NEW MEXICO'S STRUGGLE FOR STATEHOOD
Sixty Years of Effort to Obtain Self Government
FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
Richard Melzer, PhD
LeBaron Bradford Prince (1840-1922) was a transplanted New Yorker, a tireless judge, a controversial territorial governor, a gentleman scholar, and an early leader of the Historical Society of New Mexico. In all these roles, and others, he was a passionate advocate of New Mexico statehood. In the words of Robert W. Larson, the foremost authority on the struggle for New Mexico statehood, Prince displayed a readiness “to plunge into the statehood fray” whenever and wherever he was needed.
Prince was born, raised, and educated in New York. As a young attorney, his political career in state politics had progressed well until he clashed with leaders of the state Republican Party machine, led by Roscoe Conkling. Salvaging his political fortunes in the West, Prince won appointment as the chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court in 1879. By all accounts, no territorial judge worked harder than Prince, often hearing cases from 8:00 in the morning till 11:00 at night. In what time remained in his busy days, Prince compiled a 603-page volume of territorial laws and began to write history with the clear purpose of advocating New Mexico statehood. His first work on New Mexico history, entitled Historical Sketches of New Mexico: From the Earliest Records to the American Occupation, appeared in 1883.
After actively lobbying for the coveted position, Prince won appointment as the thirteenth U.S. territorial governor of New Mexico. Unfortunately, his four-year term in office, 1889-93, was marred by property violence (by the Gorras Blancas), political violence (by and against the Santa Fe Ring), and almost continuous political controversy. Despite this turmoil, Prince and his wife Mary were known for their generous hospitality at the Palace of the Governors, sparing little to entertain visitors of all social classes.
In relation to his overriding political goal, Prince convened a state constitutional convention shortly after he entered the governor’s office. Knowing that the writing of a state constitution was a major step toward statehood, the governor praised the convention’s work as “excellent” but blamed his uncompromising Democratic opponents for the draft’s decisive defeat at the polls. In 1890 Prince led a delegation of twenty-nine territorial leaders on a trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby for statehood, among other pressing issues. Unfortunately, the sojourn east proved as futile as the drive to pass an acceptable state constitution.
Once out of office, Prince continued to press for New Mexico statehood, especially through the preservation of the region’s long history. Realizing that those outside New Mexico thought of the territory’s racial diversity as a disadvantage, Prince argued that each racial group (or at least its leaders) had special qualities that had helped to unite, rather than divide the territory during most of its history. Writing to the editor of the New York Tribune, Prince asserted that the sum of these special qualities gave New Mexico "special advantages as a self-governing community over most other Territories” that seemed destined to achieve statehood before New Mexico. These “special advantages” became the major theme of Prince’s historical work, whether he was collecting artifacts for the Historical Society of New Mexico, serving as that organization’s president and most active member from 1884 to World War I, speaking to civic groups, or writing pertinent history, including New Mexico’s Struggle for Statehood, published in 1910.
L. Bradford Prince was one of seven territorial governors who attended the January 15th inauguration of New Mexico’s first state governor, William C. McDonald, in New Mexico’s long-awaited statehood year, 1912. Within a year of that auspicious occasion, Prince published A Concise History of New Mexico, a condensation and revision of his Historical Sketches of 1883. His purpose in 1913 was to be concise by avoiding the “temptation” to provide excessive historical details, a mild criticism of much longer recent histories by Ralph Emerson Twitchell (five volumes, 1911-17) and Benjamin Read (1912). Prince also hoped that his “little volume” might be of use in the now-required teaching of New Mexico history in the state’s public schools. The passage of a public school bill during his term as governor had been considered an important step toward the attainment of statehood. The publication of a state history textbook was meant to be an important contribution to New Mexico public education once statehood had been achieved.
But within a year of its publication, Prince affirmed that the length and price of the already brief Concise History was excessive for most public schools and students. While still recommending A Concise History for teachers and most adults, Prince offered an even more focused, 174-page work, entitled The Student’s History of New Mexico.
Now, instead of using history to argue the case for New Mexico statehood, Prince’s chief goal was to use history to help create pride in New Mexico for the “clear-eyed, pure hearted, noble minded youth” of the nation’s newest state. These future citizens could take pride in both their past, “the most interesting of all American state histories,” and in the special qualities of individual groups whose collective story was “unrivaled in ancient or modern times.” Proud students would hopefully grow to become good citizens, well prepared to contribute to the making of a strong, modern state. Convinced that The Student’s History had served its purpose well, Prince later updated his book with an additional ten pages about New Mexico’s first few years of statehood. This second edition of The Student’s History appeared in 1921, a year before Prince’s death.
Despite its brevity, The Student’s History reflects much about Prince and his Anglo generation’s thinking about New Mexico and its past, as of the early twentieth century. By our twenty-first century standards, much of this thinking is imperialistic, elitist, and racist. While Prince described most Spanish, Anglo, and Pueblo leaders in appreciative terms and portrayed four of New Mexico’s “most noted” Indian fighters with special praise, readers search in vain for references to Navajo or Apache leaders like Geronimo or Cochise, no less for any virtues these Native Americans may have displayed for students to admire and emulate.
The second edition of The Student’s History is also offered as a brief history of New Mexico of value to the general reader sophisticated enough to recognize its biases, but astute enough to appreciate its many facts. If this unique telling of New Mexico’s past adds to our pride in being New Mexicans—or helps others to better understand New Mexico—then L. Bradford Prince will have achieved his purpose long after he departed his beloved New Mexico, once a striving territory and now a productive member of the nation’s family of states.
Clancey, Frank W. In Memory of L. Bradford Prince. Santa Fe: Historical Society of New Mexico, 1923.
Donlon, Walter J. “LeBaron Bradford Prince, Chief Justice and Governor of New Mexico Territory, 1879-1893.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico, 1967.
Lamar, Howard R. The Far Southwest, 1846-1912: A Territorial History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.
Larson, Robert W. New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood, 1846-1912. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968.
Montoya, María E. “L. Bradford Prince: The Education of a Gilded Age Politician.” New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 66 (April 1991): 179-201.
Pattison, J. Michael. “Four ‘Gentlemen’ Historians of New Mexico.” Unpublished M.A. thesis, New Mexico Highlands University, 1992.
Poldervaart, Arie W. Black-Robed Justice: A History of the Administration of Justice in New Mexico from the American Occupation in 1846 Until Statehood in 1912. Santa Fe: Historical Society of New Mexico, 1948.
Stensvaag, James T. “Cleo On the Frontier: The Intellectual Evolution of the Historical Society of New Mexico, 1859-1925.” New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 55 (October 1980): 293-308.
L. Bradford Prince Papers, Center for Southwest Research, Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
L. Bradford Prince Papers, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Main Historical Works by L. Bradford Prince
Prince, L. Bradford. A Concise History of New Mexico. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The Torch Press, 1912.
__________. Historical Sketches of New Mexico: From the Earliest Records to the American Occupation. New York: Leggat Brothers, 1883.
__________. New Mexico’s Struggle for Statehood: Sixty Years of Effort to Obtain Self Government. Santa Fe: New Mexico Printing Company, 1910.
__________. Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1976; originally published in 1915.
__________. The Student’s History of New Mexico. Denver: The Publishers Press, 1913; second edition, 1921.