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Author illuminates NM’s value in the growth of the United States

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico has arguably received limited acknowledgment of its multiple, key roles in the United States’ mid-19th century expansionist policy known as Manifest Destiny. Proponents of the policy claimed the U.S. was destined to be a nation that stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

“Coast-to-Coast Empire” author William Kiser

A recently published book contends that New Mexico, though a borderland, had strategic roles in issues related to the policy.

The book is “Coast-to-Coast Empire – Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands” by William S. Kiser. The book discusses at length such issues as:

• The continued U.S. military presence in New Mexico beginning with the occupation of Santa Fe (then part of Mexican territory) at the start of the Mexican-American War.

• The fighting and pacification of New Mexico’s Indian tribes and the decisions about where to establish reservations in the vast, newly annexed territory.

• The frontier capitalism of American merchants carrying goods over the Santa Fe Trail. They invigorated two-way trade with northern Mexico and the New Mexico Territory.

In the 1820s, U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, Kiser writes, began to pressure “Congress to approve funding for a national highway between Missouri and Santa Fe. … He also introduced a bill to finance the survey and improvement of a new international wagon road …” Benton’s ideas may have previewed the mid-20th century interstate highway system.

• The divisive sectional dispute over slavery. In the early Civil War, the Confederacy invaded New Mexico because it had long coveted the territory – and California – as potential slave states. Union troops in New Mexico eventually beat back the invading Confederates from Texas. A complicating factor was New Mexico’s long experience with its own forms of enslavement – debt peonage and Indian captivity.

The book is largely focused on the period from the 1820s through the end of the Civil War.

Kiser is assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and director of its Global Borders and Borderlands History Program.

New Mexico may have been a distant desert borderland, but Kiser shows how valuable it was as a piece of the political, economic and geographic puzzle in testing what some American politicians believed was the inevitability of Manifest Destiny.

“Coast-to-Coast Empire” is Kiser’s fourth book dealing with 19th century New Mexico history. It incorporates some of the topics found in his previous books. Those books were “Turmoil on the Rio Grande: History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865,” “Dragoons in Apacheland: Conquest and Resistance in Southern New Mexico, 1846-1861,” and “Borderlands of Slavery: The Struggle Over Captivity and Peonage in the American Southwest.” “Borderlands” won the 2018 New Mexico Historical Society’s Gaspar Perez de Villagrá Award.

Kiser’s next book will be about Civil War intrigue along the whole U.S.-Mexican border. Union diplomats urged Mexican officials to block the Confederacy from operating on Mexican soil.

Kiser, born and raised in Las Cruces, became interested in New Mexico history as a youngster. He and his dad visited historical sites around the state.

“When I was 10 or 11, my mom took me to the NMSU library where I read scholarly books about the state’s history. Other kids were reading Harry Potter,” he said in a phone interview.

Kiser said his lifelong love of history dovetailed with his aspirations to be a college professor.

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