At the critical moment in time when statehood was finally within reach, three men in particular made it happen. While one is always associated with the event, the other two have long been forgotten and are seldom mentioned by contemporary writers and historians.
The catalyst for statehood was the 1908 Republican National Convention in Chicago, where the Party included in its platform a pledge to support admission for both New Mexico and Arizona. The pledge was momentous because Republicans in Congress had not been recently disposed to admission of more western territories. (As for New Mexico, Republican opposition had been further ensconced by the racial prejudices of such powerful Republicans as Senator Albert Beveridge, as noted previously.)
One man in particular was responsible for the Republican endorsement of New Mexico’s statehood in 1908. He was Holm Olaf Bursum, the son of Norwegian immigrants. Born in Iowa, Bursum moved to New Mexico in 1881 and settled in Socorro County, where he established a successful ranching operation.
In 1908, Bursum was chairman of New Mexico’s Republican Party, and headed the territory’s delegation to the national convention in Chicago. There he coaxed, pleaded and prodded so that statehood for New Mexico would be included in the Republican platform. The support for statehood which followed was the direct result of Bursum’s untiring efforts in Chicago — for which he should always be remembered.
Also at the 1908 Chicago convention, Republicans nominated William Howard Taft for president, and he won the election the following November. At the same election, the GOP continued its strong domination of both houses of Congress, all of which would come together for New Mexico in the following months.
New Mexico’s delegate in Congress at this time was William H. “Bull” Andrews, the second of our statehood notables. Andrews came to New Mexico from Pennsylvania, where he had been influential in Republican politics, even serving as chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.
With his Republican connections to Pennsylvania and his intimacy with other eastern power brokers, Andrews became a formidable delegate and exerted more influence than many congressmen and senators. (Andrews was referred to as Pennsylvania’s third senator.)
The perfect stage was set for New Mexico’s admission. Socorro County’s Holm Bursum had succeeded in getting the Republican pledge for statehood in Chicago. Republican Taft won the presidency, and “Bull” Andrews, New Mexico’s Republican delegate in Washington, was well-connected in a Republican Congress, and counted among his friends some of the most powerful men in the nation’s capital.
Under these ideal conditions, things began to move fast. Working closely with delegate Andrews, Republican Congressman E. L. Hamilton of Michigan, chairman of the House Committee on Territories, introduced the House bill enabling statehood for both New Mexico and Arizona. On Jan. 17, 1910, the Hamilton bill passed the House of Representatives without opposition. (Historians agree that throughout the process, delegate Andrews was both assiduous and adroit.)
Then, a stumbling block. The Hamilton bill arrived in the Senate to be received by none other than Albert J. Beveridge, still chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories. Beveridge continued to oppose statehood for New Mexico, as did his close ally and fellow Republican, Rhode Island Sen. Nelson Aldrich, then considered the most powerful man in the Senate.
Beveridge and Aldrich were determined to block the Hamilton bill, when New Mexico’s third hero intervened. He was President Taft, who took seriously the pledge made in the Republican platform on which he was elected, and insisted that the pledge be fulfilled. He met personally with Beveridge and Aldrich, and persuaded them to abandon their opposition to New Mexico’s admission.
On June 16, 1910, because of President Taft’s personal intervention, the Senate approved the enabling act for New Mexico and Arizona statehood.
However, Beveridge and Aldrich included some amendments intended to cause defeat of the bill when it was returned to the House for concurrence. (Their promise to President Taft was apparently non-opposition, not complete surrender.)
Again, President Taft came to the rescue. He met with Chairman Hamilton and other House leaders, and persuaded them to concur with the Senate amendments and be done with it. Beveridge and New Mexico’s enemies had been outwitted by the President.
On Saturday, June 18, 1910, at 2 in the afternoon, legendary House Speaker Joseph “Uncle Joe“ Cannon placed before the House, the bill admitting New Mexico and Arizona as American states. Then, “Shouts of vote, vote, arose from all sides of the House, and the question was put, viva voce, there being no demand for a roll call, and the House concurred by unanimous vote.”
Holm O. Bursum, William H. “Bull” Andrews and President William Howard Taft came together at a perfect moment in time, to make statehood a reality!
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.