New Mexico Gains Statehood

The beginning of the land of mañana

New Mexico is often jokingly referred to as the “Land of Mañana”. Things here just seem to take a little longer and folks don’t get in too much of a hurry for anything. This laissez faire attitude it seems has been ingrained in the state’s culture since the very beginning.

One hundred and seven years ago today, New Mexico was added to the Union. The route to statehood was not an easy one. The quest for statehood began years earlier just after the Mexican American War. The land area encompassing most of New Mexico was added to the union with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Efforts to join the Union began as early as 1850 when the first state constitution was drafted and voted on. The constitution passed in an election held on June 20, 1850 by a margin of 8,371 to 39. However, the election was nullified as New Mexico was not recognized as a territory at the time and the constitution never took effect. Later that year, the Compromise of 1850 officially made New Mexico a U.S. territory.

In the following years, New Mexico made several other attempts at gaining statehood, all of which failed some at the hands of the voters and others at the hands of the government. In 1901 a joint memorial was sent to congress petitioning for statehood. However, years of discussion ensued including a proposal drafted in 1904 to join Arizona and New Mexico as one state. A proposal which New Mexicans in 1906 approved, but Arizonans voted against. Finally in 1910 President William Taft signed the enabling act allowing New Mexico and Arizona to move forward with their quest for statehood. A constitutional convention was held to draft the state constitution later that year and on January 21, 1911 New Mexico voters approved the newly drafted constitution.

On November 7, 1911 New Mexicans held their first election for state governor. W.C. McDonald the democratic candidate won by a hefty majority to serve as the state’s first governor. On January 4, 1912 President Taft met with a delegation from New Mexico including newly elected U.S. Representatives George Curry and H.B. Fergusson. The delegation delivered to the president the formal certificate of returns from the state’s first election. At the meeting, President Taft instructed Secretary of State Knox to draft the statehood proclamation for signature the next day.

Plans were made for signing of the proclamation at 10:00 a.m. on January 5, 1912. However, prior to the signing, the Department of Justice asked President Taft to delay the signing due to litigation between the Federal Government and the Alamogordo Lumber Company. The suit involved lands purchased by the company from the territory, which the Government claimed the territory had no right to sell. The concern was that litigation filed under the territorial courts would be nullified once the territorial courts were replaced by state courts.

A telegram was sent to Supreme Court Clerk Jose D. Sena from Attorney General Wikersham to enter a writ of error in the case and Sena worked quickly to file the writ clearing the last stumbling block for statehood. With the issue resolved, Taft contacted the delegation from New Mexico and scheduled the signing for January 6, 1912.

The ceremony was held in the president’s private office with the New Mexico delegation present. At 1:35 p.m. President Taft signed the proclamation officially making New Mexico the 47th state. Two copies of the proclamation were signed with a special gold and pearl pen. One copy of the proclamation was filed in Washington and the other copy along with the pen was given to the N.M. Historical Society in Santa Fe. Upon signing the proclamation, Taft said, “Well, it is all over, I am glad to give you life. I hope you will be healthy.”

The first state officials were installed in office at inaugural ceremonies held at the state capital on January 15, 1912. The first state officials included:

  • Governor – William C. McDonald
  • Lieutenant Governor – E.C. DeBaca
  • Secretary of State – Antonio J. Lucero
  • Attorney General – Frank W. Clancy
  • State Treasurer – O.N. Marron
  • State Auditor – William G. Sargent
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction – Alvan N. White
  • Commissioner of Public Lands – R.P. Ervien
  • Supreme Court – Clarence J. Roberts Chief Justice, Frank W. Parker, and Richard H. Hanna
  • State Corporation Commission – Hugh H. Williams, M.S. Groves, and George H. Van Stone
  • Congressmen – George Curry and Harvey B. Fergusson

It seems only fitting that the state often referred to as “The Land of Mañana” would gain her statehood one day after originally scheduled. Happy Birthday New Mexico!

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