Cover image for Defiant peacemaker : Nicholas Trist in the Mexican War
Defiant peacemaker : Nicholas Trist in the Mexican War
Ohrt, Wallace.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
College Station, Tex. : Texas A&M University Press, [1997]

Physical Description:
xi, 190 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E415.9.T84 O39 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



However much the extending of America's borders may have seemed like destiny at the time, much of the process was not as noble as its early proponents declared, and in the Southwest it represented at least partially a deliberate land grab. The work of one rather eccentric idealist, a Virginian named Nicholas Philip Trist, allows modern Americans to consider what happened during the years 1846-48 without what one writer called "a thorough revulsion." Nicholas Trist (1800-74) was one of those rare public figures who really live dangerously, prepared to risk everything for principle. Generally unknown today, and slighted or scorned when mentioned at all, he was a man of importance in his time, for he defied a presidential recall order and negotiated with Mexico the treaty that won for the United States the vast Southwest. Trist was closely acquainted with the great ones of his time--including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson--and was esteemed by those who really knew him. This well-written biography of Trist is also, then, a story of many of the important people and movements of his time. Trist was an idealist, more uncompromising than his idol, Thomas Jefferson (who was also the grandfather of Trist's wife). Trist was respected by many of his contemporaries and, surprisingly for a man of his unbending character, befriended by many. Yet there were many who despised him. On two unrelated occasions, eight years apart, he stood as the most controversial figure in America. In some ways, he was his own worst enemy, as Ohrt skillfully shows. An astonishing haughtiness in a man of relatively modest station enabled him to condescend to presidents, quarrel with military commanders, and hurl insults at the House of Lords. Yet the diplomats with whom he worked in Mexico admired and respected him for his unfailing patience and courtesy under the most trying conditions. Ultimately, his career was thoroughly destroyed by its one great, defining achievement: the negotiation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the peace that ended the Mexican War. Ohrt demonstrates that Trist's quintessential character can best be distilled in a tribute he paid to another: "He is . . . a true lover of justice." Only one Trist biography has appeared to date, and it does not cover the full life and relationships as this one does. Sources for this imminently readable biography include the voluminous correspondence of the Trist and Randolph families of Virginia, biographies of notables mentioned, and the most respected histories of the times and events. Those interested in the diplomacy of the era and especially of the U.S.-Mexican War will read with interest the story of the intrigues and rivalries behind the political and military activities of the war, which are vividly presented here.

Author Notes

Wallace Ohrt spent several years researching and writing the biography of this intriguing figure. Retired from Boeing and his own consulting firm in communications, he lives in Seattle.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Nicholas P. Trist was the diplomat who negotiated the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, thus ending the war with Mexico. Beyond that, however, little is known of him in the popular historical mind. Ohrt clearly shows that Trist was a complex person, an idealist and perfectionist, whose sometimes prickly personality combined with his sharp tongue to provoke controversy in his public career. Trist married a granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he studied law as a young man. He later served as personal assistant to President Andrew Jackson before he assumed the position of chief clerk in the State Department during the Polk administration. As the nation's second-ranking diplomat, Trist played a major role in the diplomacy of the 1840s. Ohrt's well-written study is based on the Trist Papers at the University of North Carolina. The most complete biographical treatment of Trist ever to appear, this book will provide a powerful corrective to the one-dimensional view of Nicholas P. Trist currently found in the historical literature. Upper-division undergraduates and above. L. T. Cummins; Austin College