Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Conevery Bolton Valencius

Second Advisor

Julie P. Winch

Third Advisor

Benjamin D. Johnson


Studying Reconstruction is like putting together a puzzle that is missing several pieces. One piece often left out by historians is the Territory of New Mexico. The people living in this large territory had been promised American citizenship and its corresponding rights in accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). However, the United States did not adequately fulfill the promises of the treaty. During Reconstruction, New Mexicans challenged the United States Congress, Territory Legislatures, and even each other to secure certain rights.

The main concerns of Americans during Reconstruction revolved around land, politics, and the role of religion in education, New Mexico was no exception. While Congress passed several laws to promote western settlement, those laws had little effect within the territory. Legal disputes tied up millions of acres of land. Land unclaimed by grants predating the Civil War was either unsuitable for settlement or reserved by the government for mining and railroads. At times both circumstances kept land from the public domain.

Reconstruction politics were complex and affiliations often swayed depending on the context of policies or the region of the country. The Territory of New Mexico had favored Republican politics before and during the Civil War. However, postwar, when the Republican Party attempted to change cultural traditions like peonage, New Mexicans began to split across class lines, and the poorer favored the attempt. The middle and lower classes displayed agency in their venture of recognition as equals in American society and dislodged corrupt politicians.

Towards the end of Reconstruction, the role of religion and education became a prevalent debate throughout the country. In New Mexico, Catholics wanted to keep religion in schools and fought against the creation of secular public schools. It was their greatest victory and defeat. Although they received national attention and short-term success, eventually public schools were established and public funds cut from parochial ones. Whether its part in Reconstruction mirrored that of other regions or greatly differed, New Mexico’s history is important when trying to fit all the pieces together for a better understanding of a complex time in America’s history.


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