Date of Award
Master of Arts in Political Science
John O. Stitely
Alaska comprises 586,400 square miles of territory in the north-western part of North America. Discovered in 1741 by Vitus Bering, the land was owned by Russia until 1867. In that year, “Seward’s ice box” was sold to the United States for $7,200,000.
Under American rule, Alaska’s needs were often ignored or inadequately provided for. The area was referred to as a district until 1906, when it became the Territory of Alaska. Alaska was made an organized territory in 1912, when limited self-government was finally granted. The governor was still a Presidential appointee, and in fact, the territory remained under the extensive control of many federal bureaus.
Alaska was first allowed a nan-voting delegate to Congress in 1906. To 1916, Delegate James Wickersham introduced the first Alaskan statehood bill. The statehood movement was not to gain momentum, however, until World War II emphasized the importance of the territory.
Statehood bills were introduced in the Seventy-eighth Congress, and in seven succeeding Congresses until ultimate success was achieved in 1956. The first Congressional hearings on statehood were held in 1947 by the Subcommittee on Territorial and Insular Possessions of the House Committee on Public Lands. In 1948, the first Alaskan statehood bill to reach the House Calendar was reported out by this committee. The first Senate hearings on the question were held in 1950, when a favorable committee report was also made in that body.
Each succeeding debate on Alaska's admission was much like the previous one, and many objections were raised to the territory's small population and non-contiguity to the rest of the country. At times, Hawaii and Alaska were linked together in package statehood bills, but such arrangements worked to the disadvantage of both territories.
Victory for Alaska was fin ally attained in the Eighty-fifth Congress, when H.R. 7999 was passed and signed by the President. In accordance with provisions of the enabling act, the territory was proclaimed a state on January 3, 1959, and her star was officially added to the flag on the following July 4th.
Many of the arguments used against Hawaii were dissipated when Alaska was admitted, and in the following Congress, a fiftieth state was added to the Union.
Statehood will affect, in some degree: our relations with anti-colonial nations., and with Canada, with whom increased cooperation will probably be sought regarding the improvement of transportation and communications systems connecting the States with Alaska. A new era in American history may begin with the opening of another portion of the still-existing frontier- the New Northwest.
Fusaro, Anthony, "The Road to Statehood: Alaska’s Quest for Self-Government" (1959). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1770.