Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Benigno Hernández was the first Hispanic from New Mexico to serve as a full Member of Congress. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1914, two years after New Mexico became a state. Previously representatives from New Mexico, ten of whom had been Hispanics, served as Territorial Delegates. Benigno Cárdenas Hernández was born in Taos, New Mexico on February 14, 1862, where he attended both public and private schools.
As a young man he moved to Lumberton in Rio Arriba County, where he raised sheep. In 1882 he returned to Taos, New Mexico, where he worked as a store clerk. In 1888 he became a private merchant, and for the next few years lived in various communities in New Mexico. In 1893 he established a store in Lumberton and six years later he set up the headquarters for his business activities in Tierra Amarilla, the county seat for Rio Arriba County.
In 1900 Hernández began his political career when he became probate clerk and recorder in Tierra Amarilla. In 1904 he was elected county sheriff of Rio Arriba County and served for two years. From 1908 to 1912 he served as county treasurer and tax collector. In 1912 he was appointed receiver in the State Land Office in Santa Fe. During his tenure as an elected county official, he also served as a delegate to numerous State Republican Conventions. He resigned from the Santa Fe post the following year and returned to his business.
In 1914 Hernández was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; he sought reelection in 1916, but was defeated by William B. Walton. In 1918 he was elected to a House seat in the 66th Congress. During his tenure in Congress he served on the Committee on Indian Affairs, the Agriculture Committee, and the Committee on Public Lands. He showed a special interest in the construction of an infrastructure for New Mexico, including bridges, reservoirs, dams, and public buildings.
In 1921 Hernández completed his second term and returned to New Mexico. On April 22, 1921 President Warren G. Harding appointed him collector of Internal Revenue for New Mexico. Hernández held that post until the inauguration of the Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, when he resigned and retired from active political life at age seventy-one. During World War II he served on the Selective Service Board of New Mexico. In the early 1950's Hernández moved to Los Angeles, California, and died there at age ninety-two on October 18, 1954.