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William S. Parrot

1796 - 1863

Topic- Diplomacy A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War

William S. Parrott, 1796 – 1863

William S. Parrott served as a confidential agent in Mexico City for the Polk administration on the eve of the U.S-Mexico War. When anger at the annexation of Texas prompted Mexico to sever diplomatic relations with the United States in the spring of 1845, the State Department dispatched Parrott to the Mexican capital to reopen a dialogue with the Herrera government.

Born in 1796, Parrott served with the Tennessee militia during the War of 1812. At the battle of New Orleans he received a severe leg wound that caused him to limp for the rest of his life.

After residing in Cuba, Parrott moved to Mexico, which had recently won its independence, in 1822. There he established a mercantile firm and entered into land speculating, becoming involved in several Texas colonization projects.

Serving briefly as U.S. consul in Mexico City in the mid-1830s, Parrott devoted his energies to his business ventures, becoming one of the wealthiest merchants in Mexico. As the country experienced a series of revolts and sank further into debt, Parrott’s fortunes fell with those of Mexico. The target of several lawsuits that left him bankrupt by 1839, he returned to the United States, where he continued to run afoul of creditors, and he was imprisoned for debt in 1840. In an effort to rebuild his fortune, Parrott filed claims against Mexico for his business losses. A bi-national claims commission refused to consider Parrott’s petition, and he was still lobbying for restitution from the Mexican government when Mexico severed diplomatic relations over the annexation issue in the spring of 1845.

Although Parrott was fluent in Spanish and had maintained close ties with many influential Mexican leaders, his unresolved claims against the government made him a curious choice to serve as a confidential agent on behalf of the Polk administration. Nonetheless in April, 1845 Parrott returned to Mexico, with orders to keep the lines of communication open with Mexican leaders. Although the United States regarded the Texas annexation issue, which had caused Mexico to sever diplomatic relations, as non-negotiable, Polk remained hopeful that normal diplomatic relations could soon be restored. In August, Parrott confidently reported to the State department that the disagreements between the two governments might be settled "over a breakfast table," and in October he informed the administration that Mexico was ready to reestablish diplomatic relations. The administration promptly appointed a minister, John Slidell, who arrived in December, 1845. Confusion over Slidell’s diplomatic standing, however, led Mexico to reject his credentials, further aggravating tensions between the two countries. Parrott and Slidell returned to the United States in the spring of 1846, shortly before the outbreak of war.

By the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the U.S. Mexico War, the United States assumed responsibility for the claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico. A review board awarded Parrott $114,000, approximately one-eighth of his original claim. Parrott worked for the Navy Department until his retirement in 1852.


Jonas, Peter M. "William Parrott, American Claims, and the Mexican War." Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer, 1992), pp. 213-240

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