Santa Fe de Nuevo México (shortened to Nuevo México or Nuevo Méjico, translated as New Mexico) was a province of New Spain that existed from the late 16th century up through the early 19th century. It was centered on the upper valley of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo del Norte), in an area that included most of the present-day U.S. state of New Mexico. In theory it had variably-defined borders extending into the present-day states of Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, although actual settlements centered around Santa Fe. For all but the first few years of its existence, its capital was Santa Fe.
The province was founded in 1598 by Juan de Oñate during his expedition northward from New Spain; he established a settlement near Ohkay Oweenge Pueblo. The expedition had been authorized by Phillip II and was motivated in part by a desire to restore the fortunes of the Spanish Empire following the disastrous defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Spanish believed that cities of gold, such as the ones of the Aztecs, whom they had previously conquered, lay to the north in the unexplored territory. Oñate was unable to find such cities, however, he embarked on the conquest of the urbanized Puebloan peoples. He later became the first governor of the province. Oñate hoped to turn the province in a separate viceroyalty from New Spain, but he was unsuccessful. The Spanish were expelled from the territory for 12 years following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, returning in 1692 in the "bloodless" reoccupation of Santa Fe by Diego de Vargas. The province fell under the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Guadalajara, with oversight by the Viceroy of New Spain. In 1777 with the creation of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas, the province was removed from the purview of the Viceroy and placed solely on the Commandant General.
The area of the former province east of the Rio Grande was claimed by the Republic of Texas after 1836, a claim that was disputed by Mexico. In 1844 the Texians sent an expedition, ostensibly for trade but with hopes of occupying the claimed area, but the expedition was captured by Mexican troops; the United States inherited the unenforced claim to the east bank with the Texas Annexation. The US Army under Stephen Kearny occupied the territory in 1846 in the Mexican-American War and Mexico recognized its loss to the United States in 1848 with the Mexican Cession. Texas continued to claim the eastern part, but never succeeded in establishing control except in El Paso; in the Compromise of 1850 it gave up its claim to areas in today's New Mexico. In 1849, President Zachary Taylor proposed that New Mexico immediately become a state to sidestep political conflict over slavery in the territories, but it only became a state in January 1912.