On January 6, 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state in the Union. For over 60 years we have waited and waited and waited.
In 1850, just two years after the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, New Mexico was relegated to territorial status, with governors and other government officials appointed by Washington, DC. , to govern.
It was not that different from Mexican civilian rule or even from colonial rule. Spain appointed Spanish governors in New Mexico through a viceroy in Mexico City. Mexico has appointed governors in New Mexico through emperors, presidents, and other means. Despite being part of the United States, New Mexicans would have to wait decades before tasting the sweet fruits of democracy.
It didn’t seem fair. Texas was granted state status in 1845 and California in 1850. There was no Arizona, as this land was also part of New Mexico until its separation in 1863.
There were several reasons for the discrepancy.
First, New Mexico had enough people to be a state in 1850, over 61,000. Yet we were not the right type of people. Over the previous three decades, Americans traveling along the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to New Mexico have written reports that, in fact, considered New Mexicans unworthy of a state. From the perspective of the United States, the Mexican people of New Mexico – who were a mixture of Spaniards and Native Americans, more Roman Catholics – and the so-called wild indigenous people of mixed origins were never able to assimilate.
Second, there was a storm covering the East over the issue of slavery and state rights. The North wanted to abolish the heinous institution of black slavery, while the South wanted to protect what was seen as a cultural heritage and an economy worth fighting for. As Manifest Destiny pushed the United States’ borders further west, the two sides fought over territory to strengthen their political and demographic base.
When the United States annexed nearly half of Mexico between 1845 and 1850, the spoils of war were divided. Thanks to the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted as a free state, while Texas became a slave state. New Mexico has been denied statehood. It would become a territory, a protectorate of the United States, where black slavery would find no home. However, Native American servitude, justified since colonial times, continued.
Third, there was the “Indian problem”. For centuries, New Mexico has been home to the Navajo, Apache, Comanche, Hopi, Pueblo, and other native tribes and communities. If the Mexican people didn’t quite fit the profile of what would make a good American citizen in the 1850s, these plains and mountain people were even less desirable.
A system of forts was established throughout the territory from 1850. These were used to attack, subdue, disperse and weaken the natives with the ultimate goal of breaking their spirits and forcing them to assimilate while living on reservations away from American settlers and Hispanic New Mexicans. .
It was not just Mexicans or indigenous peoples who were causing trouble. American, British and Irish businessmen, land speculators and lawyers with names such as Thomas Catron, John Tunstall and James Dolan have created tensions and anxiety over access to land and route wars , with local battles breaking out in places like Lincoln and Colfax counties. The Wild West had arrived, and it was brought in by the Americans. Hispanics were excluded from business and ranching to such a degree that self-defense justice emerged in the form of Las Gorras Blancas in San Miguel County in the 1880s.
New Mexico’s multiple attempts at statehood culminated in 1912, when President William Howard Taft signed the documents recognizing the state. New Mexicans were granted citizenship and the right to vote. Yet it would be years before Native Americans and women could vote and participate in our democracy.
There was still a lot of work to be done, but statehood was a good start.
New Mexico state historian Rob Martinez monthly chronicles the state’s rich past in The New Mexican. Watch episodes from her YouTube series, New Mexico History in 10 Minutes, at tinyurl.com/NMHistoryin10.