In the early 1840s, Conroy was a political advisor to Assemblyman Pedro Hermión of Jefferson, who gained the leadership of the Continentalist Party following his Scorpions in a Bottle speech on 7 May 1843. With Conroy assisting him, Hermión won a seat in the Senate in 1844, then successfully ran for President against the Liberty Party incumbent, Miguel Huddleston, in the 1845 Mexican elections. Hermión's inauguration occurred the day after fighting broke out between Mexican and North American troops in the disputed Broken Arrow region between Mexico del Norte and Vandalia.
Sobel states that Conroy was responsible for the moderation of Hermión's inaugural speech, and that he urged the new president to try to solve the border dispute with the C.N.A. through negotiations. After the Rocky Mountain War broke out in September 1845, Conroy wished to return to Arizona, where he successfully ran for governor. Sobel claims that had Conroy not left Mexico City voluntarily, Hermión would have found an excuse to dismiss him, since Conroy was rightly suspected of not supporting the war.
Conroy remained Governor of Arizona through the rest of the war, and during the presidency of Hector Niles of California. Although Niles had been elected on a peace platform in 1851, popular opposition to the terms of the Hague Treaty cost him a great deal of popularity, and a Continentalist victory in the 1857 Mexican elections was almost certain. As a result, several Continentalist candidates sought the party's nomination that year. Along with Conroy, the leading candidates were Senators Finley Kenworthy of Jefferson and James FitzHugh of Durango, both of whom were, like Conroy, associated with Pedro Hermión. Conroy had the support of the Jefferson cotton interests, and this allowed him to gain the Continentalist nomination. The Continentalists went on to win a fourteen seat majority in the Senate, along with a fifty-nine seat majority in the Assembly, and Conroy was inaugurated on 5 September 1857.
Conroy did not share the Continentalist desire for an active foreign policy, preferring to concentrate on internal reforms. He was able to pass legislation creating a Control Commission for the railroads, as well as passing a harbors act to widen and dredge ports on Mexico's Gulf and Pacific coasts, and a bill to make elementary education compulsory in the U.S.M., though the last bill was declared unconstitutional by the Mexico Tribunal. Over the next ten years, the individual states passed their own compulsory education bills, and by the 1880s the U.S.M. had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Conroy also increased the professionalism of the Mexican diplomatic corps, and sought to improve relations with Great Britain and the Germanic Confederation, while retaining the country's old friendship with France. Conroy's record was successful enough to ensure another Continentalist victory in the 1863 Mexican elections.
On 10 November 1863, two months after his second inauguration, Conroy called a special session of Congress to give an address calling for more radical reforms. He said, "Although the rationale for our Constitution was sound, and it remains a beacon to the world, it is in need of repair so as to better meet the challenge of the last half of the century. Consider, if you will, the nature of our land when Jackson assumed power. Our founder led a nation of disparate peoples, speaking different tongues, and existing in stages of development ranging from industrial to primitive. The Indians and Anglos were enemies, and both distrusted the Mexicanos, while the Hispanos were uncertain as to their role. The new nation had a population of only 3.3 million, most of whom were engaged in farming. They lacked even the most primitive forms of long-distance communication and transportation. For that kind of land, the Constitution was well-suited, even inspired.
"Conditions have changed considerably in the last forty-four years. There are some 30 million of us today, and within six years, all should be literate. We have come through a major war with honor. Our communications and transportation are the envy of the world, as are our cotton fields and mines. While differences between our peoples remain, they are far less important than they were in Jackson's day. In truth, Mexico has shown the world that origins and religion are no barrier to public service and personal success.
"It is for this reason I have called you here today. We must modernize our basic law. We will not change its spirit, for to do so would be both rash and unwise. Instead, we shall broaden its scope while retaining its focus.
"Therefore, I recommend two basic changes in the method by which we select our leaders. The first involves the president. At the present time he is selected by a senatorial vote. This cumbersome apparatus, so useful in the past, should be altered so as to make the president more the selection of all the people, and not just the choice of a small group. What I would recommend, then, is that the president in the future be selected by a majority vote of all the qualified citizens of our nation. Should no candidate receive a majority, then the Senate may select the president among the leading two contenders for the post.
"My second proposal is for senators, in the future, to be selected in the same manner, with the state legislatures choosing from among the two leading contenders, should no individual receive a majority in the balloting. Of course, this is not a matter for us to decide, but for the states, and I hope each will consider this proposal seriously, for to accept it would be to reaffirm our confidence in the wisdom and patriotism of our citizenry."
In the discussion that followed, the Continentalist leaders in the Assembly pointed out that there were growing movements in the states for "a more democratic method" of selecting officials, especially in Mexico del Norte, Durango, and Chiapas. Furthermore, the outcomes of presidential elections would remain the same, since the two most populous states, Jefferson and California, had Anglo majorities, and would dominate any general election. In addition, the Hispanos of Durango and the Indians of Arizona and Mexico del Norte could be relied on to support Anglo candidates.
However, Senate Majority Leader Oscar Barkley of Jefferson refused to support Conroy's proposed amendments, and five other Continentalist Senators joined him. It was only with the support of the Libertarian caucus that Conroy was able to gain passage of his Presidential Election Amendment in 1864. Conroy also persuaded Congress to accept a redistricting plan for the Assembly to go into effect in 1870 that would distribute seats according to a state's voting population, and alter the legislative process so that bills would only need a single passage by the Assembly, rather than two held at least six months apart. Both of these amendments were passed in 1865, in spite of the opposition of Barkley and his allies.
Former President Niles applauded his successor's accomplishments, but Senator Carlos Concepción of Durango dismissed Conroy's reforms, saying, "Under the guise of reformism, this man has managed to solidify his class's control over the nation. We are doomed to many more years of Conroyism, unless the people wake up to what this Machiavelli has done to deceive them."
Conroy's second term coincided with the formation of Kramer Associates in San Francisco in 1865. K.A. President Bernard Kramer was adamantly opposed to Conroy's reforms, and along with oil magnate Monte Benedict of Jefferson, Kramer was able to use his wealth to buy control of the Continentalist Party. Although Conroy chose not to seek a third term in the 1869 Mexican elections, he supported the candidacy of his Secretary of State, Lorenzo Días of Durango. When Senator Omar Kinkaid of California won a solid majority on the first ballot, Conroy said, "I knew Kramer had power, but I did not realize its extent."
Following his retirement in 1869, Conroy formed a close friendship with Thomas Rogers, his Libertarian successor as Governor of Arizona. When Kinkaid began to embrace Conroy's reformist agenda after the divisive 1875 Mexican elections, Rogers was able to affect a reconciliation between the two men.
Sobel's sources for the political career of Arthur Conroy are Mortimer Dow's The Giants of Mexico: the Political Maneuverings of Kramer and Benedict in the Industrial Era (Mexico City, 1950); Harper Reichart's The Quiet Messiah: Arthur Conroy of Arizona (Mexico City, 1952); Millie Fernandez' "The Growth of Elementary Education in the U.S.M. Under the Conroy Administration" from the Journal of Education in Mexico, volume XXVI (December, 1953); Herbert Brinkerhoff's Mexico's Political Revolution (New York, 1964) and The Price of a Man: Oil and Produce in Mexican Politics (Mexico City, 1970); and Thomas Mason's The Jefferson-California Axis of 1866-1876 (London, 1968).
This was the Featured Article for the week of 9 March 2014.
|Heads of State of the U.S.M.|
|Andrew Jackson • Miguel Huddleston • Pedro Hermión • Raphael Blaine • Hector Niles • Arthur Conroy • Omar Kinkaid • George Vining • Benito Hermión • Martin Cole • Anthony Flores • Victoriano Consalus • Emiliano Calles • Pedro Fuentes • Alvin Silva • Felix Garcia • Vincent Mercator • Raphael Dominguez|