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Statehood for Alaska

The Final Push in Congress

Critics often claimed that Alaska could not afford statehood. Mildred Hermann, a Juneau attorney who disagreed, said Alaskans could do whatever it took because there were enough creative people and resources in Alaska to solve any problems.

"If we cannot buy steak, we will eat beans. We will fit the pattern to the cloth. If we cannot make the kind of a dress we want, we will make one that will cover us anyway, and we are perfectly willing to pull in our belts and do without some things for the purpose of statehood," she said at a 1950 Senate hearing.

It was the appointment of sympathetic Nebraska newspaper publisher Fred Seaton as Secretary of Interior in 1956 that helped move the Eisenhower administration toward supporting statehood.

C.W. Snedden, publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, was a friend of Seaton's and recommended that a young attorney named Ted Stevens, who was already on the Interior Department staff, would be an ideal staff member for Alaska issues. Stevens became known as "Mr. Alaska" at the Interior Department, where he helped draft the statehood act.

Statehood gradually gained national support, with opposition weakening in the South. Senators from that region feared that two new senators from Alaska and two new senators from Hawaii would not be sympathetic to segregation. By 1957 it was clear that the anti-segregation forces already had a clear majority. The House approved a bill for Alaska statehood on May 28, 1958 by a 210-166 vote. U.S. Rep. Leo O'Brien. a New York Democrat, said that the friendship many House members had with Bartlett helped win passage, but he still regarded the outcome as a miracle.

One crucial amendment reduced the land grant to the state from 183 million acres to 104 million. Even at that size, the land grant was larger than the state of California. The Senate took up the measure shortly afterwards and agreed with the House bill on June 30, 1958 by a vote of 64-20.

Links:

Biography of Interior Secretary Fred Seaton



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