Congressman, diplomat. Thompson was born in Pickensville on January 8, 1798, the son of Waddy Thompson, Sr., and Eliza Blackburn. When he was an infant his family moved to Greenville. He entered the sophomore class of South Carolina College in 1811, graduating in 1814. Admitted to the bar in 1819, Thompson established a lucrative legal practice in Greenville and engaged in planting. In 1819 Thompson married Emmala Elizabeth Butler, who died in 1848. In 1851 he wed Cornelia Jones. Thompson had two children by his first wife and one by his second.
Thompson represented Greenville District in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1826 to 1829. A supporter of John C. Calhoun, he opposed the protective tariffs of 1824 and 1828 and was a proponent of the principle of nullification. As a nullifier in a Unionist district, Thompson did not seek reelection in 1830. The General Assembly elected Thompson solicitor of the western circuit in 1830 and brigadier general of the first brigade of militia in 1832. With nullification sentiment ascendant in the state, Thompson was elected as an anti-Jacksonian to the Twenty-fourth Congress in September 1835. Twice reelected, Thompson served in Congress until March 1841. He was instrumental in obtaining congressional recognition of Texas independence in 1837 and was an advocate of Texas statehood. Also in 1837, Thompson broke with Calhoun over his return to the Democratic Party and support of the subtreasury plan.
President John Tyler rewarded Thompson’s loyalty to the Whig Party by appointing him as minister to Mexico, where he served from 1842 to 1844. To facilitate his mission, Thompson learned Spanish, and although he recalled being initially “regarded with distrust and dislike” by Mexicans for his support of Texas, his ministry was a signal success. He established a rapport with Mexican president Santa Anna, negotiated the release of 300 Texan prisoners and saved 159 from execution, persuaded Mexico to permit American immigration to California, concluded some commercial agreements, and seriously attempted to negotiate the peaceful cession of California to the United States.
After returning to Greenville, Thompson retired from public life. In 1846 Recollections of Mexico, Thompson’s valuable memoir of his ministry, was published. He opposed the Mexican War, which he judged “not only inexpedient, but unjust.” Conflicted about secession, he opposed unilateral action by South Carolina in 1850, and in 1852 he cofounded the Southern Patriot, a Unionist newspaper in Greenville. Thompson’s friend Benjamin F. Perry described him as “a man of rare talents, tact and energy of character.” In later years Thompson became a devotee of spiritualism and a participant in séances. In early 1867, with his Greenville property ruined as a result of the Civil War, Thompson moved to Madison, Florida, where he owned a cotton plantation, and served briefly in 1868 as a circuit solicitor general. Thompson died on November 23, 1868, while visiting Tallahassee, and was buried there in the churchyard of St. John’s Episcopal.
Lander, Ernest M., Jr. “General Waddy Thompson, a Friend of Mexico during the Mexican War.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 78 (January 1977): 32–42.
Thompson, Henry T. Waddy Thompson, Jr.: Member of Congress, 1835–41: Minister to Mexico, 1842–44. N.p., 1929.