No constitution no statehood, for New Mexico it was as simple as that. The procedures and requirements for United States Territories to gain admittance to the Union derive from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which was an act of the Congress operating under the Articles of Confederation of the United States that created a formally organized territory out of an area northwest of the Ohio River. According to the precedent established by the Enabling Act of 1802, Congress had to pass such an act before admission of a territory to statehood. An enabling act authorizes the people of the territory to draft a constitution before being considered for statehood.1
Congress passed the Enabling Act for New Mexico on 10 June 1910, and President William Howard Taft signed it into law on 20 June.2 "Santa Fe is Wild with Joy," proclaimed The New Mexican after word of events in Washington reached the territorial capital.3 After much debate, the 1910 Enabling Act provided for New Mexico and Arizona to enter the Union as separate states.
One hundred delegates from around the Territory of New Mexico gathered in Santa Fe for a constitutional convention. The convention opened on 3 October at noon There were thirty-two Hispanic delegates and sixty-eight Anglo American delegates.4 Seventy-nine were Republicans and twenty-one were Democrats.5 The most influential Republicans reflected the views of the conservative wing of the party. In the main, Republicans supported statehood, and Democrats opposed it.
The atmosphere at the convention was tense, and some delegates were said to have kept weapons in their desks.6 Green Barry Patterson, a Democrat representing Chaves County, was a powerful political figure at the time. Patterson left the convention at the halfway mark because Albert Fall would not withdraw a remark made on the floor. Subsequently, Patterson carefully signed his name to the constitution and just as carefully crossed it out as a measure of his disapproval of certain provisions in the document.
As Thomas J. Mabry later observed
New Mexico's interests were varied, and in many cases, rather conflicting, and the idea of writing a constitution [that] would fairly serve the people for decades not years merely, and which would, at the same time, pass muster in a congress then divided, politically, with a democratic house and a republican senate, and which would meet the approval of a most conservative president, was no little problem.7
The convention lasted sixty days and adjourned on 21 November. Congress had stipulated that the constitution be place before the voters of New Mexico between sixty and ninety days after adjournment of the constitutional convention.8 Territorial voters approved the constitution on 21 January 1911.
When Congress and the very conservative President Taft examined the document, they found unacceptable the amendment article, Article 19, which made it essentially impossible to alter the constitution.
As adopted in 1910, Article 19 required that a legislative proposal for an amendment have a two-thirds' vote of the elected members of each house voting separately. The only exception was for amendments proposed at the first regular session convening two years after the adoption of the constitution and at each session convening every eighth year thereafter. No more than three amendments could be submitted at any one election.
Approval of the proposed amendment required an affirmative 40 percent vote of the people in at least one-half of the counties in the state. In addition, special protection was provided for Article 7, Sections 1 and 3, pertaining to election law, and Article 12,
Sections 8 and 10, pertaining to education. No amendment could be submitted to these sections "unless it be proposed by a vote of three-fourths of the members elected to each house voting separately. . .". As the final clincher, no amendment could be made to these requirements except by a constitutional convention.9
The remedy for this issue came in the form of the so-called Smith-Flood resolution, which required that this question to be voted on separately on a ballot printed on blue paper so that the New Mexicans would have the opportunity to change this provision and make it easier to amend the state constitution.10 For that reason, the amendment is referred to as the Blue Ballot Amendment. The Blue Ballot was voted on during the general election of state officers in 1911, and it passed with a comfortable margin on 7 November.11 Thus, the New Mexico constitution was amended before it became effective upon admission of the territory to the Union as the forty-seventh state on 6 January 1912.
1 Arnold H. Leibowitz, Defining Status: A Comprehensive Analysis of United States Territorial Relations (Dordrecht: Nijhoff, 1989), 6-8.
2 36 Stat. 557: authorizing formation of a State government and Admission thereafter.
3 Tom Sharpe, "1910's Enabling Act: Where New Mexico's March to Statehood Begins," The New Mexican, 27 November 2010.
4 Michael G. Chiorazzi and Marguerite Most. Prestatehood Legal Materials: A Fifty-State Research Guide, Including New York City and the District of Columbia (New York: Haworth Information Press, 2005), 781.
5 Le Baron Bradford Prince, A Concise History of New Mexico (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The Torch Press, 1912), 217.
6 Santa Fe New Mexican, 27 October 1945.
7 New Mexico Legislative Council Service, Piecemeal Amendment of the Constitution of New Mexico, 1910 to 2010, 183150 (Santa Fe: New Mexico Legislative Council Service, 2011), iv.
8 Paul L. Hain, F. Chris Garcia, and Gilbert K. St. Clair. New Mexico Government (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994), 125.
9 Ibid., 3.
10 Prince Concise History, 217.
11 "New Mexico Constitution," http://www.iandrinstitute.org/New%20IRI%20Website%20Info/I&R%20Research%20and%20History/I&R%20at%20the%20Statewide%20Level/Constitution%20and%20Statutes/New%20Mexico.pdf (accessed 15 December 2011).