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Alexander Ramsey
Alexander Ramsey - Brady-Handy.jpg
34th United States Secretary of War
In office
December 10, 1879 – March 5, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by George W. McCrary
Succeeded by Robert Lincoln
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1875
Preceded by Henry Rice
Succeeded by Samuel J. R. McMillan
2nd Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 2, 1860 – July 10, 1863
Lieutenant Ignatius L. Donnelly
Preceded by Henry Sibley
Succeeded by Henry Swift
5th Mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota
In office
Preceded by David Olmsted
Succeeded by George Becker
1st Governor of Minnesota Territory
In office
June 1, 1849 – May 15, 1853
Appointed by Zachary Taylor
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Willis A. Gorman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 14th district
In office
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1847
Preceded by James Irvin
Succeeded by George Eckert
Personal details
Born (1815-09-08)September 8, 1815
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died April 22, 1903(1903-04-22) (aged 87)
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Political party Whig (Before 1857)
Republican (1857—1903)
Spouse Anna Jenks
Education Lafayette College
Dickinson School of Law

Alexander Ramsey (September 8, 1815 – April 22, 1903) was an American politician. He served as a Whig and Republican over a variety of offices between the 1840s and the 1880s. He was the first Minnesota Territorial Governor.

Early years and family

Born in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1815, Alexander was the eldest of five children born to Thomas Ramsey and Elizabeth Kelker (also Kölliker or Köllker). His father was a blacksmith who died at age 42. Alexander lived with his uncle in Harrisburg, after his family split up to live with relatives. His brother was Justus Cornelius Ramsey, who served in the Minnesota Territorial Legislature.

Ramsey first studied carpentry at Lafayette College but left during his third year. He read law with Hamilton Alricks, and attended Judge John Reed's law school in Carlisle (now Penn State-Dickinson Law) in 1839. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1839.

In 1844 Ramsey married Anna Earl Jenks, daughter of Michael Hutchinson Jenks, and they had three children. Only one daughter, Marion, survived past childhood.


Alexander Ramsey was elected from Pennsylvania as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives and served in the 28th and 29th congresses from March 4, 1843, to March 3, 1847. He served as the first Territorial Governor of Minnesota from June 1, 1849, to May 15, 1853, as a member of the Whig Party.

Ramsey was of Scottish and German ancestry. In 1855, he became the mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota. Ramsey was elected the second Governor of Minnesota after statehood and served from January 2, 1860, to July 10, 1863. Ramsey is credited with being the first Union governor to commit troops during the American Civil War. He happened to be in Washington, D.C., when fighting broke out. When he heard about the firing on Fort Sumter he went straight to the White House and offered Minnesota's services to Abraham Lincoln.

He resigned the governorship to become a U.S. Senator, having been elected to that post in 1863 as a Republican. He was re-elected in 1869 and held the office until March 3, 1875, serving in the 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st, 42nd, and 43rd congresses. He supported the Radical Republicans, who called for vigorous prosecution of the Civil War, and a military reconstruction of the South. He voted for the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

Ramsey called for the killing or removal of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Dakota from the state of Minnesota during the Dakota War of 1862. After pressing the Dakota to sell their land, he and other officials diverted the Dakota's money to themselves, leaving the Dakota without their land or the treaty money. In response, some of the Dakota attacked American settlements, resulting in the death of at least 800 civilian men, women and children, and the displacement of thousands more. In a message to the state legislature on September 9, 1862, Ramsey said: "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State," which he justified by accusing the Indians of various outrages against the white settlers and violations of their treaties.

Ramsey served as Secretary of War from 1879 to 1881, under President Rutherford B. Hayes. He was one of the commissioners to govern Utah from 1882 to 1886 under the Edmunds Act. The act made it illegal for polygamists to vote or hold office. Ramsey and four others were defendants in the Supreme Court case Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15 (1885). The Supreme Court upheld the federal law that denied polygamists the right to vote.


A number of counties, towns, parks, and schools are named after Ramsey, including:

He was the namesake of the Liberty Ship SS Alexander Ramsey launched in 1942.

See also

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