Alexander Ramsey

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.

Alexander Ramsey
Alexander Ramsey - Brady-Handy.jpg
34th United States Secretary of War
In office
December 10, 1879 – March 5, 1881
PresidentRutherford B. Hayes
Preceded byGeorge W. McCrary
Succeeded byRobert Lincoln
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1875
Preceded byHenry Rice
Succeeded bySamuel J. R. McMillan
2nd Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 2, 1860 – July 10, 1863
LieutenantIgnatius L. Donnelly
Preceded byHenry Sibley
Succeeded byHenry Swift
5th Mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota
In office
Preceded byDavid Olmsted
Succeeded byGeorge Becker
1st Governor of Minnesota Territory
In office
June 1, 1849 – May 15, 1853
Appointed byZachary Taylor
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byWillis A. Gorman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 14th district
In office
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1847
Preceded byJames Irvin
Succeeded byGeorge Eckert
Personal details
Born(1815-09-08)September 8, 1815
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedApril 22, 1903(1903-04-22) (aged 87)
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyWhig (Before 1857)
Republican (1857—1903)
Spouse(s)Anna Jenks
EducationLafayette College

Early years and familyEdit

Born in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1815,[1] Alexander was the eldest of five children of Thomas Ramsey and Elizabeth Kelker (also Kölliker or Köllker).[2] His father was a blacksmith who committed suicide[3] at age 42[4] when he went bankrupt in 1826,[1] after signing for a note of a friend.[2] Alexander lived with his uncle in Harrisburg, after his family split up to live with relatives.[2] His brother was Justus Cornelius Ramsey, who served in the Minnesota Territorial Legislature.[5]

Ramsey first studied carpentry at Lafayette College but left during his third year. He read law with Hamilton Alricks, and attended Reed's law School in Carlisle (now Pennsylvania State Dickinson Law) in 1839. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1839.[2]

In 1844 Ramsey married Anna Earl Jenks, daughter of Michael Hutchinson Jenks, and they had three children. Only one daughter, Marion, survived past childhood.[2]


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.[6] 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,[7] who called for vigorous prosecution of the Civil War, and a military reconstruction of the South.[8] He voted for the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson.[8]

Ramsey is also noted for his statements calling for the killing or removal of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Dakota from the state of Minnesota during the Dakota War of 1862. These statements came in response to attacks by the Dakota on American settlements, resulting in the death of not less than 800 civilian men, women and children and the displacement of thousands more.[9] Ramsey declared on September 9, 1862: "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state."[10] In 1863, in response to continued raids on civilian settlers, he authorized bounty payments on Dakota scalps.[11]

Ramsey served as Secretary of War from 1879 to 1881, under President Rutherford B. Hayes.[12] He was one of the commissioners to govern Utah from 1882 to 1886 under the Edmunds Act.[12] 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.


  • United States Congress. "Alexander Ramsey (id: R000026)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2009-03-22
  1. ^ a b Helen McCann White (1974). "Guide to a Microfilm Edition of: The Alexander Ramsey Papers and Records" (PDF). Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Butler, William E. (February 2000). "Alexander Ramsey". American National Biography Online. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  3. ^ Steiner, Andy (February 12, 2016). "Out of the shadows: Mental Health Resources meets $1 million fundraising goal". MinnPost. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  4. ^ "Thomas Ramsey: 1784–1826". Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  5. ^ Minnesota Legislators Past and Present-Justus Cornelius Ramsey
  6. ^ Minnesota Historical Society collections, Volume 13 By Minnesota Historical Society, page 5
  7. ^ Thomas A. McMullin; David Allan Walker (1 January 1984). Biographical Directory of American Territorial Governors. Meckler. ISBN 978-0-930466-11-4.
  8. ^ a b Spencer C. Tucker; Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr. (24 March 2015). American Civil War: A State-by-State Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: A State-by-State Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 416–. ISBN 978-1-59884-529-7.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Wingard, Mary Lethert; Delegard, annotated by Kirsten (2010). North country : the making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. cccxlviii. ISBN 978-0-8166-4868-9.
  12. ^ a b "THE MEN WHO IMPEACHED ANDREW JOHNSON". McBride's Magazine. J.B. Lippincott and Company. 1899. pp. 518–.
  13. ^ Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 436.
  14. ^ Allan H. Keith, Historical Stories: About Greenville and Bond County, IL. Consulted on August 15, 2007.
  15. ^
  16. ^

External linksEdit

Party political offices
First Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1857, 1859, 1861
Succeeded by
Stephen Miller
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Irvin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 14th congressional district

Succeeded by
George Eckert
Political offices
New office Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Willis A. Gorman
Preceded by
David Olmsted
Mayor of Saint Paul
Succeeded by
George Becker
Preceded by
Henry Sibley
Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Henry Swift
Preceded by
George W. McCrary
United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Robert Lincoln
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Henry Rice
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Minnesota
Served alongside: Morton S. Wilkinson, Daniel Norton, Ozora P. Stearns, William Windom
Succeeded by
Samuel J. R. McMillan