Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. States

When Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona achieved statehood, they completed the expansion of the contiguous United States and brought regions that had been territories and frontiers to a status equal to that of the other forty-five states.

Summary of Event

The United States of America expanded to include forty-eight contiguous states when first Oklahoma (in 1907) and then both New Mexico and Arizona (in 1912) became states. All three states had at one time been designated as territories, and, as such, they were controlled by principles established by the Continental Congress’s Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This ordinance was originally drawn up to apply to the region known as the Old Northwest (lands north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River). It stated that a district with a free male population of five thousand would be considered sufficiently settled for the federal government to appoint a governor to administer its business and provide for a locally elected legislature. Once the district or territory reached a population of sixty thousand, it could write its own constitution and apply to Congress for statehood. As long as the constitution guaranteed certain civil liberties, provided for some kind of public education for the state’s citizens, and made certain concessions about slavery, there was little likelihood that the application for statehood would be denied. Oklahoma;statehood
New Mexico statehood
Statehood;New Mexico
[kw]Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. States (Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912)
[kw]New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. States, Oklahoma (Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912)
[kw]Arizona Become U.S. States, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and (Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912)
[kw]U.S. States, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become (Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912)
[kw]States, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. (Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912)
New Mexico statehood
Statehood;New Mexico
[g]United States;Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912: Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. States[01860]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912: Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. States[01860]
[c]Government and politics;Jan. 16, 1907-Feb. 14, 1912: Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Become U.S. States[01860]
Taft, William Howard
Roosevelt, Theodore
Hunt, George W. P.
Haskell, Charles Nathaniel
McDonald, William C.

Oklahoma became a territory in 1890 after some sixty thousand settlers participated in a land run into what was then Indian Territory set aside for the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. Another land run in 1893 saw one hundred thousand homesteaders move onto approximately six million acres of Cherokee land. The 1887 Dawes Act, or Indian General Allotment Act, gave the federal government the right to parcel out 160-acre plots of Indian Territory land to individual Native Americans. This allowed the government to open up the rest of the unassigned land for settlement by non-Indians. In 1896, Greer County, Texas, was added to the Oklahoma Territory. As the territory became settled, so many accusations of fraud, cheating, and instances of preferential treatment (mostly involving land developers) occurred that the land had to be distributed by lottery.

Oklahoma’s cattle business had begun to burgeon, and there was promise of a lucrative oil industry. The population grew with the influx of non-Indian settlers to the territory looking for the proverbial pot of gold—or at least a better life than they had experienced elsewhere. The population increased beyond the size needed to apply for statehood, and the Native American tribes decided to throw in their lot with the non-Indian citizens and press for statehood. In 1907, the combined population of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories was about fifteen million. They applied for and were granted statehood, and Charles Nathaniel Haskell became the first governor of the forty-sixth state. They chose the name Oklahoma, which derives from two Choctaw words: okla, meaning “people,” and humma, meaning “red.”

New Mexico and Arizona became the forty-seventh and forty-eighth states, respectively, in 1912. The New Mexico lands had been annexed from Mexico in 1846, and a temporary government was set up under U.S. Army colonel Stephen Kearney. In 1850, the lands were organized into the New Mexico Territory after it was ceded to the United States by Mexico following the Mexican War. The area that is now Arizona was also part of this new territory. In 1853, the land south of the Gila River was acquired through the Gadsden Purchase and became part of the New Mexico Territory.

New Mexico had tried to achieve statehood as early as 1876. Because of concerns about civil rights legislation, however, New Mexico’s periodic bids for statehood were denied for more than three decades. In June, 1910, President William Howard Taft signed a bill authorizing the New Mexico Territory to call a constitutional convention, and that October, delegates from every county in the territory met in Santa Fe to draw up a constitution approved by voters on January 21, 1911. New Mexico became a state on January 6, 1912, with William C. McDonald as its first governor.

Arizona’s journey to statehood was just as bumpy as New Mexico’s. In 1856, six years after its region became part of the New Mexico Territory, its citizens petitioned the federal government to become a separate territory. After some postponements, the Civil War, and preoccupation with establishing viable railroad routes to bountiful California, territorial status was given to Arizona in 1863. For nearly fifty years, the citizens of Arizona tried to gain statehood. Finally, in 1910 they were authorized by Congress to draft a constitution. When the constitution, approved by the citizens, was sent to Congress and the president for approval, President Taft refused to grant his consent because the constitution included a clause that permitted the recall of any officials, including judges. Taft, perhaps because of his own background as lawyer and judge, was opposed to the recall of judges, and he would not approve Arizona’s application for statehood as long as the recall clause was included in the constitution. The Arizonans, eager for statehood, removed the clause, and Taft approved the revised constitution. Arizona became the forty-eighth state on February 14, 1912; its first governor was George W. P. Hunt. One of the first acts of the newly elected Arizona legislature was to put the removed clause about recalling judges to the state’s voters. The voters approved the measure, and the clause was returned to the constitution. The voters also gave women the right to vote in all elections on the local, state, and national levels.


Even before 1907, the United States had expanded its domain from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. However, there were still areas classified as territories that, as such, created continual dilemmas for the federal government. The government could use its territorial lands to raise revenues by selling land and encouraging settlement in the areas. However, it also had to deal with the get-rich-quick schemes of unscrupulous land speculators and greedy land companies that snapped up huge parcels of land for their own self-serving purposes. Moreover, the government had the responsibility of appointing governors and judges for the territories and for approving any legislation passed by the territorial assemblies. Thus it was very much to the federal government’s advantage to have the territories settled by populations large enough to allow them to achieve statehood.

Once the last continental territories became the states of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, the burden of administration was shifted to the new states, while the flow of state revenues was readily regulated and collected. Diverse groups of settlers—whites, African Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and European immigrants—all flocked to the new states, and these hardworking, ambitious, innovative, and creative Americans helped rebuild the country, which was still recovering from the Civil War. The growth of railroad lines, widespread commercial infrastructure, farming productivity, and increased industry helped make the new states appealing places to live and strengthened national pride. Oklahoma;statehood
New Mexico statehood
Statehood;New Mexico

Further Reading

  • Dale, Edward Everett. History of Oklahoma. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1948. Covers the early history of Oklahoma from the time of Spanish and French claimants through the period of its designation as a territory, its formation as a state, and into the mid-twentieth century. Chapters are devoted to the state’s earlier status as Indian Territory and the cultural, political, social, and industrial concerns of both the territory and the state.
  • Farrand, Max. Legislation of Congress for the Government of the Organized Territories of the United States, 1789-1895. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2000. Discusses how the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 applied to the territorial governments and how the administration of the territories varied over time.
  • Gonzales-Berry, Erlinda, and David Maciel, eds. The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000. An anthology of twelve historical essays that examine New Mexico’s nineteenth and twentieth century history from a Chicano perspective.
  • Sheridan, Thomas E. Arizona: A History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995. Covers the history of Arizona from its earliest Native American inhabitants to modern times, with particular attention to its commercial and industrial enterprises.
  • Willoughby, William F. Territories and Dependencies of the United States: Their Government and Administration. New York: Century Press, 1905. Discusses the administration of U.S. territories as well as the history and structure of territorial governments.

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