Joel Roberts Poinsett was an American diplomat and public servant born in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1810 President James Madison sent him as a special commissioner to South America to investigate political conditions of countries struggling for independence. Returning to South Carolina in 1815, he served in the state legislature and was president of the Board of Public Works, supervising the building of roads and canals. He served in the United States House of Representatives (1821-25), President John Quincy Adams appointed him minister to Mexico (1825-29). A strong opponent of nullification, President Martin Van Buren appointed him Secretary of War (1837-41) and he practically redesigned the United States Army. He introduced into the United States a Mexican flowering plant that was later named after him, the poinsettia.