The Priest and The Politician

José Manuel Gallegos
José Manuel Gallegos

October 30, 1815
José Manuel Gallegos Was Born

Father José Manuel Gallegos was an influential, popular, and controversial figure in the history of New Mexico. He was a man who cared deeply about both religion and politics. Born on October 30, 1815, in Nuevo México (New Mexico), Gallegos grew up during the Mexican revolution against Spain. He received his education from Franciscan missionaries. They not only taught him about God, but also they filled him with political ideals.

At the time of his birth, Nuevo México was part of Spanish colonial Mexico. By the time Nuevo México belonged to the United States, Gallegos was in his thirties and ready to put his political beliefs to use.

José Gallegos became a priest around the same time that the United States went to war with Mexico (the U.S.-Mexican War started in 1846). When the war ended in 1848, Nuevo México became the U.S. territory of New Mexico. Gallegos was elected to New Mexico’s first Territorial Council in 1851.

That same year, Gallegos was suspended from the priesthood for refusing to accept the authority of a French religious superior. Gallegos now put increasing energy into his political life.

In 1853, José Gallegos became the second Hispanic U.S. representative in history. After he won a second term, his political opponent, Miguel A. Otero, convinced Congress that Gallegos had won only because Mexican citizens had illegally voted for him. Gallegos left Washington, but he did not leave politics.

During the Civil War, the Confederates took over Santa Fe, New Mexico. Gallegos, however, was a Union supporter, and he found a way to provide information and assistance to Union forces. In 1871, Gallegos returned to the U.S. House of Representatives, once more as a delegate from New Mexico. At the end of his term, he returned to Santa Fe, where he died in 1875.