Steve Haycox

Sunday is Alaska Day, commemorating the transfer of Russian America to the United States in 1867. One of the more fun accounts of that early time in Alaska was discovered some years ago in the Newberry Library in Chicago by the late Alaska historian Morgan Sherwood. It was written by Mariette Davis, the wife of the U.S. Army general who commanded a contingent of troops sent to oversee the ceremony, and afterward take control of the territory. He was Jefferson C. Davis, not the Davis of Confederate fame, but one of Lincoln's generals. Mrs. Davis wrote letters from Sitka to her sister back in Indianapolis. Contrary to common opinion, the purchase of Alaska was not unpopular. When the Senate voted on the treaty presented to it by Secretary of State William Seward, the tally was 37-2 in favor...Steve Haycox
Next Thursday, October 8, is the anniversary of the birth of William A. Egan, Alaska's first state governor, president of the constitutional convention in 1955-56, and Tennessee Plan Senator (1956). The only governor so far to serve three terms (1959-62, 1962-66, 1970-74), Egan has been well-recognized during the 50th anniversary of statehood. Most attention has been directed to his role in the convention, appropriately, for many delegates testified to his fairness and insistence on inclusion, an account of which has been written by historian Betsy Tower. The three Tennessee delegates, named so because Tennessee was the first territory to use the tactic, were elected as two U.S. "Senators" and one "Congressman" to travel to Washington, D.C., before Congress actually voted for Alaska...Steve Haycox
The anniversary of the birth of H.L. Mencken passed quietly last week, on Sept. 12. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore," Mencken wrote for the Baltimore Sun newspaper for most of his career, achieving national fame in the 1920s and 1930s for his insightful but biting commentary on social and political affairs. One of his frequent targets was American democracy, about which he said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." On politics he noted that "under democracy, one party always devotes its energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -- and both commonly succeed, and are right." Mencken may be apropos of the circus of discourse now dominating the national media, particularly the blogosphere. He surely would be amused at the...Steve Haycox
An anniversary noteworthy for Alaskans passed unremarked last week: the discovery of the first American oil well that produced significant investment, in Titusville, Pennsylvania, on August 27, 1859. It's noteworthy for Alaskans because without oil Alaska would be a much different place than it is, and we would have very different public policy choices than we do. Oil wasn't new in 1859; it had been used mostly as brine for salt production, and in fact, other shallow wells had been drilled in America's Appalachian region to extract oil for that purpose. That was the intention of the Titusville well, drilled by Col. Edwin Drake, a former railroad conductor. The significance of his well was its quantity -- 60 barrels a day at 70 feet using mechanical pumps, sufficient to sustain a...Steve Haycox
Mayor Sullivan's veto of the human rights ordinance proposed by Patrick Flynn and approved by seven members of the Assembly manifests again the somewhat ironic phenomenon that liberals trust government more than conservatives, a historic if paradoxical phenomenon. It was liberals, after all, who in 1787 refused to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution until its conservative drafters agreed to include a bill of rights, most especially freedom of expression. And it was liberals whose attacks on the president and Congress over the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, which authorized imprisonment of critics of the government, thoroughly discredited such official examples of fear of the people. When liberals have gained control of government, they have often attempted to expand rights for...Steve Haycox
Outgoing U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter addressed a meeting of the American Bar Association in Chicago last weekend on a threat to American democracy. The timing and the subject of his remarks were chosen quite deliberately, just as the full Senate readied to take up its advise and consent to the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Court. But as he intended, Justice Souter's message has very long-term implications. Citing the findings of a study done a few years ago, Souter began his talk noting that two-thirds of Americans today cannot identify the three branches of the American government. This, he said, is astonishing. When he was a youngster there was hardly anyone who did not know the three branches. He said growing up in New Hampshire, most of what he learned about...Steve Haycox
The unfolding Sarah Palin story, perhaps the most interesting political saga in Alaska's young history, has been difficult to understand and place in context because it is so unprecedented. We use history to orient ourselves to reality, and Palin is, as she has said, mavericky; there's nothing like her in our Alaskan past. There have been outspoken and powerful women who became national celebrities and who bear some resemblance to Palin. One was Mary Elizabeth Lease, the Kansas populist orator of the 1890s who helped popularize the Populist Party. Lease was a fiery speaker who worked for women's suffrage, temperance, and farmers and workers' rights. With the rise of industrialization, Lease charged, America no longer was a democracy, but an oligarchy controlled by Wall Street monopolies...Steve Haycox
One hundred years ago this month a remarkable mini-world's fair opened in Seattle on what is now the University of Washington main campus, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Presented at a time when world's fairs were all the rage, Seattle's leaders intended the exposition to take their town beyond its rowdy, gold rush heritage and place it firmly among America's respected cities. To a large degree they succeeded. But at the same time they inadvertently contributed to the perpetuation of a highly negative notion of indigenous peoples, a notion which retarded America's mainstream population from realizing the equal dignity and capability of people unlike themselves. The exposition opened with great fanfare. President William Taft, in the White House, touched an Alaska gold telegraph key...Steve Haycox
From the early days of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was a symbol of the fight against segregation, inequality and inhumanity. He was publicly beaten senseless by state and local police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965. A key figure in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis has represented Atlanta and vicinity in the U.S. Congress for more than 20 years. He has been called the "conscience of the U.S. Congress." He is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as Fisk University. John Lewis opposes restrictions on the freedom of gays and lesbians, particularly their freedom to marry. His stand is rooted in the liberal triumphs of the 1960s. The civil rights and voting rights acts, the advance of...Steve Haycox
In 1735 one of the most respected attorneys in the American colonies, Andrew Hamilton, defended John Peter Zenger, a New York City newspaper publisher, in one of the most famous libel cases in American history. Zenger had criticized New York's colonial governor in the pages of his New York Weekly Journal. The government's lawyer argued that "government is a sacred thing," and in the interest of its authority, upon which public order depended, it ought not to be brought publicly into disrepute. Hamilton argued that the sanctity of government did not place it above criticism, a superiority that would invite tyranny. Criticism that could be proven to be true, Hamilton averred, should not be called libel. The jury agreed, and the Zenger case became a cornerstone of American free speech...Steve Haycox