Just about a month after New Mexico, in February 1912, Arizona became a state. They had been trying for half a century to gain statehood, and they finally prevailed.
At one point a Congressional Delegation went to visit Arizona. They weren’t sure it had any value for the United States. There weren’t many people living there, and word was that there wasn’t much water, either. The delegation looked out the train windows, decided that Arizona didn’t have much to offer, and kept going. They headed to California instead, convinced that Arizona was worthless.
Some people question what Puerto Rico would bring to the table as a state. Puerto Rico is a beautiful tropical paradise, strategically located, with an educated bilingual workforce. Arizona was a desert with no people. But they did not give up.
In 1848, Arizona came into the possession of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase.
Arizona Territory began as a part of the Confederate States of America. When the Confederacy lost the Civil War, Arizona returned to the United States as a territory. They had tried to get admitted as a state before the war, and they kept trying after the war ended.
Like New Mexico, they unsuccessfully tried the Tennessee Plan. Like New Mexico, they volunteered in large numbers to fight in the Spanish-American War. Congress offered to admit Arizona and New Mexico together, but Arizona didn’t agree. “We prefer to remain a territory indefinitely rather than lose our identity,” the people of Phoenix declared.
Arizona’s identity was part of their problem. They were the last of the 48 contiguous states to be admitted. Like so many other territories, they were known for a wild and lawless way of life. The famous shoot out at the OK Corral in Tombstone, the “Girl Bandit” Pearl Hart, and plenty more gunslingers and desperadoes made Arizona sound like a dangerous place to people in the East.
That included the Congress. Their newspapers gave them a picture of Arizona that made them hesitate to add this 48th state. Like most places, Arizona was populated mostly by law-abiding citizens, but that didn’t sell papers. Arizona had to fight against its negative press.
Finally, Congress allowed Arizona to create their own constitution. They included in this document the option of recalling judges with a vote. The president disliked this provision. He figured judges couldn’t be impartial if their jobs included politics. He said he wouldn’t admit Arizona till they changed the constitution.
Arizona made the change, and they were admitted as a state. They promptly changed their constitution back, allowing judges to be voted out of office. As a state, they had the power to do this. They also gave women the vote. Arizona was proud of their identity and ready to fight to stay special.
Lessons for Puerto Rico
The people of Arizona had to fight against their bad press and the preconceptions of the people in Washington. Puerto Rico has had to do the same. But persistence paid off for Arizona, and it will do so for Puerto Rico, too. Tell your legislators you want statehood for Puerto Rico.