Alexander Ramsey

For the English footballer, see Alexander Ramsey (footballer). For people with a similar name, see Alexander Ramsay (disambiguation).
Alexander Ramsey
34th United States Secretary of War
In office
December 10, 1879  March 5, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Preceded by George W. McCrary
Succeeded by Robert Todd Lincoln
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
March 4, 1863  March 3, 1875
Preceded by Henry M. 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 Hastings Sibley
Succeeded by Henry Adoniram Swift
1st Governor of Minnesota Territory
In office
June 1, 1849  May 15, 1853
Appointed by Zachary Taylor
Preceded by Territory created
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 N. Eckert
Personal details
Born (1815-09-08)September 8, 1815
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania
Died April 22, 1903(1903-04-22) (aged 87)
St. Paul, Minnesota
Political party Whig, Republican
Spouse(s) Anna Jenks
Alma mater Lafayette College
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Methodism

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.

Early years and family

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 Altrick, and received a bachelor's of law degree from the Dickinson School of Law in 1839. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1839.[2]

In 1844 Ramsey married Anna Earl 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 Ft. 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.

Ramsey is also noted for his racist statements calling for the killing or removal of specific Native Americans, chiefly the Sioux (Dakota) people that lived in the state of Minnesota. These statements came in response to attacks by the Sioux on American settlements, resulting in the death of not less than 800 men, women and children, as mentioned in Abraham Lincoln's Second Annual Message on December 1, 1862.[7] Ramsey declared on September 9, 1862: "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state." [8] He went as far as offering money for scalps of Dakotas.[9]

Ramsey served as Secretary of War from 1879 to 1881, under President Rutherford B. Hayes.


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves his home, the Alexander Ramsey House as a museum. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Alexander Ramsey Park, located in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, is the largest municipal park in Minnesota. Ramsey County, Minnesota,[10] Ramsey County, North Dakota, the city of Ramsey, Minnesota, the city of Ramsey, Illinois,[11] Ramsey Park in Stillwater, Minnesota, Ramsey Junior High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey Elementary School in Montevideo, Minnesota and Ramsey Middle School (formerly Ramsey International Fine Arts Center and formerly Alexander Ramsey Junior High School) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are also named for him.


  1. 1 2 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. 1 2 3 4 5 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
  9. Wingard, Mary Lethert; Delegard, annotated by Kirsten (2010). North country : the making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. cccxlviii. ISBN 0-8166-4868-9.
  10. Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 436.
  11. Allan H. Keith, Historical Stories: About Greenville and Bond County, IL. Consulted on August 15, 2007.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alexander Ramsey.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Irvin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 14th congressional district

March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1847
Succeeded by
George N. Eckert
Political offices
Preceded by
Territory Created
Territorial Governor of Minnesota
June 1, 1849 – May 15, 1853
Succeeded by
Willis A. Gorman
Preceded by
David Olmsted
Mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota
Succeeded by
George L. Becker
Preceded by
Henry H. Sibley
Governor of Minnesota
January 2, 1860 – July 10, 1863
Succeeded by
Henry A. Swift
Preceded by
George W. McCrary
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: Rutherford B. Hayes

December 10, 1879 March 5, 1881
Succeeded by
Robert T. Lincoln
United States Senate
Preceded by
Henry M. Rice
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Minnesota
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1875
Served alongside: Morton S. Wilkinson, Daniel S. Norton, Ozora P. Stearns and William Windom
Succeeded by
Samuel J. R. McMillan
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