His early years were spent on his father's plantation in Mississippi. He published the Yazoo Banner from 1840 to 1844. He served during the Mexican-American War, being a lieutenant in the Mississippi regiment commanded by Jefferson Davis, and was severely wounded at the Battle of Buena Vista. After that war, in partnership with his brother Samuel, he edited the Cincinnati Chronicle.
During the administrations of Presidents Tyler and Fillmore he was U.S. Consul at Panama. In 1856, he was sent by President Pierce to investigate the Watermelon War, and on his report were based the treaty and adjustment of damages between the United States and New Granada. He was reappointed consul, and remained in Panama until 1861, when he was removed.
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