Statehood of New Mexico

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It took New Mexico more than half a century to shed its territorial status and become a state. New Mexico's citizens first attempted to gain statehood in 1850, when local officials drafted a state constitution which was overwhelmingly approved by voters. A legislature and executive officials were elected. That same summer, however, this statehood plan was nullified when Congress passed the Compromise Bill of 1850 which granted New Mexico territorial status. Other attempts to develop and implement a state constitution followed, including proposed constitutions which were defeated at the polls in 1872 and 1889. There was even an effort at joint statehood with Arizona in 1906, but this too was defeated by the voters, mainly those from Arizona. They feared that Santa Fe would control the state’s politics. Many reasons have been suggested why it took New Mexico so long to become a state. Early efforts were hampered, in part, by a general ignorance about the territory and suspicions towards its people. Statehood was opposed by those who felt that New Mexico's predominantly Hispanic and Indian population was too foreign and Catholic for admission to the American Union. There were even periodic debates as to whether a new name for the territory would help the cause of statehood. Names such as Navajo and Lincoln were suggested and seriously considered. There were also questions about the loyalty these recently conquered people had for their new country. This issue was slowly laid to rest by the honorable service of New Mexico's citizens in the Union cause during the Civil War and later in the Spanish American War. But a different racial issue, however, figured significantly into the delay. During the reconstruction period following the Civil War, New Mexico's chances for statehood seemed assured. In 1876 however, that chance was destroyed by one inadvertent handshake. During an 1876 Congressional debate, Michigan Representative Julius Caesar Burrows, an admired orator,...
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