Alexander Ramsey, the only man to be both appointed as governor of the territory and then elected as governor of the state, was born September 8, 1815, at Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg. He was the eldest child of Thomas Ramsey, a blacksmith of Scotch-Irish ancestry, and Elizabeth Kelker Ramsey, who was of German-Swiss descent. After his father's death in 1826, Alexander was sent to live with an uncle in Harrisburg, where he attended school, worked in a hardware store, and apprenticed to learn the carpenter's trade. Ramsey early became interested in politics, undoubtedly influenced by the ardent devotion of his Kelker relatives to the Whig party and by the fascinating drama centering around the statehouse in Harrisburg.
In 1845 Ramsey married Anna Earl Jenks, daughter of a member of Congress from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The couple had three children, two who died in childhood. The third, Marion, married Charles Eliot Furness in 1875. Furness took ill shortly after the birth of their last child.
Success in the Keystone State was crucial to the Whig national ticket, and Ramsey hoped to be appointed Collector of the port of Philadelphia for his reward. Instead President Taylor offered him the governorship of recently-organized Minnesota Territory. After ten years in the thick of Pennsylvania politics and two terms in the House, Ramsey had learned his way around Washington, become acquainted with many of the influential party leaders of his day, and acquired considerable political expertise. His experience in the nation's capital was especially helpful for a territorial executive required to consult Washington on all the major decisions of administration.
Ramsey's appointment brought Minnesota to the favorable attention of many of his former associates, resulting in a substantial migration of capital as well as of Pennsylvanians to the territory. Ramsey made shrewd investments in Minnesota real estate. With the exception of a few cases, he abandoned the practice of law entirely and made real estate investment and development his major private business.
Despite his political and administrative competence, Ramsey's position and that of the Whig party in the territory was not a strong one. But Ramsey was flexible and steered a course of cooperation and conciliation with local Democrats while attempting to neutralize the Washington activities of enemies within his own party.
His duties as territorial governor were less arduous than those he performed concurrently as superintendent of Indian affairs. In 1851 he served as a commissioner to negotiate treaties with the Dakota for the cession of large areas of Minnesota land for white settlement. Sectional politics, and the interests of the Indians, fur traders, lobbyists, and settlers, were hopelessly entangled in the complex treaty negotiations and their aftermath. Ramsey was accused of fraud in the negotiations and, although he was ultimately exonerated, investigations of his conduct did not finally clear him until 1854, the year after he relinquished the governorship and the superintendency to Democrat Willis A. Gorman.
In 1855 Ramsey was elected to a term as mayor of St. Paul. By 1857 he had joined the newly-formed Republican party. Democrat Henry H. Sibley defeated him in the first gubernatorial election. Ramsey, however, won the succeeding contest to become Minnesota's second state governor. He was re-elected in 1861. In January 1863 he was elected by the state legislature to the U.S. Senate. He resigned the governorship at the end of June 1863, after the legislative session was over.
His administration was marked by sound economic management-particularly of the state's school lands-and by two crises: the Civil War and the Dakota Uprising. Ramsey was in Washington, D.C., in 1861 at the time the Civil War began, and as governor offered the first volunteer regiment for the Union Army.
Ramsey's daughter Marion took over the management of her father's household after her mother died in 1884. Alexander Ramsey died in his home in St. Paul on April 22, 1903. His granddaughters, who never married, lived in the Ramsey House until their deaths. They willed the home to the Minnesota Historical Society, which maintains it as a museum reflecting Ramsey's life and times.
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Alexander Ramsey should have been mentioned in the Minnesota 150 because he was our first territorial governor, second state governor and prominent during the Civil War.
Shale Gollop-Inver Grove Heights, MN