Arthur Seligman, Governor of New Mexico: Part II

Governor Arthur Seligman and his wife Franc and stepdaughter Richie courtesy of Arthur Scott

Governor Arthur Seligman and his wife Franc and stepdaughter Richie on the statehouse steps 1932
courtesy of Arthur Scott

In 1929, my great-great-uncle Arthur Seligman was the president of the First National Bank of Santa Fe and the chairman of the New Mexico State Democratic Committee.  He was 58 years old, father of two grown children, and a grandfather.  Some men might have decided that they had accomplished enough and been satisfied.  But Arthur Seligman still had things he wanted to do.

In April, 1930, Arthur was again named chairman of the New Mexico State Democratic Committee.  His message to the party was that he would work hard to ensure that the party was organized and successful and that he anticipated support both from Democrats and from independent voters. (“Demos’ Chief Gets on Job; Has Big Task,” The Gallup Independent (April 18, 1930), p.1)

headline elected state chairman april 1930

(Albuquerque Journal (April 15, 1930), p. 1

When the New Mexico Democratic Party started to consider who should be their candidate for governor in 1930, Arthur Seligman was a leading contender for the nomination.  Arthur, however, insisted many times that he was not a candidate and was committed to being chairman of the committee and not a candidate. (“Seligman Awaits Action of Party,” Clovis News-Journal (September 2, 1930) p.1; “Seligman’s Statement,” Las Vegas Daily Optic (September 3, 1930), p. 2; “Seligman in Demand,” Albuquerque Journal (September 18, 1930, p. 4)  Despite these objections, he ultimately was nominated and accepted that nomination.

In accepting the nomination, Arthur pledged to “clean out the ‘political parasites and political barnacles” in the state capital, to establish economy in public business and to remedy the present chaotic and demoralized condition of the taxation system in the state.”  (“Oust Political Barnacles, Seligman,” Albuquerque Journal (October 2, 1930), p. 1)

barnacles headline

His Republican opponent was Judge Clarence M. Botts.  The campaign was a tough one, and several newspapers in New Mexico were quite vocal about their opposition to Seligman as governor.  For example, The Roswell Daily Record characterized the Republicans as progressive and the Democrats as reactionary, saying:

Mr. Arthur Seligman has made it plain that he purposes, if elected, to retrench and economize.  His party, in their platform, has made it clear that expenses shall be cut in the maintenance of our system of education.  To do that school terms must be shortened or the salaries of teachers reduced…. The Democratic candidate has never been known as public spirited.  He has never been active in any matter for the public interest that did not have a profit—a very definite profit—for himself.

(“Seligman Settles His Taxes for 28 Cents on the Dollar; Bond Issue,” The Roswell Daily Record (October 13, 1930), p. 3)

The article then suggests that Seligman deprived the state of revenue when Seligman Brothers was delinquent in taxes and Seligman obtained a settlement allowing the company to pay only a portion of what was due.

Then there was this nasty editorial from the New Mexico State Tribune, reprinted in the Las Vegas Daily Optic on October 29, 1930:

too bad las vegas optic-page-001

Other newspapers were solidly behind Seligman’s candidacy. The Gallup Independent wrote this in an editorial they ran on October 24, 1930:

With Arthur Seligman in the governor’s chair, there will be no groping in the dark, no learning as he goes—at the expense of the people who pay the taxes.  This keen-minded and alert business executive knows the state government as you know your own back yard. …Mr. Seligman’s business acumen is a known quantity; no chance has been taken on that.  Finances are his “meat.” And he can’t be “kidded” or bluffed, either openly or covertly, when it comes to financial or economic matters. …

There will be no need for draperies behind the governor’s chair when Seligman sits in it.  The voice will be the voice of Seligman and the hand will be the hand of Seligman, too.  He is too wary and experienced to be misled by cajolery of would-be political bosses or to be alarmed at their threats. … Around Santa Fe, he is greeted on the streets with the familiar name of “Pete.” The door of his private office in the bank is never closed except when he is not there.

The editorial also lists all his accomplishments, both political and business, which are too numerous for me to quote here.

(“Candidate Arthur Seligman,” The Gallup Independent (October 24, 1930), p. 8)

The Clovis News-Journal also endorsed Arthur for governor:

Mr. Arthur Seligman, the Democratic nominee for governor, is one of the best posted men in the state at the present time.  He has lived here all his life and knows its needs and financial problems.  He is the type of an executive who can deal with the problems.  He is the type of a man who can also deal with a legislative body and get what legislation the state needs.  He will not be bound or fettered by political ties or responsible to any group as [his opponent] Mr. Botts would be to the old guard who have placed him on the ticket, who is a political conservative like they are and not inclined to initiate any movements for progressive measures.

The state is living ahead of its income, its extravagances must be checked, candidates should be elected who will drive out the crooks and grafters and it looks as if the state would call upon the Democrats to do the job.

A continuation of the Republican party in power would be a continuation of the reactionary crowd now in control…What is needed at this hour is a clean-up by putting Democrats in control until the Republicans regenerate themselves and come to learn that government should be for the people and not a clique of representatives of corporate self-seeking interests.

(“Consider the Leaders,” Clovis News-Journal (September 27, 1930), p. 2 (quoting from the Albuquerque Journal))

Reading these editorials, I had to chuckle.  Both sides claim to be progressive, whatever that might have meant to them at the time.  The Republicans criticize the Democrats for wanting to cut expenses and reduce teacher salaries; today the parties would be switched on that position.  The Democrats accuse the Republicans of being corporate controlled, an argument still made by Democrats today.  Some labels have changed, but anyone who thinks that partisanship started in the 21st century only has to read these old newspapers to know otherwise. (See also “Forward with Botts or Backwards with Seligman, Is the Issue, Says Governor Dillon,” The Roswell Daily Record (October 29, 1930), p. 1 (calling Seligman reactionary on education and on road improvements))

In the end, Arthur Seligman defeated his Republican opponent Judge C. M. Botts, by over seven thousand votes, 62,214 to 54,827. (“Complete Vote Recent Election in New Mexico,” The Roswell Daily Record (November 20, 1930), p. 1).  He became the first Jewish and non-Hispanic governor of New Mexico. (Suzanne Stamatov, “Arthur Seligman,” at

headline elected governor

(Roswell Daily Record (January 2, 1931), p.1)

One of the governor-elect’s first announcements was that he did not want an inaugural ceremony.

low cost inaugural-page-001

He lost that battle, and there was a full inaugural ceremony as well as a lavish inaugural ball.

Inauguration enhanced

Inaugural Ceremony January 1, 1931 Governor Seligman and his wife Franc are seated front center 

In his inaugural address he made several points revealing his views on the role of government:

The governor of the state, alone, can not produce the desired results. The legislature is not sufficient unto itself to accomplish them. The people of the state are the power behind the government. They are in fact the government. Those whom they elect are merely the administrative officers. When an administration takes the people into its confidence and councils there need be no fear of failure to accomplish that which is desired….

(as quoted in Suzanne Stamatov, “Arthur Seligman,” at )

He also expressed his views on government spending:

No state should obligate itself to expend more money than can be reasonably expected from its citizens without hardship….In brief, New Mexico must live within her income and it is my intention, insofar as it is possible for me to do so, to see that she does.


Of course, this was before FDR’s New Deal and the radical changes it precipitated in the views of many on the role of government in providing for its citizens and in promoting the economy.

The night after the ceremony was the inaugural ball, attended by six hundred couples. Among the guests was my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen, who traveled all the way to New Mexico to celebrate with her younger brother. As reported by the Roswell Daily Record on January 2, 1931:

The ball was without parallel in New Mexico history for its splendor and the inaugural gowns presented a mighty costly fashion show in a settling resplendent in the atmosphere of Old Spain, Mexico and New Mexico.

The Roswell paper said this about my great-grandmother:

Mrs. Eva Seligman Cohen of Philadelphia, sister of Governor Seligman, who was accompanied by Mr. Joe Goodall, representative of El Paso at the inaugural, wore a light blue lace combination gown….

The article described in detail the gowns that many of the women wore to the ball, all full length “in keeping with the present fashion mode and long white gloves predominated.”

The article continued:

In the main ball room an eleven piece negro orchestra from Albuquerque played dance mustic and in the lecture lounge which was converted into an additional dance room the La Fonda Mexican orchestra played.  The supper room was decorated in southern smilax and evergreens, with cut flowers in cedar baskets.

(“New Mexico Inaugural Ball Most Costly and Splendid in History of the State,” Roswell Daily Record (January 2, 1931), p. 1; for more details on the inaugural ball, see “Elaborate Preparations for Big Inaugural Ball at Fonda,” Santa Fe New Mexican (January 1, 1931))

During his first term as governor, Arthur fought to reduce taxes and the size of government. (“A Paring Policy,” The Roswell Daily Record (October 31, 1930), p. 7) The country was suffering from the poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression, and New Mexico was suffering as well.  Arthur instituted the first program for unemployment relief in New Mexico and also a vocational education program to help those most affected by the Depression.  He also accepted federal aid to create jobs in road construction and created a state park system which also provided employment opportunities for New Mexicans.  (Stamatov, op. cit.; Ron Hamm, New Mexico Territorial Era Caricatures (Sunstone Press 2014), pp, 170-171)

He also created a centralized purchasing agent for the state highway department, reformed the tax collection system, and established a state labor relations commissioner.  (“Democratic State Chairman Barker Claims Nearly All Pledges Have Been Fulfilled,” The Roswell Daily Record (July 28, 1931, at p.1)  He also reduced taxes, as promised. (“Real Tax Reduction,” Clovis News-Journal (March 21, 1931), p.2)

Although he had the responsibility of governing the state of New Mexico on his shoulders, Arthur did not forget his family.  In September, 1931, he traveled to Philadelphia for the funeral of his nephew, Maurice Cohen, my grandfather’s brother.  (Roswell Daily Record (September 22, 1931), p. 8)

As his first term was drawing to an end in 1932, he easily secured nomination for a second term from the Democratic Party. (“Democrats Boost Seligman for Renomination,” The Roswell Daily Record (August 1, 1932), p. 4)

renomination headline

(Albuquerque Journal (September 27, 1932), p. 1)
He also was elected to be a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Chicago that summer, the convention that first nominated Franklin Roosevelt as a candidate for President.  (“A Popular Victory,” The Deming Headlight (May 27, 1932), p. 3; “Hockenhull May Stay in Clovis to Run State,” Albuquerque Journal (June 24, 1932), p. 10)

Arthur was gone from New Mexico for two weeks, and during that time he visited his family in Philadelphia, including his sister Eva, my great-grandmother.  They spent time together in Atlantic City along with Eva’s granddaughter, my cousin Marjorie.

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

In September, 1932, Arthur and Franc’s son Otis was charged with embezzlement of the First National Bank of Santa Fe, where he was employed as assistant cashier and where Arthur remained president while also serving as governor.  I will address these charges and their consequences in a later post, but for now will simply observe that this scandal in his family apparently had no significant effect on Seligman’s campaign for re-election.

Less than two months after the indictment of his son, Arthur Seligman was once again elected governor in November, 1932.  He defeated his Republican opponent, former governor Richard C. Dillon, by an even larger margin this time, 83,612 votes to 67,406.  (“Final Election Canvassing Sheets Show Big Total,” Clovis News-Journal (November 30, 1932, p. 1)

1932 headline

(Albuquerque Journal (November 9, 1932), p. 1)

In his second inaugural address Governor Seligman repeated themes from his first two years earlier, again calling for a smaller government budget and tax reform.  He also called for laws improving mine safety, election reform, tenure for qualified teachers and general improvement of the state’s schools, and increased regulation of utilities, among other recommendations.  (“Governor Drafts Legislative Program,” Clovis News-Journal (January 11, 1933), p. 1)

Early in his second term, there was much talk and speculation about the possibility that Arthur Seligman would become a US Senator from New Mexico.  The sitting Senator, Sam Bratton, had been appointed to a federal judgeship by President Roosevelt and would resign his seat at the end of the current Congressional term in June, and newspapers reported rumors that Seligman would resign as governor and then be appointed to fill the Senate seat by his lieutenant governor, who would replace him as governor. [1] (See, e.g., “Expect Seligman Will Take Vacant Position,” Las Vegas Daily Optic (June 1, 1933), p. 4; “Just One Candidate,” Las Vegas Daily Optic (May 20, 1933), p. 7; “Taos Democrats Want Seligman for Senate, Juan Vigil Reports,” Albuquerque Journal (May 19, 1933), p. 1)

Asel sen sf chron may 30 1933 page 1

(San Francisco Chronicle (May 30, 1933), p.1)

(He might have been short, but hardly rotund!)

And although there was a lot of support for Seligman becoming Senator, there was also some opposition:

Anti Seligman as Senator editorial-page-001

By July, 1933, the question of who would succeed Bratton as Senator was still unresolved and seemingly complicated by political matters. (“Lieut Governor Denies Reports of Statements,” Clovis News-Journal (July 17, 1933), p. 1)

In August, 1933, the Seligman family paid the price of being in the public eye when Joan Seligman, Arthur and Franc’s six year old granddaughter (the daughter of their son Otis and his wife Doris) was the target of a kidnapping threat.  (“Kidnap Threat against Grand-daughter of Governor Seligman, Reported Today,” Clovis News-Journal (August 15, 1933), p. 1)

In early September, the governor had to deal with a strike by miners, requiring him to call out the National Guard to prevent violence.  (“Says Sending of Guard to Gallup Avoided Trouble,” Clovis News-Journal (September 2, 1933), p.1)  The miners charged he sent the troops to break their strike and filed suit for an injunction against the use of the National Guard.  (“Miners Charge He is Using Troops to Break Strike,” Clovis News-Journal (September 5, 1933), p.1; “Suit Asks Guard Be Enjoined from Martial Law Plan,” Las Vegas Daily Optic, September 11, 1933, p.3)  The strike and some violent attacks were still ongoing as of September 22, 1933. (“Miner Sprayed Pickets with Searing Fluid,” Las Vegas Daily Optic (September 22, 1933), pp. 1, 4)

Perhaps all this stress in August and September and the political pressures resulting from the impending empty Senate seat proved too much for Arthur Seligman.   Arthur suffered a fatal heart attack on September 25, 1933, less than halfway through his second term.  Apparently he had been diagnosed with a heart problem and had been advised to rest or jeopardize his health.

seligman death from overwork-page-001

His family and his state were in shock.  He was only 62 years old and had just delivered a speech to a group of bankers before complaining of chest pain and then dying.

The newspapers around the state and the country reported on his untimely death, many praising him for his lifelong service to New Mexico and for his business acumen and success.  My next post will look at the reactions to his death and  at assessments of his political career and his life.

English: Seal of New Mexico

English: Seal of New Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[1] Interestingly, since Seligman did not survive to take the seat, it was filled on October 10, 1933, by Carl Atwood Hatch, who served as a US Senator from New Mexico until 1949.  He is best known as the sponsor of the Hatch Act, which limits political activity by federal employees.  It was not until after Arthur Seligman had died that Hatch’s name was put forward as a replacement for Senator Bratton. (“Ask Governor to Select Hatch for Place in Senate,” Clovis News-Journal (September 28, 1933); Seligman had died only three days earlier.

9 thoughts on “Arthur Seligman, Governor of New Mexico: Part II

  1. Great research and very interesting. I like the following quote from Arthur Seligman, stating that he will “clean out the ‘political parasites and political barnacles” if elected. There’s too much of that on both party lines, especially today.


  2. Pingback: The Life of Otis Perry Seligman: The “Scandal in Santa Fe” as told by his son « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

    • It sure can be, though the rewards of being good make it worth the stress usually. I am not sure Arthur would have traded a longer life for one sitting at home, counting the money in the bank. But perhaps his family would have.


  3. Pingback: Putting The Puzzle Together:  Too Many Missing Pieces « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  4. Pingback: Uncle Jacob’s Family 1870-1895 | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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