Overview of New Mexico Politics, 1848–1898 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives (2023)

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Santa Fe Ring Footnotes

Overview of New Mexico Politics, 1848–1898 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives (1)/tiles/non-collection/p/part1_19_pacheco_romualdo_election_certificate_na.xml Romualdo Pacheco’s original election certificate; image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration On November 10, 1879, California Governor William Irwin certified Romualdo Pacheco’s election as a U.S. Representative for California’s Fourth District.

The story of the 19th-century Hispanic-American Members of Congress deriveslargely from the history of the nuevomexicano elites and their interactions withU.S. governing officials. Throughout this era, New Mexico’s politics revolvedaround its territorial status and possible statehood, deferred initially becauseof the slavery issue and later because of longstanding prejudice against itsSpanish-speaking, Roman Catholic inhabitants. New Mexico struggled forover 60 years—the longest of any contiguous state—to achieve statehood.

The U.S. military governed New Mexico until a civil territorial governmentwas created under provisions of the Compromise of 1850. The provisions thatSenator Henry Clay of Kentucky envisioned as passing in a single massiveomnibus bill—the admission of California into the Union as a free state; theorganization of New Mexico and Utah into territories, with no reference to theirslavery status; and the resolution of the long-simmering Texas-New Mexico landdisputes—passed both the Senate and the House as a series of separate measures.Part of a larger bill to settle the boundary with Texas, the New Mexico territorialmeasure carried the U.S. House by a tally of 108 to 97 on September 6, 1850,and was signed into law by President Millard Fillmore three days later.65

Overview of New Mexico Politics, 1848–1898 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives (2)/tiles/non-collection/p/part1_20_clay_henry_hc.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Dubbed the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay of Kentucky negotiated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as Speaker of the House and helped devise the Compromise of 1850 as a U.S. Senator.

The politics of the New Mexico Territory, which developed over severaldecades, were driven more by local factionalism than by national issues;national political parties did not gain a toehold until after the Civil War.Historian Howard Lamar describes 1850s New Mexican politics as based on“cliques, usually led by one man and generally organized for the specificpurpose of winning an election or controlling patronage.” Neither Democratsnor Whigs existed in a national or regional sense out West in New Mexico,but local parties often defined themselves in relation to the party that was inpower in Washington. For instance, many of the initial occupation politicianswho were loyal Whigs while Millard Fillmore was President took to callingthemselves “National Democrats” when Democrat Franklin Pierce becamePresident in 1853. Their opponents went by several names, including “StatesRights” Democrats and “Regular” Democrats.66 Moreover, territorial politicswere shaped by the comings and goings of federal administrators who owedtheir patronage positions to the majority national party in Washington, butin this fluid political environment, party affiliation was fleeting. Indeed, asLamar observes, “Some thirty years after American conquest, New Mexicanlocal politics were still based more on family alliance, cultural ties, anti-party principles.… The mere party labels Republican and Democrat becamecaricatures in this unique situation.”67

While New Mexico politics were fractious to an extreme, Delegate elections—which occurred on the first Tuesday of September of odd years from 1853until 1875—caused the territory’s many political factions to unite around “twotemporary parties” in what was then the only territory-wide election.68 Usually,the defining issue in each of these contests was the division between the “nativeparty” and a small but powerful pro-American faction. The former group,favoring home rule and the preservation of the social status quo, comprisedsome of the nuevomexicano elites. Their rivals were a group of wealthy Hispanoswho aligned themselves with Anglo businessmen and military officials bent onfacilitating the process of Americanization to modernize the territory and enrichthemselves. The office of Delegate was an extremely important position fromwhich both these groups sought to advance their agendas. Moreover, preciselybecause Delegates were the only federal officials elected popularly, they heldtremendous sway and a legitimacy that was not often enjoyed by the appointedofficials and administrators.69

During the Civil War, New Mexico was an important battleground in thefar West.70 Although allegiances were divided between the Confederacy andthe Union, many nuevomexicanos remained loyal to the Union; Southernproponents suggested a pro-Confederate Arizona Territory be split from theoriginal New Mexico Territory. Moving westward from Texas, the ConfederateArmy of the West occupied Santa Fe and Albuquerque in 1862, imprisoningthe ardently pro-Union José Manuel Gallegos, who passed secrets to Unionforces from his jail cell. Miguel Otero, though appointed secretary of theNew Mexico Territory by President Abraham Lincoln, failed to receive Senateconfirmation because of that chamber’s long memories of his pro-Southernleanings. Inconclusive evidence suggests that despite his public displays ofsupport for the Union, he supplied invading Confederate forces. Fearing violentreprisals by Unionists and pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities, Otero and hisfamily left the territory and settled in Kansas for the remainder of the decade.José Francisco Chaves served as an officer in the First New Mexico InfantryRegiment, helping to repel the Confederate Army at the Battle of Valverdein 1863. With the Confederate campaign decisively checked at Valverde andGlorieta Pass, Chaves spent the final two years of the war as a lieutenant colonel,as the U.S. Army turned its attention to pacifying Navajo and Apache Indians.

Santa Fe Ring

Overview of New Mexico Politics, 1848–1898 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives (3)/tiles/non-collection/p/part1_21_manzanares_francisco_book.xml Helen Haines, History of New Mexico from the SpanishConquest to the Present Time 1530–1890 with Portraitsand Biographical Sketches of its Prominent People(New York, NY: New Mexico Historical PublishingCompany, 1891) Delegate Francisco Manzanares of New Mexico served for a partial term during the 48th Congress (1883–1885). A successful entrepreneur, Manzanares owned a merchandising firm with offices in Colorado and the New Mexico Territory.

The Civil War created new opportunities for Anglo lawyers and businessmenwho had moved into the territory to seek their fortunes. A political scene withso much active ferment provided tantalizing opportunities for enterprisingHispanos who were willing to work with U.S. officials and Anglo outsiders toacquire greater political and economic dominance in the territory.

Built on a partnership between these two groups, the Santa Fe Ring wasthe first and perhaps the most notable political machine in New Mexico’shistory.71 This Republican-oriented group dominated territorial politics in the latter 19th century, counting among its ranks nearly every governor of theterritory and most federal officials from 1865 through the late 1880s. Fromthe mid-1860s to the early 1880s, a string of Hispanos were elected Delegateon the Republican ticket. The Ring recruited lawyers, probate judges, landsurveyors, doctors, and merchants, who combined forces for profit andpolitical power. Through appointments to key territorial offices delivered byRepublicans in Washington, D.C., and the support of the business class anda pliant press, they succeeded brilliantly. “Although located on the frontier,”writes historian Howard Lamar, “the ring reflected the corporative, monopolistic,and multiple enterprise tendencies of all American business after the Civil War.”Its chief means of influence was parlaying land into economic clout by purchasing,inflating, repackaging, and marketing a score of land grants doled out bySpanish rulers, and later by the U.S. government. The Santa Fe Ring’s mostgrandiose venture involved its speculative promotion of the two-million-acreMaxwell Land Grant.72

Overview of New Mexico Politics, 1848–1898 | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives (4)/tiles/non-collection/p/part1_22_catron_thomas_lc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress A future Delegate and U.S. Senator, Thomas Catron of New Mexico managed the SantaFe Ring, a confederation of Anglo andHispano entrepreneurs who exerted politicaland economic dominance of the territoryafter the Civil War.

Several Hispano Members of Congress were key Ring members or allies;Miguel Otero, Sr.; José Francisco Chaves; Mariano Otero; Francisco Manzanares;and the politically connected Perea family were all aligned with the Santa FeRing at some point in their careers. Miguel Otero, Sr., owned a piece of thesprawling Maxwell Land Grant. Chaves, despite some disagreements with theSanta Fe Ring, was particularly active as president of the territorial councilafter his tenure as Delegate. Mariano Otero proved useful as a longtime probatejudge in Bernalillo County, and Manzanares was a partner with Stephen Elkinsand Thomas Benton Catron in both the Maxwell Land Grant Company andthe First National Bank of Santa Fe. Many of the Hispano Delegates who werenot officially counted in its ranks sympathized with the Ring’s larger desireto corporatize the territory. Only Gallegos, consistently portrayed by Ringcandidates as a throwback to the corrupt, anti-modern rule of the Mexicanregime, remained unaligned with the Ring. By the early 1890s, Elkins had goneback East, New Mexico’s economy had diversified beyond the rampant landspeculation of the early post-Civil War years, and the Santa Fe Ring fadedin importance.

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65Congressional Globe, House, 31st Cong., 1st. sess. (6 September 1850): 1762–1764.

66Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846–1912: A Territorial History: 88; see Horsman, Race andManifest Destiny: 236–248, for Democrats’ and Whigs’ positions regarding New Mexico’sadmittance as a state.

67Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846–1912: A Territorial History: 114–117, quotation on p.116. Lamar divides New Mexico’s political evolution into three stages: 1) an unoccupiedterritory in which contending powers jockeyed for control during 1821 to 1846; 2) a frontierreliant upon the national government for defense and development from 1847 to 1864; 3) anassertion of local rights, the rise of a working political system, calculated use of outside aid forlocal benefit, and a growing sense of a distinct political identity from 1865 to 1912.

68The election date was changed with the passage of a 1872 law that moved the electiondate of Delegates to the first Tuesday of November of the even-numbered year. See RevisedStatutes and Laws of the Territory of New Mexico in Force at the Close of the Session of theLegislative Assembly Ending February 2, 1865 (St. Louis: R. P. Studley & Co., 1865): 430;Compiled Laws of New Mexico. In Accordance with an Act of the Legislature, approved April3, 1884. Including the Constitution of the United States, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,the Gadsden Treaty: The Original Act Organizing the Territory; The Organic Acts as now inforce; The Original Kearny Code; and a List of Laws Enacted Since the Compilation of 1865.(Topeka, KS: G. W. Crane & Co., 1885): 586.

69Pomeroy, The Territories and the United States, 1861–1890: 80; Larson, New Mexico’s Questfor Statehood, 1846–1912: 29–30, 36–40, 69–74; Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846–1912:A Territorial History: 88–89. Lamar and Larson describe the political split between NewMexicans who wanted immediate statehood and those who preferred a territorial government.Pro-statehood advocates formed a faction under Richard Weightman, New Mexico’s firstTerritorial Delegate, while pro-territory advocates united under Judge Joab Houghton. The Weightman faction made an effort to promote nuevomexicano political candidates suchas Gallegos, whereas the Houghton faction promoted primarily Anglo candidates. Larsonwrites that “the Spanish-speaking majority … was hurt more than any other group by thepolitical divisions and feuds” as one faction “scornfully exploited the Hispanos, and the otherpatronizingly sought their votes.” The Weightman and Houghton factions fought for controlof New Mexican politics through delegate elections and patronage appointments for theremainder of the 1850s. See also Ramirez, “The Hispanic Political Elite in Territorial NewMexico: A Study of Classical Colonialism”: 261.

70Larson, New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood: 85–86. Larson lists two reasons for whynuevomexicanos remained loyal to the Union. First, Confederate rule meant Texan rule. Formany New Mexicans, the Sibley invasion was another attempt by Texans who tried to takethe Rio Grande Valley. Secondly, Confederate supporters’ promotion of “the exclusive use ofEnglish in all legal proceedings by the Confederate Territory of Arizona … made the territory’sSpanish-speaking citizens more positive of the unsuitability of the Southern cause.” Forbackground on the Civil War in the American West and New Mexico, see Donald S. Frazier,Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (College Station: Texas A&MUniversity Press, 1995); and Ray C. Colton, Civil War in the Western Territories: Arizona,Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959). For moreinformation about nuevomexicano experiences during the war, see Darlis A. Miller, “Hispanosand the Civil War in New Mexico: A Reconsideration,” New Mexico Historical Review 54,no. 2 (April 1979): 105–123.

71At the heart of the ring was the Santa Fe law partnership that included college friends andoutsize personalities: Republicans Stephen Benton Elkins and Thomas Benton Catron. Beforethey joined forces, Elkins was U.S. District Attorney for New Mexico, and Catron was theterritorial attorney general. Both men became successful politicians, advancing the SantaFe Ring’s interests along the way. For more information on both men, see “Thomas BentonCatron” and “Stephen Benton Elkins,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,http://bioguide.congress.gov.

72For an especially useful interpretation of the Santa Fe Ring’s domination of territorial politicsthrough land grant manipulations, see Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846–1912: A TerritorialHistory: 121–149. Lamar provides background on the Maxwell Land Grant (originally theBeaubien–Miranda claim), which dated to Spanish rule, on pp. 124–125. For the Santa FeRing’s pro-statehood position, see Larson, New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood, 1846–1912:135–146.

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