Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

Freeman Thorpe (American, 1844-1922)
North American
oil on canvas
Overall: 35 in x 30 in; 88.9 cm x 76.2 cm
This portrait of John Forsyth, which is a copy, was purchased by the Department of State from Mr. Thorp on March 6, 1890.
Signed "Thorp 1890" in two places
Credit Line
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number


John Forsyth (1780–1841) was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and in his boyhood moved with his family to Augusta, Georgia. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), studied law, and entered politics, gaining a reputation as a powerful debater. In the next twenty years he represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and also served as his state’s governor. Between 1819 and 1823, Forsyth was U.S. minister to Spain, helping to secure the Adams-Onís Treaty, which ceded Spain’s claim to East and West Florida. While in Congress, Forsyth supported President Andrew Jackson’s policies, including Indian Removal Act of 1830, which started the forced migration of thousands of Native Americans out of Georgia and states in the Southeast to lands west of the Mississippi River. In 1834, Jackson named Forsyth secretary of state.

As secretary, Forsyth worked to secure the payments France had promised for damages inflicted on U.S. commerce during its wars against Great Britain. When Jackson threatened to seize French property, France severed diplomatic relations but eventually made a payment of $5 million in exchange for reducing the import duty on French wines. Forsyth also coordinated with President Jackson on U.S. recognition of the Republic of Texas in 1837, newly independent following the Texas Revolution against Mexico the previous year.  

Forsyth stayed on as secretary of state under President Martin Van Buren, overseeing many of the same issues, such as the status of Texas and the Maine border dispute. In the Amistad case, in which a slave mutiny had put the United States in the difficult position of deciding what to do with the mutineers, Forsyth supported the government’s position that they should be returned to Spain as property. But John Quincy Adams argued against the government’s position in the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined that the mutineers were not slaves but free Africans, who should be released from custody.