Lew Wallace Interview on New Mexico Statehood

Lew Wallace was always good for an interview and seldom shy to wade into a discussion. Just a month before he died when his health was rapidly failing, Lew waded into a discussion on statehood for New Mexico. At the time he was interviewed and gave his opinions, it looked like Arizona and New Mexico would be brought into the Union as one state called Arizona. Lew disagreed in no uncertain terms, even disagreeing with his friend Senator Beveridge from Indiana who was a leader on the bill. There were those who were reconciled to combining the two territories into one state and felt that Lew was on the wrong side of history. Below is an interview that Lew gave.

January 6, 1905 – Crawfordsville Weekly Journal“The Statehood Bill – General Wallace and Delegate Rodey Take Opposite Views.  Wallace for New Mexico – As a Single State But Rodey Says His People Are Reconciled to a Union with Arizona.

            “’I consider it nothing short of a criminal mistake,” says Gen. Lew Wallace, ‘that congress seems about to force New Mexico to accept statehood with Arizona.  It means that the name “New Mexico” is to be forever lost and the two territories to be known as the state of Arizona.

            “’I love the people of New Mexico. I lived with them two and one-half years as their governor, and I know their condition and their needs. The bill now advocated by Senator Beveridge is bad. It means the practical disfranchisement of the whole people of both territories.’

            “Here the general swung into a long discourse upon the subject.  He detailed his life among the people; he told of their needs and their desires. He caustically criticized both the methods and motives of the man engineering the measure. As he warmed up to his subject his old vigor returned. Fire leaped into his eyes as he leaned forward in his chair and raised his hand, with the lean index finger tremblingly shaking with pent up emotion his finger brought out, as he said:

            “’And this thing will never be brought about as long as I can fight it. Those people have not forgotten me yet, and I shall use every influence to save them. If this tyrannical business is forced upon them I shall do all I can to make them repudiate the act. I shall advise them to accept nothing from this government; I shall tell them not to go to the polls; I shall tell them not to elect congressmen and senators; not to choose a legislature and if needs be, I’ll go down there to those people and help them fight this battle.’

            “B. S. Rodey, the delegate who represents New Mexico with such zeal and earnestness in congress, strongly defends Senator Beveridge from the attack made upon him and the joint statehood bill by General Wallace.

            “He says that General Wallace is out of touch with the sentiment and needs of the people of New Mexico, and that if he had come to their rescue in years gone by, instead of at this eleventh hour, New Mexico might have been able to have obtained single statehood. He advises General Wallace to fall in line and help in a long and strong pull for the pending measure, which provides joint statehood – for New Mexico and Arizona.

Reconciled to Joint Statehood

            “’General Wallace,” said Mr. Rodey, “is just experiencing the same shock which I myself experienced when, after making the battle of a lifetime for separate statehood for New Mexico, I was bluntly informed by congress that nothing else would ever be offered than joint statehood in those two territories. The people of the two territories, or at least a large majority of them, myself included, have become reconciled to the inevitable and we now regard Senator Beveridge’s efforts to pass the joint statehood bill as a great blessing, and we consider its terms and provisions as indeed most liberal. It probably is the best bill of the kind ever framed.

            “’General Wallace lived among us twenty-five years ago as our governor, when we did not have a mile of railroad in either territory and he does not understand us or know us as we are today. Neither does he appear to understand the firm and absolute manner in which public opinion in the middle and eastern states has crystallized against the admission of small populations to the Union as states.

            “General Wallace has many warm friends in the territory and most of them, having become tired of the intolerable territorial conditions, are now ardent joint statehoodites. I might mention in particular his friend, Col. Eugene A. Fiske of Santa Fe.  The office holders in the territories, more than any other class, are opposing the present bill.

Forced to Accept It.

            “’I might further say that if our good friend, General Wallace, had used his great talent and influence during the years since he left the territory to prevent crystallization of public opinion against us and in aid of our admission to the Union as a separate state, we might not now be forced to accept the only sort of statehood which it is possible for us to get.

            “’The present bill creates a state about the size of Indiana less than Texas in area, but much more compact in form, which will have a population between 500,000 and 600,000 people. It is traversed by 3,500 miles of railway and much more is projected.  It is as easy of access from point to point within itself today as the state of Maine was fifty years ago. The bill grants us 24,000,000 acres of land for our schools and other institutions and $5,000,000 cash, for the same purpose, as well as providing $450,000 to pay the expenses of the convention and election. We have, living in New Mexico now, twice as many people who came from the states, without speaking of our native population as we had total population when General Wallace lived among us.

            “’The most friendly act the General can do us at the present time is to aid in the passage of the pending bill.  We will be as thankful for his kind assistance in that regard as we are proud of the product of his brain to the literary world, and we hope he will help us.’”

The Rodey Law Firm offers a biography of B.S. Rodey: Bernard Shandon Rodey, founder of the Rodey Firm and father of the University of New Mexico. In the style of his day, the New Mexico Reports often identified him as “B.S. Rodey,” but there was no B.S. about him; he was all action, all the time. To the contemporary observer, he seems larger than life – and indeed, he must have been a remarkable figure. Yet he also reminds us that in territorial times, in many ways, life itself was larger than it is today.

Rodey was Irish by birth and arrived destitute in Boston around 1877. By 1881, he had moved to Albuquerque and was working as a private secretary for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. Within a few years he was working as a court stenographer and reporter. Through hard work and study he received his law license in the New Mexico Territory by the end of 1883. He also taught himself Spanish in his spare time. His political ascent was just as fast as his business career and he was elected to the territorial legislature in 1888. He continued his political rise, legal career, work in the field of education, and much more in the developing territory of New Mexico.

In 1905, Rodey was still nursing a wound from the Republican Party when they rejected him and nominated another man as their representative in Congress. At this same time,

Rodey realized that he could not win statehood for New Mexico alone, and he persuaded Congress to admit New Mexico and Arizona to the Union as a single state. This is when Lew Wallace expressed his thoughts on the matter. Rodey’s modified bill which ultimately cleared Congress called for approval of this proposal by the voters of each territory. While New Mexicans voted in favor of joint statehood, Arizonans rejected it.

Wallace’s wishes for a separate state of New Mexico triumphed—thanks to the voters of Arizona. Long after Lew’s passing in February of 1905, New Mexico became the 47th state on January 6, 1912 followed by Arizona as the 48th (and last contiguous state) on February 14, 1912.

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