Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was interviewed on December 30, 1987 by John Whitehead in the Senator's office in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Senator Stevens talks about his involvement in the struggle for Alaska Statehood. He speaks about the legislative process and working with C.W. Snedden and Bob Bartlett on strategy for passage of Alaska statehood legislation. This interview was part of Whitehead’s research for his book: Completing the Union: Alaska, Hawaii, and the Battle for Statehood (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 2004).
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Coming to Alaska
Going to work for the Interior Department in Washington, DC and starting to work on Alaska Statehood
Meeting C.W. Snedden
Working with Republicans, Democrats and the Tennessee Plan members for support of Alaska Statehood
Alaska-First strategy to get statehood legislation passed
Democrats and Republicans working on Statehood, and using cards to track the players and their positions
Connections with Hawaii's statehood movement
Key factors in getting Alaska Statehood bill passed
Roadblocks to passage of the Alaska Statehood bill
Role of Senators Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and Scoop Jackson
Final passage of the Alaska Statehood bill
Role of Fred Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, and C. W. Snedden, publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner newspaper
Role of the media in passage of Alaska Statehood bill
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JOHN WHITEHEAD: a little background to how you came to Alaska, which I gather was about 1953,
and then how you happened to go to be Fred Seaton's assistant -- I'm wondering if this had anything to do with statehood to begin with -- to be a liaison in Washington.
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Well, I came to Alaska, in, well, I got here in 1953, in response to a job offer from Collins and Clasby -- I was in a small law firm in Washington that had been working with Clasby in the representation of the Usibelli Coal Company.
I had, when I got out of law school at Harvard in 1950, tried to become the clerk to Judge Dimond,
and I had applied for that job and not gotten it -- it was just something of a sort of a dream of mine to come to Alaska.
I instead, when I didn't get that, took a job in Washington with a small law firm that was working on
basically, the water rights problems between Arizona and California,
and while there I came in contact with Clasby. Clasby had a vacancy here in his office.
Parenthetically, let you know that after I got here I found out the guy I replaced had comitted suicide. But
I joined Collins and Clasby, my first day there was in March of '53, I had been married in March of '52, Anne and I had been married about a year,
we you know, didn't have any money. I had gone through school on the GI Bill. I actually borrowed the money from Clasby, some 700 dollars, to make the trip up here.
So I got here and worked for Clasby that year, and became U.S. Attorney that fall, when Judge Pratt asked me to leave Clasby and become U.S. Attorney, which I did in September of 1953.
As U.S. Attorney I had come in contact with quite a few of the Federal people and I was U.S. Attorney in 1950 -- the fall of '55, when the Secretary of Interior -- I'll think of his name in a minute, he was from Oregon, came through here... and....
JOHN WHITEHEAD: McKay?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: McKay. When McKay came through here there was a problem with the, with the concessionaire at the Mount McKinley National Park, and he called me over to the Travellers -- over to the Turnagain --
no it was the Travellers Inn, and told me that he would like to have me look into that and see what would be necessary to take this guy out of the management of the concession,
the operation of the hotel, because he was of the opinion that he was damaging the hotel properties and
I chartered Holly Evans, he flew me down there I had a meeting with the guy, laid it on the line to him, and told him that he could stay there,
but we were going to file suit against him and we were going to charge him with what the Secretary wanted to charge him with --
the destruction of his property -- but I took it on myself to say "if you leave here now with me and go back and
relinquish all your rights to the Secretary right now, why I'll see to it that they don't file suit against you and you can just eliminate this part of your career history."
He thought about it and got in the plane and flew back with me to Holly -- with Holly -- and we went in and I presented him to McKay and we did just draw up that little agreement,
whatever it was, and the guy left and McKay was effusive in his comments about the way it was handled,
and he went back and talked to a friend of mine -- Homer Bennett, who was in the Interior Department --
Bennett called me and said that McKay would like to have me come down and join them down there,
and we made arrangements for me to transfer from the Department of Justice to the Department of Interior, and I did go down to join them. By the time I got there Seaton was Secretary and McKay had left.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: So you, so you went before Seaton....
SENATOR TED STEVENS: I really met Seaton the first day I got in the job. I thought I was going to become the Legislative Counsel for McKay,
but the motivation was in fact statehood at the time. We ...
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Your motivation for joining the...?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: ...Interior...
JOHN WHITEHEAD: ...was statehood...
SENATOR TED STEVENS: One of the things that Bennett had pointed out to me, that if I came down there I would be in charge of the Interior activities with regard to the statehood movement.
I had known Bennett who had been the administrative assistant to Senator Milliken in the time I was with the small law firm in Washington, so it was the statehood movement took me down there...
JOHN WHITEHEAD: And had you gotten introduced to Snedden in Fairbanks?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: I had talked to Snedden about statehood and as U.S. Attorney was here during the Constitutional Convention
and had thought about running for the Constitutional Convention -- we were prohibited from doing that as government employees so
I was not there -- I did some conferring with Bill.
He had become a firm supporter because of some of the things I had done as U.S. Attorney here, District Attorney then at that time was the Territorial U.S. Attorney concept.
As soon as I got down there and found Seaton there I found a note from Snedden and I called Snedden and Snedden
told me he knew Seaton very well, and from there they had all developed the relationship that we had during that period.
Snedden incidentally sent me the News Miner by air mail every day I was in the Department of the Interior from '56 to '61.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Well, in reading this letter from Snedden he mentioned that one of the major things that he and you and Fred did
was to make a list of Republican members of Congress as to their position on statehood,
and then go down this list and concentrate on the Republican members.
What I'm wondering -- when you were in Washington would you say that the pro-statehood people who were Republicans worked on Republican members of Congress,
and people like the Tennessee Plan and Bob Bartlett worked on --
on the Democrats, or did you join together to coordinate, or more or less go your separate ways?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Well, Bartlett and I worked very closely, he is a great friend of mine, and I had come to know him as a delegate.
As far as the other Tennessee Plan people I didn't see much of them --
he wasn't Tennessee Plan -- I don't mean to imply that -- he was delegate --
but we -- Bill, only saw the partisan side of it because he was a part of the Republican group that came in to work with Fred.
We had that Republican group it was Bob Atwood, Bob Groseclose,
Tilly Reeve, a whole series of people.
But my job as the Legislative Counsel and then as the Assistant to the Secretary,
I subsequently became assistant to Fred Seaton and then later Solicitor of the Interior Department after statehood,
but at that time in the statehood days my job was to sort of analyze problems that we were facing, and
Seaton had talked Eisenhower into making statehood for Alaska one of the presidential objectives.
One of my jobs was to analyze that why the statehood bills had not passed previously.
My analyses found that the reason was that the enemies of both joined together, and married the two bills and they were...
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Alaska and Hawaii?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Yes, they were defeated together.
And we determined -- my recommendation to Seaton was that we had to convince the administration to go with Alaska first,
because strangely the suspicion was that if Hawaii was brought into the Union it would produce two Republican Senators
and they would be, not part of the normal Southern Democrat-Republican coalition that was then prevalent in the Congress.
And it was a bi-partisan group that opposed the Hawaiian --
It was the Democrats that opposed Hawaii because they thought it would be Republicans.
It was the Republicans who opposed Alaska because they thought it'd be Democrats, and that the balance would be upset in any event as far as civil rights was concerned,
the Southerners opposed both.
Basically, that was the analysis I presented to Fred.
I'm like Bill -- I lost most of my papers, too many moves and not enough room to store them,
but there's some of them that are still in the Archives -- I've hired somebody to go back in and find some of those by the way.
The impact of it was is that when we decided what to do -- one of my recommendations was to Seaton,
was that we organize this group to bring Alaska Republicans to Washington since the Tennessee Plan was all Democratic.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Democratic, yeah.
SENATOR TED STEVENS: And it wasn't a process of partisan activity as much as it was a realization that the Republicans were --
didn't have Republicans to talk to in terms of the statehood movement because Bartlett was a Democrat, Rivers, Greuning, and Egan were Democrats
and so we brought the Atwoods, Grosecloses, Tilly Reeves, Hickel, Snedden.
I can still see ‘em sitting around Fred's dining room as Secretary of Interior,
and the cards that I prepared that Bill saw were Republican.
I think I still have some of those cards.
There were -- there was a similar set of Democratic cards to keep Fred briefed on where the Democrats stood
and I would fill those out after conferring with Bartlett.
And we sort of tried to coordinate the political effort to get as many people on both sides of the House for Alaska statehood.
And that really materialized in the final analysis.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Well, since you mentioned this Alaska First strategy of getting Alaska in first.
When I've done interviewing in Hawaii there is a great sense over there that the --
one that the Alaska First strategy was what eventually got Hawaii in --
but the people in Hawaii seem very excited to attribute the origins of this to their Democratic delegate John Burns.
I wonder if you knew much about Burns?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Oh, I knew John Burns well -- he was a policeman in the -- in the police force on Capitol Hill when I first met him --
he didn't have a damn thing to do with it -- that -- origination of that strategy.
We originated it in the Department of Interior, Fred and I did,
conferring with Bill Snedden as a matter of fact, and decided we had to go first.
Bartlett I'd say had much more to do with it than, than Burns.
Burns was hyperpartisan, was doing his utmost to try to prove to the Democratic administration and to --
to the Democrats in Congress that the Republican administration should not get credit for getting Hawaii statehood,
and we had a Republican Governor out there was a great friend of mine -- he's still alive -- Bill Quinn -- did you interview him?
JOHN WHITEHEAD: I've met him, and he's been interviewed quite a number of times --
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Yea, he was -- he's very reticent to talk about his role in it he -- really --
he lost the election after the -- after statehood so I think he sort of lost.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: He beat Burns first after statehood and then Burns beat him.
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Ah -- Burns -- that's it! -- but the election when he ran against Burns for the second time he lost,
they, and they lost the Senate seat too,
so it's sort of a -- so the strategy backfired as far as they were concerned -- let's put it that way --
but on the other hand if you look at our history it's the other way around, see.
It just shows you how smart politicians really aren't.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: On lining up support for statehood in a lot of Snedden's writings he concentrates heavily on nullifying the major opponents.
When I talk to George Lehleitner he emphasizes rallying the proponents --
and knocking on doors and getting lukewarm people to be positive --
rather than concentrating so much on Judge Smith or a "died in the wool" Southerner.
What would you have seen more as the key to getting the bill passed -- keeping the opponents quiet or rallying supporters?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Well, the key to getting the bill passed was the strategy that was developed to try and get around the Rules Committee in the House,
and using the procedure for getting a statehood bill to the floor
and having Judge Smith not battle that,
and that in fact was Snedden and Walker Stone, and what they did, and I'm sure you've seen the paper that shows the little-man concept.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Off in the corner this man alone...
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Yes. This man alone is holding this... yeah. I think that the strategy really was -- and Bartlett concurred in it --
to identify the potential roadblocks to statehood,
and as we knew that momentum was there that the national polls showed that the nation favored the admission of Alaska and Hawaii --
and or one or the other they were not --
they were just in favor of movement -- of expanding the Union and recognizing the role that both Alaska and Hawaii had played in the war-time period.
I think it was the veterans of America more than anyone who brought home the realization that Alaska and Hawaii were really part of the Union and ought not be treated as distant territories.
The impact of that was we tried to eliminate the roadblocks, and the roadblocks --
the basic roadblock-- the historical roadblock-- was the roadblock in the House.
We showed. I wrote some memos for Fred that showed that the statehood bills that started in the Senate that stopped in the House,
and the ones that started in the House had moved so that they were destined to be stopped in the Senate;
and as a consequence we had to find a way to get the Bill passed by the House in a way that it would never have to go back to the House.
We had to avoid a Conference Committee that was the basic strategy was to avoid the con --
the Senate passed a bill that the House had passed without any change, as you know, so that the strategy was to eliminate the roadblocks in the House
and have such momentum when the Bill came to the Senate that it couldn't be stopped --
and it worked!
JOHN WHITEHEAD: So the biggest roadbock was not so much the votes on the floor as getting it out of the Rules Committee on to the floor?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: It was getting it to the floor with the right terms so that it could not be condemned by anybody as being insufficient.
But the impact of it was is that we had to keep changing the Bill
and one of the things we did was -- Doc Miller for instance -- Nebraska -- he wanted to prove that Alaska couldn't stand on its own two feet so we kept increasing the request for land
saying you know that we don't have cash so let's give this new state more land and give them the right to select it and we worked out all those problems.
Eisenhower had the problem of state selections, and we went to him, and I remember he drew a line on a map saying,
"alright well up there that's national defense and South of that --"
and he had Heinzelman really suggest the two states -- a state, and a territory being north of the state, and we wouldn't buy that.
So we drew the line and said north of the state they can't -- that the state can't -- do anything up there for state selections without approval and in the event of a national emergency
the president's got special powers up there that he doesn't have anywhere else in the country, and we agreed to that.
That Section Ten was the key substantive change that was actually worked out by a guy at a -- Jack--
oh I'll have to think of his name.
He was the Attorney for the Army. ... Stempler!
Jack Stempler. He's still alive ... lives in Washington and is very proud of his role in statehood as a matter of fact. I see him every once and a while, but he and I worked out Section Ten. We cleared it with Bartlett and got it in the Bill --
Bartlett got it in the Bill -- and that settled things down. We then knew that we were able to go to the floor.
We then popped the procedural thing.
Our research had shown us that it was possible to bypass the Rules Committee.
However, the speaker could have worked with Smith in order to avoid that by scheduling,
and by preventing the timing of the motion, and the speaker decided to work with us.
The Texas influence was interesting because at the time you know Rayburn was speaker and...
JOHN WHITEHEAD: I hear from some people that Johnson and Rayburn were friends.
Others, they were sneaks who pretended to be friends but really weren't...?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Well, I don't know about that. I know that Sam Rayburn, I think, legitimately turned into be a populist support for expansion of the Union.
Johnson was at that time courting his Southern friends who he wanted to have play a significant part in his Presidential program.
You've got to remember this is '58 and he ran in '60, and he was gone.
We arranged to take the Bill in the Senate when he was gone.
And Rayburn did help us, did not give Smith the opportunity to raise the procedural motions he could have made to prevent the motion being made to bring the Bill to the floor without his consent. Without the consent of the Rules Committee,
and I think once that was done -- when we had survived that Committee of the Whole procedure
we knew that we were going to get a Bill out of the House and we did with a fairly successful vote.
You know, I could ramble on, but -- In the Senate Jackson -- Scoop was chairman of the Subcommittee at the time
of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. I had known him fairly well.
He actually had been running around with Marilyn Atwood for a little while, at the time.
He knew the Atwoods, and he was single at the time,
and she was a bright young woman from the University of Chicago,
and she'd come to work with me. She was my assistant at the time at the Interior Department,
Marilyn Atwood was.
She and I would write editorials for Snedden.
Snedden would take them to the guy that was operating the canned newspaper routine for the country.
Those would go into weeklies and bi-weeklies throughout the country
and then we'd get a call from a Congressman or Senator saying they had noticed that someone,
in writing an editorial in favor of statehood, would we help them write a speech,
and so we were writing editorials and then writing the speeches that backed them up!
JOHN WHITEHEAD: But I'm wondering about Jackson.
In later years he was credited with being a great supporter of statehood,
though Snedden indicates he thought Jackson was lukewarm at the time,
and that he had to put pressure on him through the Seattle newspapers.
What, what was your sense of Jackson?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Well, I think in later years Jackson's memory of friendship increased,
and he was a great friend of mine, but at the time when I first contacted him
Jackson was torn between the problems of the Seattle industry that opposed statehood,
and his judgment that it was in the best interest of the Country to have Alaska become a state.
And he was a good friend of Bartlett. Bartlett worked very closely with him.
Our key problem in the Senate really was that Jackson demanded an Attorney General's opinion
that Section Ten was constitutional,
and I tried to get that, and working with the assistant the Under --
the Deputy Attorney general at the time --
was either the Deputy Attorney general or Berger who has become the Chief Justice -- one or the other -- was one of the two -- was Bill Rogers or Berger was there at the time
they said that they wouldn't give such an opinion to Congress.
They were not in the business of giving
interpretive opinions to Congress on Constitution issues, and wouldn't do it.
So I had to tell Jackson he wasn't going to get it,
and that was the touchiest spot of the whole time.
Scoop understood that I think and he was a very forceful man.
He was older than I was. It was not, you know, the relationship was not one of equals by any chance. He was a Senator and I was an assistant to a Cabinet Officer,
but we knew each other, and we worked fairly closely,
and we decided that the Bill would go to the floor. We would take on the issue on the floor,
but I think the key problem in the Senate was getting the Bill through without amendment,
and in neutralizing Johnson and getting some Southern support.
It was the Republicans that got the Southern support.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: And what would you say was the key that the Senate didn't want to amend it?
That it was time to get the bill done?
Because it sure could have been stalled with amendments.
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Well, there are a series of things.
I think that there was legitimate support from the Democratic side by that time.
From the Northern Democrats and the Southerners who supported Eisenhower, believed Eisenhower really wanted it.
Fred Seaton had been a Senator -- the only speech he ever made as a member of the Senate was a speech in favor of Alaska statehood.
I went with him to a series of people from Kefauver to Cotton,
to Knowland, to whole -- a whole series of them.
Why, I arranged those meetings for him!
We also arranged meetings for all these Republicans that came in to see him and they saw Democrats as well as Republicans -- don't let anyone tell you that those Republicans only saw Republicans.... JOHN WHITEHEAD: Yea?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: We -- we -- we did -- we went to see the people that Bartlett and I agreed that they should see.
We didn't take on Bartlett. We never crossed wires with Bob Bartlett.
He was really, in my opinion -- he was the only member we had in the Congress who was from Alaska, and we respected his role as being the judge of what would be good or bad for Alaska statehood,
consistent with the fact that we were representing the President.
The President generally by that time did want statehood,
and he saw the possibility of having a significant event of two new states entering the Union during his presidency
and he was very quite taken by that.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: And with the idea of national prestige for his presidency...?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Yes, and he -- Well, but international, too. I mean, the concept of having been the savior of the free world anyway.
In terms of the Commander in Chief of our expeditionary Forces or --
what did we call them at that time -- the, the, American end of the Allied Forces...?
UNIDENTIFIED THIRD PARTY: Supreme Allied Command? SENATOR TED STEVENS: Yea.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: So statehood then was seen as a part of America's assertion of world leadership?
SENATOR TED STEVENS: More by -- by his friends than by Ike to begin with,
but I think subsequently by Ike.
Certainly Fred had seen it. Fred had been one of the two people who had gone over and talked to him,
to come home to run.
You know he had a real rapport with the old man, although he really wasn't that close to him to begin with, I don't think.
But I think Seaton was one of the keys.
In my judgment, I've always believed that the role that Snedden played was very unique,
and the fact that Atwood was involved was very unique. These are two publishers who knew publishers nationwide.
The activist of the two from the point of view of the things that were done was Snedden.
Snedden was y'know -- the book's gonna be written about that if I have anything to with it, although Snedden seems to think it ought not to be written, I think it should be.
But Snedden and I would isolate people like Authur Watkins of Utah.
And we got the Mormons here to write their Mormon families in Utah and really put the pressure on the old man to get off his opposition to statehood.
He was opposed to statehood for some wierd reasons.
We had Norris Cotton who'd came around from New Hampshire who became a very firm supporter.
Knowland became a supporter.
Knowland became one who articulated some positions that I know that there is some correspondence where I tried to explain to Lehleitner
my disappointment that they did not keep their commitment with regard to Hawaii's statehood.
We were supposed to go right into Hawaii's statehood and to have the election in 1958 with both Alaska and Hawaii but they --
JOHN WHITEHEAD: It got held to the next Congress...? SENATOR TED STEVENS: That's right.
They held it to the next Congress and they broke their agreement with us.
And Bartlett was sad about that too, I know, but --
and Jackson didn't like it but I think that was Lyndon,
Lyndon did that but the whole concept of in my opinion of....
SENATOR TED STEVENS: But I think that there's a lot of stories that have to be written about statehood that have not been written.
Most of the people who wrote the books about statehood
were either glorifying their own role in it
or they thought they knew what happened.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Yeah... I've -- I've --
SENATOR TED STEVENS: Statehood came about in my judgment because of a unique role of using the national news media to lobby Congress.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: Right, everything that I can see shows that statehood succeeded because of a concerted, finally, a concerted lobby.
SENATOR TED STEVENS: It was the people who knew how to have the mechanisms of the press come to play on the Congress --
not the public -- not public opinion but how to use those --
to have the people who were obstacles realize that if they stood in the way the power of that press could really hit them politically, and it was a matter of a time of change really.
On the political scene it was a good time -- I enjoyed that --
I think that's probably the most unique period of my life and I enjoyed it very much.
JOHN WHITEHEAD: The preceeding interview with Alaska senior Senator Ted Steven was conducted in the Senator's office in Fairbanks, Alaska on December 30, 1987 by John Whitehead.