From August 18, 1846, when New Mexico was Invaded by the United States Army during the Mexican War, until March 3, 1851, when the first territorial governor was Inaugurated, the conquered province was administered by a military government. To complicate matters, the American military commander established a "civil government" In New Mexico on September 22, 1846, although he had no authority to do so. During the entire period, the military and "civil" governments continued to exist either side by side, or with one superimposed on the other. The purpose of this paper Is to determine the true nature of the government of New Mexico from the time of the American conquest until establishment of the regularly organized territorial government.
The government was actually military in character, and although army commanders appointed a "civil governor," they retained the title of military governor for themselves. Civil governors were such in name only, for the military governor remained final authority in ell matters, whether executive, legislative, or Judicial.
A military government is proclaimed by the President under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, and is employed only in enemy or recently acquired territory. Its purpose is to supplant existing government until the treaty of peace has been signed or Congress has organized the area as a territory of the United States. The military commander is all-powerful, and may take almost any measures he considers necessary to maintain order.
American military governors in New Mexico were accused of harassing and oppressing the people, interfering with their religious worship, fining and imprisoning persons without Jury trial. taxing without consent, embezzling funds, and fall Ing to provide protection promised by the treaty of peace with Mexico.
It is true that American military forces in New Mexico were never strong enough to provide complete protection against the swift hit-and-run tactics of the hostile Indian tribes that surrounded the province. There is also some Justification for the charges against the Judicial arm, and it was certainly true that the military government was a financial failure. However, there is little evidence that military rule was excessively oppressive or arbitrary. On the other hand, there is much to indicate that the military governors made a genuine effort to protect the rights of the Inhabitants. To be sure, revolts were put down with vigor, but not with more than a necessary amount of force.
The military government, essentially paternalistic in nature, rather than inhibiting economic and political progress, actually served as a stabilizing agent during the years that New Mexico waited for formal organization under the laws of the United States. The army was the only agency capable of enforcing law and order in the settlements, and at least hampering the activities of Indian raiders.
Level of Degree
First Committee Member (Chair)
Donald Colgett Cutter
Second Committee Member
Richard Nathaniel Ellis
Third Committee Member
William Miner Dabney
Metzler, Donald E.. "United States Military Government In New Mexico, 1846-1851." (1969). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/hist_etds/358