PADRE MARTINEZ AND PARTISAN POLITICS
Fr. Juan Romero
January 17, 2014
[Antonio José Martínez was born in Abiquiú, NM on January 17, 1793–the feast day
of San Antonio Abad, father of Western Monasticism and Antonio’s namesake for whom he was baptized a few days later. I wrote this article several years ago, but publish it on my blog today in honor of the birthday boy born 221 years ago.]
“Now is the time for all good men (people) to come to the aid of their party!” My paternal grandfather, Juan Bautista Romero, for whom I am named was a man of many talents: teacher, carpenter, poet, and
erstwhile politician. Grandpa John (as we called him–with a LONG “o”) ran for office both as a Democrat and as a Republican, but never won elective office. Padre Martínez, on the other hand–priest, educator, rancher, printer-publisher, lawyer, and politician–won several elections. Born in the norther etremity of the Kingdom of Spain in the New World, he served at different times in the legislatures of New Mexico under the flags of both the Republic of Mexico and later that of the United States of America.
What was the political party of this priest-politician of New Mexico in the mold of his ideological mentors Padres Hidalgo and Morelos of New Spain on its way to becoming the Republic of Mexico? Santiago Valdez, the biographer of Padre Martinez writing in 1877, a decade after the Padre’s death, claimed the Padre belonged to the “Democratic Party.” However, it was not the Democratic Party we know today.
The Democratic Party looks to Thomas Jefferson
as its founding spirit, and the Republican Party to Alexander Hamilton
whose Federalist ideals are among their guiding principles. Both Founding Fathers Jefferson and Hamilton are giants of American democracy in our republic we call the United States of America.
During an “era of good feeling” with its political rivals, the Federalist Party was disappearing, and the Whig Party replaced it by 1815. The so-called Democratic, or anti-slavery party of 1846-1851, was not synonymous with today’s Democratic Party, but existed in opposition to
the Whigs. It began in opposition to the Federalists who held fast to the principle of states’ rights, a key plank in their platform. However, in its early years, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Democratic Party confusingly became known by the hyphenated name Democratic-Republican Party.
This political party favored France in the wars between Britain and France, but its hyphenated name indicates that the core concepts defining the identity of political parties were fluctuating. Nevertheless,the Democratic-Republican Party was clear about one thing: they were against the Whigs. These successors to the Federalists advocated a strong central government, a more relaxed interpretation of the Constitution, and a republic run by a more professional and educated class.
Antonio José Martínez was born in 1793 as a citizen of Spain in an America that that was still part of the Kingdom of Spain until 1821. In the 1820s, the Democratic-Republican Party began to morph into
what would eventually become two distinct political parties–the Democratic and Republican parties that we know today. The Federalist Party as such no longer existed in the mid-nineteenth century when New Mexico became a Territory of the United States and native New Mexican settlers became U.S. citizens.
During his seminary days and young manhood, Antonio
José Martínez imbibed the principles of the Enlightenment. As a seminary student, Martínez excelled in canon (church) law, and had a an interest in politics as practiced by Padres Hidalgo and Morelos, architects of the Mexican Republic. He lived through and embraced Mexican Independence, and became a fervent Mexican nationalist promoting principles of freedom and democracy.
By the mid 1830s, a priest for more than a decade, Padre Martínez had several times already been elected to political office in order to represent the Departamento de Nuevo Mexico (analogous to a state) in the legislature of the Republic of Mexico. By 1842, he requested and received from Governor Armijo permission to practice law as a civil lawyer in order to help the poor. He appreciated the political system of the United States as enunciated ithe country’s founding documents, and admired Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. At the brink of the nineteenth century in 1799, the former was breathing his last breath when the boy Martínez was six years old. The latter, a contemporary of the Padre, was untimely assassinated a couple of years before the Padre’s own death in 1867.
After 1830, the Democratic Party in the United States had become a coalition of farmers, city dwelling laborers, and Irish Catholics. The Cura de Taos might have been attracted to such a political party that welcomed Irish Catholics. He most likely would have been in deep sympathy with the Democratic Party’s opposition to anti-immigrant nativists who held strongly negative views about all foreigners, or native-born Catholics, Jews and Negroes.
However, Padre Martínez most likely would have initially opposed the Democrats’ embrace of the War with Mexico, the expulsion of eastern American Indians, and the acquisition of vast amounts of new land in the West. He also most likely would not have favored unlawful expansion of settlers squatting on land owned by him or anyone else among his broadly extended family or other New Mexican long-time settlers.
Padre Martínez explicitly and vociferously opposed the process of Manifest Destiny, but after a process of mature deliberation, his political thinking shifted. He decided that New Mexico would be better off under the flag of the United States rather than that of the Mexican Republic. Soon after occupying New Mexico in the name of the United States Government, General Stephen Watts Kearney invited the Padre to Santa Fe in August 1846. His biographer Santiago Valdez in 1877, a
decade after the Padre’s death, described the meeting:
General Kearny invited all the prominent men of the Territory to visit him at the
capital, and Padre Martinez was tendered a special invitation…Padre Martinez, accompanied by his brothers [all escorted by Captain Charles Bent and his men]…left for Santa Fe, [and] during this visit, all three were sworn in as American citizens.
Almost immediately after his return from Santa Fe, in September 1846, Padre Martinez transformed into a law school the preparatory seminary that, with the full permission and encouragement of his Bishop
Zubiría of Durango, he had begun at his home in Taos more than a decade prior. Sixteen young men who had begun their preparatory education for the priesthood with Padre Martínez were eventually ordained to serve as clergymen throughout New Mexico. Padre Martínez, however, was now convinced that henceforth, instead of the clergyman,the attorney would be the one to “ride the burro”. The young men who studied at his law school went on to become attorneys and politicians to influence the development of New Mexico for years to come.
General Kearny appointed Governor Donaciano Vigil in early 1847 to succeed the assassinated Governor Charles Bent, and Vigil selected Padre Martinez to preside over a Convention held in Santa Fe in
October 1847. One of the principal tasks of this convention was to facilitate transition from a military government to one purely civil in character. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 formally concluded the U.S.-Mexican War. As a consequence, the whole swath of land
north of Mexico that we call the American Southwest—including the vast territory of New Mexico that at the time also included Arizona and sections of Utah, Wyoming and Texas—transitioned from territory belonging to the Republic of Mexico to territory under the government of the United States of America.
Having as a legislator in the Assembly of the
Departamento de Nuevo Mexico (analogous to a “state”) of the Mexican
Republic, Padre Martinez was elected “Senator of the First Senatorial District of Taos and Rio Arriba” and “embraced the Democratic or anti-slavery party”. In Santa Fe on October 12, 1850, Padre
Martinez presided over the second General Convention of the New Mexico as a Territory of the United States. That assembly
requested the U.S. Congress abolish military rule and establish Civil
Government in New Mexico.
By 1851, there was a third Convention of New Mexico, a Territory of the United States no longer under Military Rule. In preparation for elections, New Mexicans were choosing the political party to
which they wanted to belong as citizens of the United States. However, the choices were still largely limited to either the Democratic-Republican Party or the Whigs Party. Although the national Democratic Party and
the Republican Party were each in their infancy, neither party was quite formed in its present state nor yet very well known. The question remained: what was the political affiliation of Padre Martínez during the American period?
Marta Weigle in Brothers of Light, Brothers of Blood, her classic treatment of the Penitentes (the New Mexican-southern Colorado folk society whose members were known for their great devotion to the Passion of Christ), hints that he may have been a Republican insofar as many of the moradas (gathering centers for Penitentes) seem to have also been strongholds for the Republican Party. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) came into existence in 1848, the year of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ratified the results of the U.S.-Mexican War.
By the 1860s, especially after the Civil War, the Whigs would also fade away completely. The Republican Party, conceived in 1850, took some years for party identity and loyalty to develop. Within a decade, it became the “anti-slavery” party in which Abraham Lincoln ran and won as its first presidential candidate.
The so-called “Democratic Party,” to which Santiago Valdez, the biographer of Padre Martinez, claimed the Padre belonged, was more accurately the Democratic-Republican Party that identified itself in opposition to the Whigs. The issue of slavery helped bring political identity into focus. Democrats and Whigs were divided on the issue of slavery. Democrats in Congress, especially those of the so-called “solid south,” passed the hugely controversial pro-slavery Compromise of 1850, while the Territorial Government of New Mexico was taking shape.
Under the leadership of Padre Martinez, New Mexico—in opposition to the Democratic “solid South”—insisted New Mexico be admitted into the Union as a Free State. In state after state, the Democrats gained
small but permanent advantages over the Whig Party that finally collapsed in 1852. Division over slavery and its nativist leanings against immigrants and “foreigners,” especially those of Jewish or Catholic heritage, had fatally weakened Democratic-Republican Party. Democratic
leader Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois–the future debate-rival of Abraham
Lincoln—pushed through the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 that repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. According to the principle of “popular sovereignty,” the Act opened the Midwest territories to slavery. In reaction to this, anti-slavery activists and individuals conceived the Republican Party in the early 1850’s, and the first official Republican meeting took place in 1854. The name “Republican” was chosen because it alluded to equality, and reminded individuals of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. They believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge. In 1856, the Republicans became a national party when John C. Fremont was nominated for President, and Abraham Lincoln four years later became the first to win the White House as a member of the Republican Party.
Padre Martínez admired his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, considered the founder of the modern Republican Party. By the time Lincoln was elected President of the Country, Padre Martínez was in decline on many levels–in ill health with only a few years left until his own death in 1867. Furthermore, against the backdrop of the slavery issue, new issues, new parties, and new rules were forcing a major re-alignment of political parties among voters and politicians. While the Democrats survived the challenges, many northern Democrats joined the newly established Republican Party. Was Padre Martinez among them?
 Santiago Valdez, Biografía del Presbítero Antonio José
Martínez, Cura de Taos, 1877 unpublished manuscript in Ritch Collection at
Huntington Library (near Los Angeles). Fr. Juan Romero provided a contemporary English
version in 1993 that is yet unpublished, but available through NM State Archives,
Archives of Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and University of NM.
Ibid., p. 111.