‘Politically, Morally and Personally Unworthy’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States
The October release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes many letters and little-known documents tracking New Mexico’s controversial Secretary of the Territory, H.H. Heath.
An unsigned memoir from 1868 offers some background:
Mr. Heath is a native of New York, for several years a resident of Washington, he was for a time a (deputy) clerk of the House of Representatives and established here in 1849 or 1850 a newspaper called the “Southern Press” for the express purpose of defending “Southern rights.”
During the Lecompton struggle he was editor of “The North West” “which supported Southern men and Northern, too, who supported them.”
He held the Post Office at Dubuke [sic] for three years, until ejected by Mr. Lincoln.
Heath’s service to New Mexico Territory began a year earlier in 1867 after a brief delay. Writing to Secretary of State William Henry Seward on March 15, 1867, Heath asked:
I have the honor to request permission to delay my departure for New Mexico…to afford me time to make my arrangements for taking my family and household goods with me.
Four months later Heath sent another letter to Seward, this time writing:
I have the honor to report my arrival in this place and the assumption of the duties of Secretary of this Territory.
I arrived her yesterday after a very protracted and tedious trek…of 47 days…
In August Heath wrote again to Seward, this time about documents uncovered in his New Mexico office. Describing the find, he writes:
Among the Papers referred to, are vast quantities of old and valuable Spanish Manuscripts, the dates of which, in many instances reach far into the seventeenth century, and doubtless some of them are of even older date. That the early history of this interesting portion of our country is inscribed in these papers can hardly be questioned; as I have before me at this moment a document dated “1693,” relating to the Indian Insurrection against the Spanish Government…
A month later Heath followed up with the Department of State regarding the funds needed to restore the manuscripts.
Additional items document Heath’s duties and activities in New Mexico, including his transmission to President Johnson of territorial legislative action taken during the previous session. Also found here is Heath’s request in early December 1867 for a leave of absence.
However, the Dec. 14, 1867 issue of the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette offers another perspective on the secretary and his activities.
Our columns today reflect the feeling that has prevailed in this city during the past two weeks in regard to the official acts of an unscrupulous and unworthy demagogue who occupies the position of Secretary of New Mexico. Were this not the case; were it not that it is necessary that the people of the Territory should know what is going on here, and how it is going on we would ask the pardon of our readers for devoting so much space to the consideration of the acts of the aforesaid official.
The crimes of which he has been guilty are too heinous to be overlooked and disregarded by the people of New Mexico. His attempt to thwart the voice of the people as declared at the late election in favor of Gen’l Clever, and secure the seat as Delegate to Chavez, whom the people repudiated, is an act of official dishonesty that does not find a parallel in the history of the country. And the secret, covert manner in which he pushed his designs clearly shows that he was cognizant of the enormity of the frauds he was attempting to perpetrate on Congress.
In the newspaper’s column on Public Meetings there are a number of resolutions regarding the recent election as well as attacks on the secretary personally, such as:
Be it further resolved, That H.H. Heath, Secretary of the Territory is politically, morally and personally unworthy of occupying the high office of Secretary of the Territory, and therefore this meeting of the citizens of New Mexico respectfully and earnestly recommend his removal from the position which he dishonors…
By January a group of citizens petitioned President Andrew Johnson for Heath’s removal, charging:
He has attempted to thwart the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box by exercising a right not granted upon him by law in casting out returns made to him as Secretary for delegate to the Congress of the United States.
In the days following the petition, Charles P. Clever, the elected delegate to Congress, wrote the Secretary of State, echoing the citizens’ sentiment but giving different reasons.
The peace and prosperity of the Territory which I have the honor to represent compels me to earnestly request the removal of H.H. Heath, Secretary of the Territory of New Mexico, for the following reasons.
It is important for the successful administration of the Territory of New Mexico that the Secretary of the Territory and the Governor should be friends and agree on the proper management of public affairs. Mr. Heath is the enemy of Governor Mitchell, and General Mitchell is acceptable to a large majority of our people and Mr. Heath is odious to them, and the Governor will be, I fear, driven to resign if Mr., Heath is forced upon him as Secretary.
Clever continues, suggesting Heath was also part of the “difficulty which resulted in the assassination of Chief Justice Slough.”
By the middle of January 1868 both the territorial legislature and Secretary Heath were drawing the ire of the citizens of Santa Fe County:
Whereas, We understand that a majority of the Legislature of New Mexico, now in session, has in a hurried, undignified and unjust manner, passed resolutions condemnatory of the acts and person of our worthy Governor, Robert B. Mitchell; and
Whereas, The said majority of the said Legislature has proved itself not a true or fit representative of the people, or even a law abiding body, but the pliable tool of a few designing demagogues, for the reasons following:
1st. They have admitted members upon a certificate of the Secretary of the Territory, directly contrary to the law which provides that the Probate Judges of the several counties shall issue such certificates, they, themselves recognizing said law by admitting other members upon the certificate of the Probate Judges.
Additional charges of the people of Santa Fe County include:
That during the present session of the Legislature, the majority of that body have passed most of their time in passing memorials and resolutions for partizan [sic] purposes, and to injure and defame individuals who disagreed with them politically, instead of occupying their time in passing general laws for the benefit of the Territory.
From the time of the opening of the Legislature, they have been in every respect partial, without regard to a hearing or justice; and the time set apart for making laws, they have misused in concocting and hurriedly passing resolutions for or against federal officers, not having any general reference to the welfare of the Territory, but for the selfish ends of the two or three outsiders who rule them.
In all their speeches and doings, they have manifested a spirit of animosity and hatred against progress and the American people to which we are proud to belong.
Finally returning to Heath, the memorialists claim:
They are unduly, ignobly and continually influenced by the Secretary of the Territory, because he pays them per diem and mileage; thus sordidly giving up their rights and opinions as legislators for fear they should suffer pecuniary loss.
They conclude with several resolutions including:
Resolved: That it has become evident that so long as H.H. Heath remains in the position as Secretary of the Territory, peace and harmony cannot prevail; that he has, by his perverse and mischievous machinations already indirectly caused the death of Chief Justice Slough, one of our most respectable and useful federal officers, and the course he is now pursuing, tends to lead to the assassination or murder of other citizens, unless he is arrested in his malicious and wicked course. We, therefore, respectfully ask his immediate removal from office of Secretary of this Territory.
Heath was not without his own supporters, who would also petition the Secretary of State, in this case against Heath’s removal. Nor would the charges against Heath be limited to actions he took as Secretary of the Territory; in June 1868 he would be accused have having aided the Confederacy. Also included in this collection are a number of letters between Heath and the Department of State regarding his leave of absence and whether he’d been cheated out of it. All of which, and more, are left for researchers to explore further.
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