Monday, May 20, 2019

The New Mexico Constitution 
and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Dr. Guillermo Lux
Professor of New Mexican History
New Mexico Highlands University
 Las Vegas, NM 87701 


 

guaranteed to the people of New Mexico, the guarantee is for the benefit of the Mexican citizens who resided in New Mexico in 1848. There are other sections in the Constitution that likewise reflect this uniqueness and the multi-cultural facets of New Mexican history. 

Nevertheless, the comprehensive coverage afforded United States citizens under the federal constitution and the broad protection extended to all New Mexicans under the proposed state constitution, why was it considered to be necessary by the state founding fathers in 1910 to include these additional guarantees in the state constitution? 


I

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, like the state constitution, served several purposes: it ended the war between the United States and Mexico; it also incorporated into the United States the northern states of Mexico and the citizens residing there. For those citizens of Mexico, the treaty became a document (much like those drawn between the United States government and native Americans) which was intended to establish relationships between people, in this case between the conquerors and the conquered. In a sense, through this extralegal tactic by the Mexican commissioners who helped draft the treaty, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo became an interim bill of rights for the Mexican people now residing in the United States and now an incorporated part of the United States citizenry. What then were the provisions of the treaty that were so significant that they had to be reiterated in the 1910 state constitution? 

Concerning the circumstances surrounding the drafting of the treaty, Mexico, by January of 1848, was a nation prostrate at the feet of the victorious army of the north. In such a precarious position, she could hardly have been expected to make demands upon the victors. Mexico was being absorbed into the United States with only where the boundary would be drawn to be determined. Uncertain, as to exactly just what geography would be demanded and transferred, the Mexican commissioners could be certain about the presumed fate of the 100,000 or more Mexican citizens that were in New Mexico, and they demanded a Bill of Rights for these people. The Mexican commissioners did not want those Mexican citizens, although a conquered people, to be demeaned to the position of blacks in the United States, which had been outlawed since the beginning of the Mexican Republic. 

Articles VIII, IX and X were the basic three articles which expressed the intent of Mexico to protect, to the best of her compromised ability, her alienated children. (Had all three of the articles been acceptable to the United States Congress, it is possible that 20th century politico-economic history might have been different.) Article VIII asserted that the Mexicans residing in the territories previously belonging to Mexico might continue to reside there retaining their property, or return to Mexico with their property. They might elect to continue their Mexican citizenship or become United States citizens. Their property of every kind was to be "inviolably respected" as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States." In either case they should be treated with equal respect and be given full property and civil rights afforded the citizens of the United States. 

Article VIII was accepted, but articles IX and X were not. Article IX was even more explicit on the citizenship question. It demanded statehood (and hence full participation in the democratic process) as soon as possible. Article X dealt with land grants and was also expunged, setting into motion decades of ambiguity for New Mexico which resulted in land fraud and political corruption which, ironically enough, became excuses for Congress not granting statehood. 


II

There was another point of view regarding the Mexican citizens now a pert of the United States that many shared. N. C. Brooks, who wrote and published a history of the war in 1849, explains this Anglo-American position from the vantage point of the conqueror: 

The United States Congress and others concurred with Brooks. They recalled that only months earlier, Indian and Hispano New Mexicans had murdered at Taos the first Governor under United States Rule. Congress was not so sure about quick admission for New Mexico to full citizenship status. And accordingly, the change "shall be admitted at the proper time…" was inserted. Congress further substituted "as soon as Congress shall determine…" And when did Congress determine? In 1912, after New Mexico was kept out of the United States longer than any other petitioning territory and in violation of the intent of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The deletions and emendations in Article IX and X only served to further heighten the apprehensions of the Mexican Congress which feared Mexicans would become second class citizens. And the New Mexican now temporized over ratifying the treaty. The Secretary of State, James Buchanan (who had a reputation for being a wily politician), however, according to Robert W. Larson, "…gave full assurance to his counterpart in Mexico by pledging that congress will never turn a deaf ear to a people anxious to enjoy the privilege of self-government." 


III

How did Mexicans in New Mexico fare between 1848 and 1912 when statehood (and full citizenship) status was finally achieved? The former citizens of Mexico and their descendants became the adopted children of the United States. It was a paternalistic relationship as the Great Seal of New Mexico graphically portrayed in a publication by the Territorial Bureau of Immigration: 

In 1882, taking the Ritch description, there was an article in the Daily New Mexican, which reiterated this association between the peoples of New Mexico. 

Furthermore, there is a curious paradox here in that the treaty guarantees served to retard progress toward achieving statehood, which was also promised under the treaty. For example, there were congressional reports, which attacked New Mexicans because of their lack of English. As the historian Robert Larsen has written on this subject, a report which accompanied the Territory’s 1893 petition for statehood "attacked the contention that statehood should be withheld until every inhabitant had learned to read and write the English language, because this was contrary to the understanding which had existed among those who signed the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo." 

There were other problems as well: the powerful chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee, Senator Albert Beveridge, Larsen continues, "embodied some of the common and widespread prejudices of Easterners toward the Hispano, Catholic population of New Mexico. The general feeling of Anglo-Saxon superiority was certainly present in Beveridge, a leading spokesman for the new American imperialism." 

Others apparently shared this "eastern orientation." There were frequent newspaper articles attacking New Mexicans which likewise indicated strong prejudices against the Spanish-speaking people. Then there were New Mexico’s defenders. Congressman William McAdoo, Democrat from New Jersey, attacked the narrow mindlessness of New Mexico’s critics, asserting that "Spanish Americans of New Mexico were Americans by birth, sympathy and education, furnishing more troops to the Union army during the Civil War than some of the new states." And, in the Spanish-American war of 1898, the Roughriders proved their American-ness (as they would in World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam). 

Nevertheless, Notwithstanding Buchanan’s vows to the contrary, it would not be until the 1910 constitution and statehood in 1912 that the intent of Article IX was finally secured and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s promises fulfilled. 


IV

For those Hispanos (and others as well) who assembled in Santa Fe in the fall of 1910 to draft the 1910 Constitution, given the poor record enforcement of the "interim bill of rights," it was apparent that there were levels of citizenship. It was not that the treaty was faulty, or that the Mexican commissioners had erred in there judgment. Quite to the contrary, they had been extremely perceptive in the probable course of history. The problem from 1848 to 1910 was how does an internal colony demand and get compliance. This problem was among those that the New Mexican founding fathers in 1910 addressed at the 1910 constitutional convention addressed. 

Given this brief historical background, it becomes more apparent why New Mexicans wrote a unique document in 1910. They included the "additional" bill of rights, Article II, Section 5: "…the rights, privileges and immunities, etc. of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo." These rights are again reasserted in Article VII, Section 3, which guaranteed the right to vote regardless of religion, race, language, color or ability to speak the English language. Article VIII, Section 8 mandated teacher training for Spanish-speaking children. The Spanish-American Normal School at El Rito, when the other normal schools did not assume this responsibility, was founded for this specific purpose. Article VII, Section 10 forbade racial discrimination against children of Spanish descent, and guaranteed equal access to an education. They were "…never to be denied admission to the public schools, nor ever be classed in separate schools, but shall forever enjoy perfect equality with other children in public schools…" 

In summary, the authors of the 1910 constitution drew upon the experience of the 19thcentury and drafted a document which incorporated all possible protection of the ideals of the United States Constitution and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Larsen says: 

"The stringent provisions regarding equality for the Spanish-speaking citizen were intended to overcome fears and apprehensions of the native population that they might be discriminated against by the Anglo majority…"

They further established, as reiterated by Larsen, an amendment process which would make it almost impossible to strip these rights from the document at a later date. The New Mexicanagreed with the amendment procedure hoping: 

"that the protection given the Spanish-speaking people would not be tampered with, for native New Mexicans had the right to protest against being put in the same status as the Negro in Mississippi." 

 

 

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