32 U.S. territories have already become States, and each of them has had anti-statehood factions. New Mexico faced particularly strong anti-statehood feelings. Who was in the anti-statehood movement for New Mexico?
The majority of New Mexico’s population were Spanish-speaking people. New Mexico had been part of Mexico. The United States gained the land in a war with Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. It became the Territory of New Mexico in 1950. At that time, the territory included what is now Arizona and part of Colorado as well.
Soon after, settlers from the States began to move into the new territory. These English-speaking people were the minority, but they had quite a bit of influence. Some became prosperous, in part because they were able to make deals in the Territory that they could not have made in a State.
As a territory, New Mexico had government leaders appointed by Washington. They were all English-speaking people from States. In New Mexico, the majority Spanish-speaking population realized that as a State they would be able to vote for their governor and representatives to Washington. They favored statehood for the political power it would give the long-time residents.
Some U.S. leaders
Some of the leaders in the U.S. were downright hostile to New Mexico. General Sherman once joked that the United States should go to war with Mexico again and “make them take back New Mexico.”
Between 1890 and 1903, 20 statehood bills were introduced, and all the presidents in office during that time supported New Mexico’s push for statehood, as did the Territory’s non-voting representatives in Congress. However, there were those in Congress who did not support statehood for New Mexico.
Anti-statehood activists like Senator Beveridge of Indiana worried about the language question, about whether New Mexico would be loyal to the United States, and the Wild West reputation of the Territory. Beveridge was the head of the Committee on Territories and was able to delay statehood for New Mexico as long as he was in that position.
Arizona became a separate territory from New Mexico, but at one point Congress was considering admitting the two territories together as one State, the State of Montezuma. While Arizona eventually chose statehood and both entered the Union in 1912, there was a time when Arizona’s leaders declared that they would rather remain a territory for another 50 years than become a State with New Mexico.
New Mexico, believing their best chance for statehood was the jointure with Arizona, was willing, but Arizona steadfastly refused to join New Mexico.
All told, it took 66 years for New Mexico to become a State. They faced many of the same obstacles Puerto Rico currently faces in its movement toward statehood. However, no U.S. territory has been refused statehood permanently.