Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A history lesson with AB bullet points

In all the research I've been doing lately on Alaska history as a way to embellish the tales of the Arctic Brothehrood, I thought I'd share some of what I found.

As you may or may not know, three Alaska governors were members of the Arctic Brotherhood. Four Alaska delegates to Congress were members as well. IN fact, it was largely throught the efforts of the Arctic Brotherhood that Alaska was given representation to Congress in 1906. Prior to the decision, Alaska as a district--not yet a territory-- was dealing with the same issues that brought about the independence of the United States: Taxation without representation.

In fact, one of Skagway's premier AB members, John Garland Price, wrote an editorial to one of the Skagway papers petitioning citizens to support home rule and oppose taxation without representation. By "home rule," Price means that those who are already in Alaska should be those to govern the distric tinstead of the feds appointing people to run them. Ironically, of course, those who were petitioning for said "home rule" were newcomers to the area and completely ignored the rights of those who were there first.

The first step the Arctic Brotherhood accomplished in getting rights for Alaska was writing a letter to Congress and the President. In this letter, they demand that Alaska receive a delegate to Congress claiming that the club has an intimate knowledge of Alaska's white population, nearly sixty thousand in number. At the next meeting of Congress, it was decided that Alaska receive a delegate.

The first delegate, frank Waskey, was a member of camp Nome #9. He was in that position from 1906, when he got elected by the Alaskan people, to 1907. Thomas Cale, a member of Fairbanks #16, succeeded him from 1907-1909. The next delegate was a doozy. James Wickersham served as Alaska's delegate to Congress from 1909-1917. The only reason he ran for this office was because he had resigned his post as federal district judge. This was likely due to criticism he had received from Alaska's governor, another AB member, Wilfred Hoggatt. Hoggatt had criticized Wickersham in a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt (who had been the guest of honor at an Arctic Brotherhood reception); shortly after, Wickersham resigned.

Wickersham's term as delegate to Congress lasted 8 years. The following year, AB member Charles A. Sulzer of camp Juneau #32 was elected. The election was contested, and the following year Wickersham was back. Sulzer was elected again in 1919, but he died before his term began. When another delegate was appointed in his place, Wickersham contested it; subsequently, he was delegate again in 1921,and again in 1931. His political career did not end until he was seventy-five years old.

In spite of the fact that Wickersham was kind of a [insert derogatory term here] according to the literature, he did a lot for Alaska and so in many ways does the AB proud. It was Wickersham who championed the cause of a territorial government for Alaska, whcih came to fruition in 1912. And, decades before the end result would be seen, Wickersham was the first to propose a bill for statehood for Alaska.

In other interesting news...

In 1923 as many Skagwegians know, President Warren Harding became the first President to visit Alaska and the only President to visit Skagway (comments about 2012 presidential candidates having livesi n skagway will not be well received). Harding was received by the Arctic Brotherhood in Skagway and was the second president to be initiated into the order.

That same year, Southeast Alaska attempted to secede from the rest of the territory. By that time, a good deal of Alaska's reidents had jumped on the statehood bandwagon. Southeast Alaska, however, felt it had little in common with the rural, largely undeveloped and spread-out interior.

Southeast had developed as part of Russian America and later as part of the United States' holdings much earlier th an the interior. Sitka had been the first capital of Alaska when it was still in Russian hands; Juneau had become the new capital shortly after the purchase by the United States. Both capitals were in southeast. The first mass movement of non-natives to the northwest section of north America brought them through southeast Alaska, since most of them couldn't afford to travel through the Yukon River of the interior.

So, Southeast Alaska decided that they would have an easier time becoming a state if they split from the rest of the territory. The vote passed in southeast by nearly 1200 for secession and not even 90 against. Sadly for southeast, the decision was ultimately in the hands of a federal committee. The committee arrived in Southeast to hear the concerns and logic of its residents. The committee did not approve Southeast Alaska's desire to secede. Sometimes I really wish they had... because there's more to Alaska than Anchorage!!!

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