Alexander Ramsey
Chairman Utah Commission
In office
March 1882 – 1885
Succeeded byAmbrose B. Carlton
34th United States Secretary of War
In office
December 10, 1879 – March 5, 1881
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
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
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)
SpouseAnna Jenks
EducationLafayette 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,[1] Alexander was the eldest of five children born to 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 Judge John Reed's law school in Carlisle (now Penn 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]


Ramsey's house in Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1960
(Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation archives)

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 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 stole from the Dakota's annuities.[9] 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.[10] When the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa learned of the uprising they sent a letter to Ramsey to forward to President Lincoln offering to fight the Sioux dated September 6, 1862.[11] A few days later on September 9 Ramsey addressed the state legislature proclaiming: "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State," which he justified by citing various outrages against the settlers and violations of their treaties.[12] In the north the Chippewa/Ojibwa were having problems with their Indian agent stealing from them. Gov. Ramsey lead a legislative commission to the Crow Wing agency to address their issues.[13] There 10 chiefs of the Leech lake and Mississippi bands laid out their concerns and offered to fight the Sioux for the government.[14][15] The commission liked their offer and Gov. Ramsey invited the leaders of 22 bands of Ojibwa to St. Paul. They came on September 23 waving the America flag thinking their offers had been accepted.[16] Ramsey had to instruct them that Major General Pope would not accept their service on the grounds that it would not be good public policy. However, they would be contacted if they were needed.[17] In 1863, in response to continued raids on settlers, he authorized a bounty for the scalps of Dakota males.[18]

On April 15, 1865 President Lincoln died. There were very few senior officials in D.C. that morning. However, Ramsey was and took part in initiating the transfer of the Presidency to Vice President Johnson.[19]

Ramsey served as Secretary of War from 1879 to 1881, under President Rutherford B. Hayes.[20] He was one of the commissioners to govern Utah from 1882 to 1886 under the Edmunds Act.[20] 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.

Late in the fall of 1885 ex-governor Ramsey escorted the son of Chippewa Chief Hole in the Day to Washington D.C. as Minnesota's candidate to West Point.[21]


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.


  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. ^ "Ramsey, Justus Cornelius "J.C." - Legislator Record - Minnesota Legislators Past & Present".
  6. ^ Minnesota Historical Society collections, Volume 13 By Minnesota Historical Society, p. 5
  7. ^ Thomas A. McMullin; David Allan Walker (1984). Biographical Directory of American Territorial Governors. Meckler. ISBN 978-0-930466-11-4.
  8. ^ a b Spencer C. Tucker; Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr. (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. ^ Anderson, Gary Clayton (2019). Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 26–33. ISBN 978-0806164342.
  10. ^ "Second Annual Message | The American Presidency Project".
  11. ^ The Weekly Pioneer and Democrat, 19 Sept 1862, p.3, 2023, Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, 2023, MNHS, 345 Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul, MN [1]
  12. ^ Ramsey, Alexander (1862). "Message of Governor Ramsey to the Legislature of Minnesota, delivered September 9, 1862." In Executive Documents of the State of Minnesota, for the year 1862. Wm. R. Marshall: 1863.
  13. ^ Letter of Commissioner Dole, 11 Sept, 1862, The Goodhue Volunteer Vol. VII, No.8, September 17, 1862, Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, 2023, Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul, Mn [2]
  14. ^ Appendix, Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Minnesota 1862, Wm R. Marshall, Press Printing Company, St Paul, pp.135-8 [3]
  15. ^ The Chippewa Embassy, The Weekly Pioneer and Democrat Vol. XIV, No.14, Sept. 19, 1862, p.5, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, 2023 [4]
  16. ^ The Indian War in Minnesota, Memphis Daily Appeal, Oct. 2, 1862, p.2, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, 2023 [5]
  17. ^ Chippewa Visitors, St Paul Daily Press, 24 Sept, 1862, No. 149, p.1, 2023, Minnesota Digital Newspaper hub, 2023, MNHS 345 Kellogg Blvd, St Paul, MN [6]
  18. ^ Wingerd, Mary Lethert; Delegard, annotated by Kirsten (2010). North country : the making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 329–330. ISBN 978-0-8166-4868-9.
  19. ^ President Johnson Swears In, Evening Star, March 03, 1885, p.2, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, 2023 [7]
  20. ^ a b "The Men Who Impeached Andrew Johnson". McBride's Magazine. J.B. Lippincott and Company. 1899. pp. 518–.
  21. ^ The Press and Daily Dakotan, Nov. 5, 1885, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, 2023 [8]
  22. ^ Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 436.
  23. ^ Allan H. Keith, Historical Stories: About Greenville and Bond County, IL. Consulted on August 15, 2007.
  24. ^ "Ramsey Middle School changes name to Hidden River Middle School". CBS Minnesota. June 22, 2022. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  25. ^ Golden, Eric (March 23, 2021). "St. Paul will consider renaming Ramsey Middle School". Star Tribune. Retrieved August 26, 2022.
  26. ^ Verges, Josh (April 13, 2021). "Students, staff urge St. Paul school board to rename Ramsey Middle School". Pioneer Press. Retrieved August 26, 2022.
  27. ^ "History - MPS_CMF".
  28. ^ "MPS_CMF".
Party political offices First Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota 1857, 1859, 1861 Succeeded byStephen Miller U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byJames Irvin Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom Pennsylvania's 14th congressional district 1843–1847 Succeeded byGeorge Eckert Political offices New office Governor of Minnesota 1849–1853 Succeeded byWillis A. Gorman Preceded byDavid Olmsted Mayor of Saint Paul 1855–1856 Succeeded byGeorge Becker Preceded byHenry Sibley Governor of Minnesota 1860–1863 Succeeded byHenry Swift Preceded byGeorge W. McCrary United States Secretary of War 1879–1881 Succeeded byRobert Lincoln U.S. Senate Preceded byHenry Rice U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Minnesota 1863–1875 Served alongside: Morton S. Wilkinson, Daniel Norton, Ozora P. Stearns, William Windom Succeeded bySamuel J. R. McMillan
Chairmen of the United States Senate Committee on Post Office and Civil Service