Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Romualdo Pacheco was the only Hispanic who has served as Governor of California. He was born in Santa Barbara, California on October 31, 1831, to Ramona Carrillo de Pacheco and Captain Romualdo Pacheco, a prominent Californio family. Captain Pacheco, a native of Guanajuato, went to California in 1825 as an aide-de-camp to Governor Echeandia. Captain Pacheco died when Romualdo was five weeks old. A few years later Romualdo's mother remarried a Scotsman, Captain John D. Wilson. Wilson sent young Romualdo to be educated in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the age of twelve he returned to California and was apprenticed to a trading vessels agent, under whose guidance Pacheco became an excellent seaman. In July 1846, during the Mexican-American War, while he was sailing up the coast to Yerba Buena with a cargo of trade goods, American officials stopped and searched Pacheco's ship. He was held briefly and released at Yerba Buena after taking an oath of allegiance to the United States.
An excellent horseman, Pacheco engaged in ranching and his expertise with the lasso made him the only California Governor known to have roped a grizzly bear. He also did some mining during the California Gold Rush. He began his political career in 1853, when he was elected judge of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court. His fluency in English and Spanish, in addition to his ability to garner the support of both prominent Californio families and the newly-arrived Anglos, contributed to his political success. He became active in the Democratic Party, and in 1857 he was elected to the State Senate; subsequently he was reelected twice. Pacheco was one of the first Hispanics to denounce slavery and pledge allegiance to the Union, and in the early 1860's he changed party affiliation to the Union Party.
In 1860 Pacheco took an extended trip to Europe. He returned to California in the summer of 1861, just in time to start campaigning as a Republican for a seat in the California State Senate. He won the election, but did not spend much time in Sacramento, because Governor Leland Stanford appointed Pacheco a brigadier general, with command of the First Brigade of California's "Native Cavalry." In May 1862 Pacheco received orders to take immediate possession of all weapons previously issued to various military companies within Los Angeles County, with the exception of those held by Union loyalists. In September 1862, Pacheco was reelected to the State Senate where he served until 1863. During the Republican State Convention of 1863, Governor Stanford nominated Pacheco for the position of state treasurer; he was elected and served as state treasurer until 1866. During this time Pacheco stayed abreast of Mexican political events, and in 1864, when Mexican President Benito Juárez sent General Placido Vega to San Francisco to raise funds for the war against the French Empire, Pacheco put Vega in contact with affluent citizens who could contribute to the Juarista cause. In 1869 Pacheco was once again elected to the State Senate. In June 1871 Pacheco received the Republican Party nomination for Lieutenant Governor, and Newton Booth received the nomination for Governor. Both Pacheco and Booth were elected. During his service as Lieutenant Governor, Pacheco was warden of the San Quentin penitentiary, where he worked to ameliorate conditions. In 1875, when Newton Booth was elected to the U.S. Senate, Pacheco became Governor of California. In this position he stressed the importance of higher education and worked for the development of the University of California and the State Normal School in San Francisco.
In November 1876 Pacheco was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by a margin of one vote. His opponent, Peter D. Wigginton, contested the election and the case was referred to the House Committee on Elections. Meanwhile the Republican leader in the House, James A. Garfield, answered Wigginton's charges of election fraud by stating that Pacheco held the certificate of election, which was conferred by the Supreme Court of California. Pacheco was seated on October 17, 1877 and was appointed to the Committee on Public Lands. On February 7, 1878 the House Committee on Elections refused to accept Pacheco's certificate of election and voted in favor of Wigginton.
Upon Pacheco's return to California, he joined a San Francisco brokerage house and later became a partner in a firm called Hale & Pacheco, that mainly dealt with mining investments.
On September 3, 1879 Pacheco was once again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was reelected two years later. In the House Pacheco became a member of the Select Committee on the Death of President Garfield, where he recalled Garfield's plea on his behalf. In the 47th Congress Pacheco chaired the Committee on Private Land Claims, becoming the first Hispanic to chair a standing committee in Congress.
After his service in Congress, Pacheco moved to the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico, where he managed a large cattle ranch for five years.
In December 1890, Pacheco was appointed U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Central American States. The duties involved in maintaining diplomatic relations with the entire region were more than one man could handle; therefore, in July 1891 Pacheco was named Minister Plenipotentiary to Honduras and Guatemala, a post he held until June 21, 1893. At the end of his service he returned to California. He died on January 23, 1899 in Oakland, California.
For further reading:
Genini, Ronald & Hitchman, Richard. Romualdo Pacheco: A Californio in Two Eras. San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1985.