mexico refused, but offered to
appoint commissioners to negotiate, Buchanan was to carry on nego-
tiations. Summoned later that day to an interview with the President,
Trist consented to undertake the task outlined.'
Because the United States obtained in 1848 those concessions out-
*Mr. Nortrup is professor of history at kri-State College, Angola, Indiana.
1For details of the American landing at Veracruz, see Winfield Scott, Memoirs of Lieut.
General Scott (2 vols.; New York, 1864), II, 419-429.
For the proceedings of the Cabinet meeting, see Milo M. Quaife (ed.), The Diary of
James K. Polk During His Presidency, 2845-x849 (4 vols.; Chicago, 1910), II, 465-469;
hereafter cited as Polk Diary.
The new Commissioner, forty-seven years old at the time of his appointment, had once
been the American consul at Havana. He had studied law under Thomas Jefferson and
had married Jefferson's granddaughter, Virginia Jefferson Randolph. He had also served
as secretary to President Andrew Jackson. Louis M. Sears, "Nicholas P. Trist, A Diplomat
With Ideals," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XI (June, 1924), 85-89; Robert A.
Brent, "Nicholas P. 'rist and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo," Southwestern Historical
Quarterly, LVII (April, 1954), 456.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 71, July 1967 - April, 1968. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117145/. Accessed May 27, 2015.