Welcome Alaska (1958)

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This Day July seventh, nineteen, fifty eight President Eisenhower signs, the Alaska statehood, allowing Alaska to become the forty ninth state to join the Union it would officially become a state of the beginning of the next year, but Alaska had been working towards this for a long long time ever since the territory really was purchased by the US Secretary of State William H seward, who was Lincoln, secretary state and then Johnson's as well so let's talk about how a territory becomes. Becomes a state which is an interesting story and certainly one that has made more interesting by the renewed talk bubbling up about Washington DC, possibly becoming a state so I'm joined as always by Nicole Hammer of Columbia alumnae hey. Jodie and our special guests this episode, the second of three is John dickerson sixty minutes the slate, political Gabfest, and a new book is called the hardest job in the world which I think is about podcasting. Is that right John Yes. Right it's an extended examination of but casting in the many perils. Is A book about the presidency, but John of course, one of our favorite political reporters and Of Political Esoterica so I want to kick off this conversation about. An Alaskan statehood with something that seward said in eighteen, sixty eight and I'm going to read this quote, but quote the political society to be constituted here I as a territory, and ultimately as a state or many states will prove a worthy constituency of the republic so Nikki were talking. Ninety years before Alaska becomes a state, there's already this vision for statehood and this real political project. What do we make of that well? It's a wildly aspiration for a lot of different reasons one. It is not the most hospitable climate that you could find to bring people in continue to populate the country amid has people living there, but it not something that's drawing a lot of settlers, and it's not attached to any land that the US already controls and so. So it's this new non-contiguous territory that that he bought an icebox right like there's there's reason to think that this is going to be profitable and that it's going to be populated land so it sort of seems like a flight of fantasy. Thank, which is why it's originally known as seward's folly, because nobody can imagine what he's imagining four Alaska I'm just want to say. We're GONNA. See Stats for Alaskan listeners just drop off big time you start with. John Well. She setting expectations low, which is you know then in eighteen ninety they discover gold or they, and then suddenly it becomes that now now it's seward's genius. What struck me about seward is? In reading about this and thinking about it, and obviously everybody knows about seward's folly. The power that secretaries of state had under presidencies. I don't know you want to decide I. mean they had power all the way into the Cold War too, but That something this big would be associated with the secretary of state, and not the president just tells us about the arrangement of the executive branch at the time, and also I. Mean a reminds me, Madison who basically puts together the Louisiana purchase for Jefferson you know there obviously were? No phones are cables or anything? And it's just kind of extraordinary that seward would go off and do this and I guess just powered by the belief in expansion of America, and that manifest destiny and sort of the world was ours for the taking and the Russians needing the money. And a lot of the land in the continental us was being settled or had been settled. There was a real drive to expand settlement after the civil war and you know the the president is Andrew, Johnson who is facing impeachment, so there might have just been some benign neglect that allowed seward to go. Check out what was happening out in Alaska. I WanNa talk a bit about the political context in the fifties that led to this actual move towards they had but one one last thing Nikki before we were. Were taping, you mentioned. You know that seward has come up on the podcast a couple times before he was almost assassinated as part of the plot around Lincoln's assassination, and then this is services a pretty solid second act for him as well right. Yeah, absolutely remember. We talked about Lincoln's assassination as essentially a coup attempt it was an attempt to cut off the head of the government of the United States, and so there were supposed to be fascinating against the vice president Andrew Johnson and there was pretty obviously. Obviously wasn't successful, but a pretty brutal attempt against seward who does survive and continues to be Secretary of state after Lincoln's assassination, so we have this manifest destiny context in the in the late nineteenth century, but then is regret towards the middle of the twentieth century. What is it about the forties and fifties? What's your sense of what it is about the forties and fifties that leads to this actual push and this success of achieving statehood I always assumed it was cold war. You know we have to keep an. An eye on the Russians. We want big territory. There's also lots of natural resources there. We've talked about the gold, but there's other things that the US were would want so strategically, and from a natural resources perspective, and then also Johnson and Rayburn wanted basically Democratic senators from Alaska Right I. I would say I would expand the Cold War context just a little bit to say this is also a period of rapid decolonisation across the world, and here you have these territories, and in the case of Alaska you have. The people of Alaska beginning to organize an ask for statehood, and so in the face of that there is real pressure on the Eisenhower Administration to extend full political citizenship to the people of Alaska. Because otherwise it puts the United States out of step with its with its purported democratic values and John Your reference to the addition of Democratic senators. I mean you know this brings est little to this evokes something that's happening right now. which is you know we're? We're having a conversation with DC statehood. Statehood and it is coming down for better worse to conversation up the political math that entails, and that was the case with with less well, so at the time Democrats were trying to tie Alaska and Hawaiian statehood together as a package, because it was assumed that Alaska would lean democratic and Hawaii would lean Republican. That actually has obviously flipped since then, but I guess you know. Is it the case that this will always end up being political in that way? Sure yeah I mean you know. Representation in the house, and the Senate basically will always come down to that, which is why it feels like we'd unless you get I wonder if you could say unless you can get to states where you have them, basically cancelling each other out. That's why he's going to have such trouble. As long as the Republicans are in charge. Yeah, I mean it's one of those things where again confounded the founders expectations in many ways. They set up all these institutions and they were like they're going to be nonpartisan. They're going to be non-political. We'll set these paths for how territories become a state and it's going to. To be based on the will of the people there, and then how it turns out, especially as you start the run up to the civil war that need for continued, balanced I between free states and states where slavery was legal, and then between Republican and democratic. State says you develop a two party system. It becomes this well-meaning force when it comes to bringing new states into the Union. Haven't there been some proposals to tidy statehood to adding expanding some other part of the map so that there would then balance out with Republican senators. Yeah, there have been now most of them are. Let's say OP ED worthy. been seriously proposed in any sort of like political centigrade. But yes, there's a whole whole set of political ideas, the kind of fall into the eight hundred word category in this case you know, somebody has suggested splitting Washington state and to two, so you could have eastern Washington which would be a very conservative state to balance out DC, and there are a lot of states that frankly have very conservative. Well, that's also convenient, because it's just Washington Washington just copy and paste in all the documents and honestly I. think that's probably exactly why they chose that state to split. So obviously, there's a pussies John Your from DC from DC as well I mean we've always this has been something. We've lived with for a long time as DC residents. What is your sense of this moment? Do you think that this is as close as we've come to having a real conversation? At DC statehood as close as we've come, but it's not close. Close enough in terms of getting the I mean you know how long of the taxation without representation license plates been available in Washington feels like maybe twenty or more years in in this particularly partisan moment, unless you get a huge change, ins instructor, and the Senate's not GonNa Happen I. Mean it does get to something. We've touched on this show. Which is interesting. I guess it's not a coincidence, but the more the more hyper partisan our politics become, it feels like the more space there weirdly as for some big structural conversations, you know I mean we are having conversations about voter access and all sorts of things that feel like the mechanics of our democracy, and this feels like if it's in, but maybe that's more symptom than caused or something, but you can also understand why that is Jodi right. Because when the political system is functioning, you can make piecemeal reforms and you can move. Move The ball forward and give people a sense that the government is responsive to their needs more that that grinds to a halt. The more there is a push you know knowing you can't actually get a bill passed through the Senate because Lord knows they wouldn't actually take one up for debate. Then all of a sudden. You're lake well. Should we just get rid of the Senate so it sort of forces, those kind of big structural questions, which is why we're having another discussion about the filibuster and get rid of it. At this moment so. Which is actually like the least dramatic proposal on the table right now, right? Get rid of the filibuster versus get rid of the the electoral college right right, and so and now it's choose your reform between the electoral college through gerrymandering reform and getting rid of the filibuster. You know it is interesting in the conversation around DC statehood. I saw someone write somewhere. Let's bounce probably tweet. But I saw someone kind of say. This is the longest stretch we've had since we've added a new state and you know it's kind of interesting to frame it that way that there was a time in which we were adding states. States fairly regularly you know, and this was something that was just part of a American life. Yeah, the US sort of frozen place after a one, thousand, nine, hundred fifty nine, so for the last seventy years. We've had the same flag. We've had the same territory right. There was sort of an end to a kind of American imperialism that involved getting new territory, and so that kind of static nece is reflected in the flag and I think in a certain sense has fed this resistance to new states. It's been this way for so long fifty such a nice round number. The people just kind of want to stick with. You're joking, but seriously. How big of a factor is that that Nice round number? You get to set up. Fifty one stars is awkward. Let's be honest. Is that an element if you found a state that had sufficient natural resources or solve some other challenge, we'd be fifty one and a second absolutely if we annex candidates. Ended Their Nikki Hammer. Thanks as always thank you David and thanks to you John, dickerson. You'll be with us for one more episode after this. Thank you judy. This day NSF Eric political history is a proud member of Radio Topi from Pr X. You can find out lots more including how to suggest the topic at this day pod Dot Com. Our producer and researcher is Jacob Feldman. Our theme. Music is by teen days a Remix of music from blue dot sessions. Coming up next episode, we'll talk about Al. Gore's I mentioned on this podcast how he got chosen as Bill Clinton's vice president, and what to make of the way that Vice Presidents are chosen. That's coming up on Thursday in the meantime rate review. Tell a friend about the show or just you know, go until the podcast. My name is jody again. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you soon. The White House President Eisenhower the proclamation that makes Alaska's entry into the union official, and across the country, manufacturers go into action, bringing in a stars and Stripes afternoon to date. On the forty nine star has been solved by a field of seven staggered rows of seven stars. Each Lila is not mandatory to replace eight started lags now and US manufacturers, playing poker boom business at America rushes to keep up with the new. All. There's a good chance that you like me doing a lot of your web browsing all of it maybe from home these and perhaps like me. You're trying to figure out what that means for privacy and the security of your online activity. Who is watching who is tracking? What can they see well? Maybe you do what I do from time to time, which is fire up incognito mode incognito it. It sounds great that no one will see what I'm up to, but here's the thing. 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