John Munroe

John Munroe

War of 1812 · US Army
War of 1812 (1812 - 1815)


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Conflict Period

War of 1812

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Served For

United States of America

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Stories about John Munroe

    In 1846, Colonel John Munroe was transferred to Santa Fe, New Mexico as the military Commandant. He served as the querulous Governor of New Mexico Territory from 1849 to 1851.

    Colonel Munroe, who vehemently opposed efforts by the newly elected civilian governor (acting) of New Mexico to put state government into full operation without congressional action, occupied quarters rented from the famous (or infamous) Doña Tules (Gertrudes Barceló). Her gambling salon was much touted by Yankee visitors to Santa Fe during the 1830s and 1840s, and historians often have implied that she was madam of a house of ill repute. In 1850, Munroe authorized the largest Indian campaign carried out in northern New Mexico at the urging of Kit Carson and others. Munroe was described as having "stood very high" and was the best mathematician in the army, as well as the ugliest looking man. He was a Whig in politics and a very determined man in all his acts and doings. He would brew his pitcher of toddy at night, and take the first drink of it at noon the next day, after which hour he would not attend to any official business. He said he wouldn't live in a country [where it snowed] in Nov and May. He arrived in Nov when it snowed and also the next May so he got himself transferred.

    The following biography is from "Lt. Col. John Munro, Military Governor of New Mexico October 1849-March 1851 - Constitutional Conflict and Transition to a Civil Government" by Kendyl K. and Barbara S. Monroe - 2000

    Lt. Col. John Munro, born in Scotland in about 1796, graduated from West Point in 1814, and having served in Indian Wars in Florida and the Mexican-American War of 1846-8, became the de facto military governor of New Mexico in Oct 1849 when he was appointed the commander of the Ninth Military Department of the U.S. Army, which comprised the present New Mexico (the eastern and northern boundaries of which were then in dispute with Texas) and Arizona. He served as governor from 27 Oct 1849, with offices in the Palace of the governors in Santa Fe, until a civil government of the Territory of New Mexico (which then included Arizona) was organized in Mar 1851.

    De facto military governorships of New Mexico came about because present New Mexico and Arizona had been acquired in Aug 1846 by the United States by military conquest, largely bloodless, in the Mexican-American War, together with present California, Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado. No civil government had been organized for New Mexico when the war ended with the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 because it was thought that the boundary dispute with Texas needed to be resolved first. Many New Mexico residents (most of whom were Hispanic) claimed that the peace treaty terminated military authority within the area and made it necessary to organize civil authority, but Washington claimed that the military should continue de facto to establish the government until a territorial or state government was provided by Congress.

    When the Mexican-American War began, the United States supported Texas' claim that its western boundary extended to the Rio Grande River, notwithstanding that Mexico, and Spain before the Mexican Revolution in 1821, had occupied areas east of the Rio Grande since 1598. After the War, the United States supported Mexico's former territorial claims, presumably to maximize the area that it claimed it had acquired by conquest in the war.

    Theodore Roosevelt makes the interesting observation in his four-volume series "The Winning of the West" that Santa Fe and Vincennes, Indianna are the only populated parts of the United States that were acquired by military conquest rather than by the relentless expansion of frontier settlement.

    The first military commander of New Mexico appointed civilians as Governor and Secretary of New Mexico in 1846, the Governor so appointed was killed in 1847 in the Taos Revolt, and the military initially appointed the Secretary as the civilian Governor, but after the 1848 peace treaty the military commander of the District was recognized by Washington as the de facto Governor.

    During the year and a half after Oct 1849 that Lt. Col. John Munro served as the military governor of New Mexico, some very difficult constitutional issues arose. Anticipating congressional legislation admitting New Mexico as a state, Lt. Col. Munro called by proclamation a convention which proposed a constitution on 15 May 1850, and he called by a second proclamation dated 28 May an election on 20 Jun which adopted the constitution and elected a governor (Henry Connelly), a Lieutenant Governor (Manuel Alvarez), a representative to the Congress (William S. Messervy), and the members of a legislature. The second proclamation stated that "all action by the governor, lieutenant governor, and of the legislature, shall remain inoperative until New Mexico be admitted as a state under...[the proposed] constitution, except such acts as may be necessary for the primary steps of organization, and the presentation of said constitution properly before the congress of the United States."

    Immediately after the election, the newly elected officers took the position that their powers and prerogatives were more legitimate than those of the military officers. In a conversation on 10 Jul, Lt. Col. Munro informed Lt. Gov. Alvarez, acting in the absence of Gov. Connelly who remained in the organized United States after he had been elected, that Lt. Col. Munro would disregard any acts of the legislature overstepping the bounds of the proclamation of 28 May, would sustain the authorities theretofore administering the functions of government, and would regard the course of the new government in organizing its departments and proceeding to exercise legislative power as unwarranted and revolutionary.

    On 13 Jul, Lt. Gov. Alvarez wrote to Lt. Col. Munro a letter containing the following points, which were elaborated on at length:

    "1st. That the people had an undoubted right to hold a convention, form a constitution, and organize a civil government, without either your first or second proclamation, or without even consulting you.

    "2d. That any private citizen, as well as the commandant of the ninth military department, could have issued the proclamation, or could, by common consent have been designated for that purpose; and, if obeyed, it would have been just as effectual and obligatory on the people and yourself.

    "3d. That in the absence of any congressional legislation over us, we have as free and undoubted a right to reform and remodel our old system, or to establish a new and different one, not violating the constitution of the United States, as the people of New York or Virginia.

    "4th. That the civil power exercised by you, under a military order from General Scott, can be no greater nor more restrictive of the rights of the people than that exercised by the President of the United States.

    "5th. That the President of the United States can no delegate a greater power than he could himself exercise, and nothing is clearer than that he, without the sanction of congress, has no power either to dictate a government to us or to prevent us from making such a one as we may prefer.

    "6th. The it has never been pretended, even by the President of the United States, that he had any authority to make a government for us or to insist that we should observe the one left to us on the termination of the war... Had the President power to make us a government, long ago he would have so ordered. This power is reserved to congress; and, until it acts, the people must adopt such a government as to them may seem best."

    Lt. Col. Munro immediately replied by a letter which concluded:

    "My official obligations imperatively require that the present government be sustained until superceded by another legally constituted; and this duty I will fulfill with all the means at my disposal."

    On 15 Jul the putative legislature, which was then in session, adopted a number of joint resolutions, the tenor of which is reflected by the first two:

    "1. That it is the indisputable right of the people, in the absence of congressional legislation on the subject, to organize a civil government and put it in immediate operations.

    "2. That the right of exercising any civil function by the commander of the 9th military department (if it ever existed) was superceded by the organization of the state government."

    On 16 Jul , Lt. Col. Munro wrote to the Adjutant General of the U.S. Army to request "instructions for my guidance", beginning the letter as follows:

    "The political affairs of New Mexico have assumed so grave a character that it has become my imperative duty to make the executive of the United States acquainted through you with the material fact that the new state government, organized so far only as to take the preliminary steps towards admission into the Union, has assumed to supercede the actual government, and go at once into operation."

    On 10 Sep, the Secretary of War replied, at the President's instruction, to the 16 Jul letter by stating that legislation had been passed on 9 Sep resolving the border issues, subject to the assent of Texas, and providing for a territorial government after that assent had been obtained (it was given on 25 Nov), and giving instructions that in the interval the peaceful efforts of the inhabitants of New Mexico to establish a government could not be viewed as acts of rebellion and should not be interfered with by the military. The legislation was part of the Compromise of 1850, and established the boundary between Texas and New Mexico, representing the convergence of westward population settlement from American sources and northward and eastward population settlement from Mexican sources, at the 103rd meridian. Lt. Col. Munro received the 10 Sep letter by special messenger on 22 Oct, but ignored it and did not disclose it until a territorial government was organized and a civil governor (James S. Calhoun) was inaugurated on 3 Mar 1851. The first official legislative assembly met on 2 Jun 1851.

    Shortly after Gov. Calhoun took office at the Palace of the Governors, friction arose between him and Lt. Col. Munro, and Munro was relieved of his duty as Commander of the Ninth Military Department.

    Lt. Col. Munro died in New Brunswick, New Jersey on 26 Apr 1861.

    Compiled and edited by Allen Alger, Genealogist, Clan Munro Association, USA - e-mail: [email protected] [56]

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    02 Nov 2013
    18 Jul 2015
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