In early February 1826, New Mexico’s Governor’s included an American named Elisha Stanley on the list of foreigners in the country without a passport. Under Mexican law, Stanley could have been deported immediately, but he wasn’t. Instead, he became what was known as an American merchants—men who shipped goods from Missouri to sell at retail shops in Santa Fe.
Said to have a “gentlemanly deportment and a generous nature,” the merchant Stanley plays a small but important role in my newest novel No Secret Too Small, which is set in New Mexico during the 1837/38 tax revolt. He played a much bigger role in the aftermath of that revolt.
Almost immediately following the successful August 1837 insurrection against Governor Perez, the rebels began disagreeing about their next steps. Some wanted to seize and redistribute the property of all New Mexico’s ricos. Others wanted to push for church tithe and fee reform. There seemed to be as many different opinions about what ought to be done as there were people expressing them.
On top of this discord was the threat that the wealthy landowners from Albuquerque and farther south would organize, throw the new rebel government out of Santa Fe, and take power into their own hands. Some of these men—including former governor Manuel Armijo—were already sniffing around the capital, looking for ways to widen the cracks in the rebel coalition.
The new rebel governor, Jose Angel Gonzales, was so desperate to find a way out of the mess that he approached an American merchant in Santa Fe about asking the U.S. to step in and take over.
That merchant was Elisha Stanley. He didn’t agree with the idea and it was dropped. As a result, the United States’ acquisition of New Mexico was averted by almost ten years.
Stanley returned East shortly after the 1837 revolt and spent the rest of his life dividing his time between Connecticut and Missouri. He died in 1874, almost thirty years after New Mexico had, in fact, become a part of the United States. But his decision not to grab the idea and run with it had given New Mexico a little more time before the juggernaut of manifest destiny sucked it into its maw.
Sources: Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; Israel P. Warren, The Stanley Families of America as Descended From John, Timothy, and Thomas Stanley of Hartford, CT, Portland, Maine: B. Thurston & Co., 1887.