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, rose to speak in favor of a bill designed to protect the civil rights of freed blacks. Stephen B. Elkins, New Mexico's territorial delegate to Congress, was not present for most of the speech, but entered the House chamber just as Burrows was bringing his rousing address to a close. Unaware of the full nature of Burrows' speech, Elkins shook his colleague's hand in congratulations, a gesture many Southern Congressmen interpreted as support for the civil rights legislation. Elkins' handshake is blamed for costing New Mexico several Southern votes it needed for passage of the statehood bill, and while Colorado was voted into the Union in 1876, New Mexico remained a territory for another 36 years. Despite the myriad racial, religious, political, and economic issues which delayed every attempt at statehood, New Mexico's efforts never ceased. Finally, on June 20, 1910, President William H. Taft signed an Enabling Act which authorized the territory to call a constitutional convention in preparation for being admitted as a state. On October 3rd of that year, one hundred delegates elected from every county in the territory, convened at Santa Fe and drafted a constitution which was approved by voters on January 21, 1911. New Mexico had taken the final step in its long journey towards becoming a full part of the United States of America. A proud and distinguished delegation from New Mexico was present in Washington, D.C. when President Taft signed the proclamation admitting New Mexico as the 47th state. After signing the long-awaited document at 1:35 P.M., January 6, 1912, the President turned to the delegation and said, "Well, it is all over. I am glad to give you life. I hope you will be healthy." New Mexico's long struggle for statehood was finally over. A few days later, on January 15, 1912, William C. McDonald stood on the steps of the capitol building in Santa Fe, and was inaugurated as the first Governor of the State of New Mexico.
The state then began the on-going struggle to prove itself a worthy addition to the Union. Two world wars, innumerable economic and political changes, and the relentless and inevitable march of progress have made New Mexico a place which would have been beyond the imagination of our native ancestors, the Spanish conquistadors, Mexican farmers, French trappers, American soldiers, Jewish merchants, and all those who came to this place and made it their home.