Thomas Larkin, wealthy merchant of Monterey, California in the 1840s, was the consul of the United States. He was also a secret agent for President Buchanan who sent to Washington 78 microbiographies of the "principal men" in California. In a systematic fashion, he described the influence and politics of these men; the text is reproduced in the Larkin Papers.

I want to know why this information was interesting for the U.S. government. Did Buchanan or his proxies directly request this type of report? Did the U.S. do anything with the biographical information that Larkin sent?

Sources: Thomas O. Larkin: A Life of Patriotism and Profit in Old California by Hague & Langum, and Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 by Johnson.

1 Answer 1


He was doing his job. His "real" one.

Officially, he started as U.S. Consul to Alta California. But that was kind of a cover for his real role, which was as a "confidential agent", or what we might call a secret agent. Imagine a CIA operative playing a part in local political affairs on behalf of the U.S., operating under the cover of a consulate. In plain terms, he was a "spy," and writing reports about the activities of key local people is a large part of what spies do.

He served under Democratic Presidents, first James K. Polk in the 1840s, and later James Buchanan in the 1850s.

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