In March 1861, Arizona Territory seceded from the Union. However, the Arizona that announced it was leaving the United States bore only a passing resemblance to the present-day state of Arizona. What is today Arizona and New Mexico at the beginning of the 1860s were part of New Mexico Territory, with its capital at Santa Fe. The Arizona Territory, created by secession in March 1861, compromised the southern half of New Mexico Territory (see map below), with two significant political centers, Mesilla in the east and Tucson in the west.
The Ordinance of Secession, creating the Arizona Territory and announcing its intention to join the Confederacy, passed in a convention in Mesilla on March 16, 1861, and a second convention at Tucson on March 28, 1861.
Unique among the secession justifications, slavery was not an explicit issue in this document. Despite a statement complaining of the rise of the Republican party in the North and how it “has disregarded the Constitution of the United States, violated the rights of the Southern States, and heaped wrongs and indignities upon their people,” the Arizona Ordinance of Secession never once mentioned the word “slave” or its variations and its specific reasons for secession instead reflect the problems of settlers in a region in which the American imprint was growing but still limited.
Since 1856, settlers in southern New Mexico Territory had sought to split off and organize their own territorial government. Their aspiration got caught up in the growing sectional tensions of the late 1850s and the belief in the U.S. Congress that the impetus to divide New Mexico Territory into two separate northern and southern territories was that the settlers hoped to expand slavery into the southern portion.
Yet except for language expressing solidarity with the slave states, the specific grievances of the Arizona Ordinance of Secession instead reflected the complaints of frontier settlers–not slaveholders. Congress recently had halted mail service along the stage line linking southern New Mexico territory with the rest of the country. The Arizona Ordinance stated, “That the recent enactment of the Federal Congress, removing the mail service from the Atlantic to the Pacific States from the Southern to the Central or Northern route, is another powerful reason for us to ask the Southern Confederate States of America for a continuation of the postal service over the Butterfield or El Paso route, at the earliest period.” The settlers also were angry at the failure of federal troops to halt Apache Indian raids directed at them. The Ordinance exclaimed, “the Government of the United States has heretofore failed to give us adequate protection against the savages within our midst and has denied us an administration of the laws, and that security for life, liberty, and property which is due from all governments to the people.”
So slavery at best was an implicit part of Arizona’s Ordinance of Secession. The conventions at Mesilla and Tucson certainly saw their future with the Confederacy, stating “That geographically and naturally we are bound to the South, and to her we look for protection; and as the Southern States have formed a Confederacy, it is our earnest desire to be attached to that Confederacy as a Territory.” But the specific complaints they described had little in common with the justifications clearly centered on slavery emerging from the established southern states. So in southern New Mexico Territory secession was less about slavery and more about anger over federal policies and actions there and the hope that Confederate authorities would be friendlier to their needs, especially as many of the settlers there were from the slave states.
Whether slavery could have taken root in a Confederate Arizona Territory is at best uncertain. In any case, the entity did not last long. While Texas troops drove federal forces from southern New Mexico Territory in the Summer 1861, defeats there in 1862, especially at Glorieta Pass, effectively ended Confederate control of the region. In 1863, the federal government finally split New Mexico territory in half, but on a line running north-south instead of east west, creating an Arizona Territory that in 1912 finally gained statehood. Interestingly, its Confederate origins were recognized by choosing February 14 as the date Arizona became a state–the same date Jefferson Davis in 1862 had recognized it as a territory of the Confederacy. But slavery was only indirectly behind its creation.