The New Mexico and Arizona Centennials

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On January 6, 1912, New Mexico became a state, followed 39 days later by Arizona. A 62-year-long quest for statehood—the longest in U.S. history—had finally ended.

What may seem today like a foregone conclusion about statehood was nothing of the kind at the turn of the 20th century. Fearing higher taxes, powerful railroad and mining interests lobbied hard against admission, while cattle barons fought to keep their free access to public lands. Citizens of both territories also didn’t appear particularly interested in statehood.

New Mexico legislators dissolved one constitutional convention for lack of delegates. In other years, inhabitants voted down statehood.

Sectionalism and bigotry also interfered with these statehood bids. Many easterners feared the power that two new states might exercise in the Senate, while nativists complained that New Mexico contained too many Catholics and Hispanics. No obstacle proved more imposing than Sen. Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, the chairman of the Committee on Territories. While supporting statehood for Oklahoma, which became the 46th state in 1907, he rejected it for Arizona (little more than a mining camp, in his view) and New Mexico (too Spanish). It took President William Howard Taft and the continuing advance of progressivism to break the logjam, although not without last-minute complications.

Taft viewed Arizona’s constitution as too liberal, and he made the state remove a recall provision, but New Mexico and Arizona finally prevailed. It was cause for celebration in 1912, as well as in 2012.