Alaska List of Complaints   Leave a comment

The following is an exerpt from Ernest Gruening’s “Let Us End American Colonialism” speech at the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955.

It is a very long speech so I am posting it in continuous sections to make it more “bite-sized”.


Let us recall the first item of grievance in the Declaration of Independence:

“He has refused assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

“He,” of course, was King George the Third. Put in his place, in place of the “he”, his contemporary equivalent, our ruler, the federal government.
Has it, or has it not, “refused assent to laws most wholesome and necessary for the public good?”

We Alaskans know that the answer is emphatically, “Yes, it has.”
He, or for the purpose of 1955, it, the federal government, has “refused assent,” although requested to do so for some forty years, to the following “most wholesome and necessary laws:”

First. A law transferring the control and management of Alaska’s greatest natural resource, the fisheries, to the Territory of Alaska, as it transferred the corresponding resources to all other Territories in the past.

Second. It has “refused assent” to a law repealing the thirty-five year-old discrimination in the Maritime Law of 1920, the “Jones Act,” a discrimination uniquely against Alaska.

Third. It has “refused assent” to a reform of our obsolete and unworkable land laws, which would assist and speed population growth, settlement and development of Alaska. It alone is responsible for over 99% of Alaska being still public domain.

Fourth. It has “refused assent” to a law including Alaska in federal aid highway legislation.

Fifth. It has “refused assent” to a law abolishing the barbarous commitment procedure of Alaska’s insane which treats them like criminals and confines them in a distant institution in the states.

Sixth. It has “refused assent” to placing our federal lower court judges, the United States commissioners, on salary, and paying them a living wage.

One could cite other examples of such refusal to assent to “laws most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

But let us instead pass on to the second item for complaint, which is similar to the first, in the Declaration of Independence:

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and growing importance. . .”

Substitute for the “He”, then the British royal executive, the present American federal executive, and substitute for “his governors”, his party leaders in Congress, and recall their vote in the House of Representatives last May 10, killing a law “of immediate and growing importance”–the statehood bill.

Let us go still further down the list of our revolutionary fore- fathers’ expressed grievances, again quoting the Declaration of Independence:

“He has obstructed the administration of Justice, by refusing his assent to laws establishing judiciary powers.”

“He”, is today the whole federal government. It has for a decade “obstructed the administration of justice” in Alaska by refusing assent to establishing additional judiciary powers, where they were needed, namely in the Third Judicial Division, while repeatedly increasing  the number of judges in the “mother country,” the 48 states. And although the population of Alaska has more than tripled in the last forty-six years, the number of federal judges established in Alaska in 1909 remains unchanged. And federal judges are the only judges this colony is permitted to have.

Let us look still further in the Declaration of Independence:

“He has affected to render the military independent and superior to the civil power.”

Is there much difference between this and the recent presidential declaration that the defense of Alaska, that is to say the rule of the military here, could be better carried out if Alaska remains a Territory?

One could go on at length drawing the deadly parallels which caused our revolutionary forefathers to raise the standard of freedom, although, clearly, some of the other abuses complained of in that distant day no longer exist.

But Alaska is no less a colony than were those thirteen colonies along the Atlantic seaboard in 1775. The colonialism which the United States imposes on us and which we have suffered for 88 years, is no less burdensome, no less unjust, than that against which they poured out their blood and treasure. And while most Alaskans know that full well, we repeat:

“To prove this let the facts be submitted to a candid world.”

To begin at the beginning, the Treaty of Cession by which Alaska was annexed, contained a solemn and specific commitment:

“The inhabitants of the ceded territory … shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States. . . ”

That was the pledge. The United States has not kept that pledge. Yet a treaty is the highest law of the land. And it is made in the clear view of all mankind.

The United States has broken that pledge for 88 years. It has not admitted the inhabitants of Alaska to the enjoyment of “all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States.

“All the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States” would entitle us to vote for President and Vice-President, to representation in the Congress by two Senators and a Representative with a vote, and would free us from the restrictions imposed by the Organic Act of 1912, and the Act of Congress of July 30, 1886. Obviously we have neither the vote, nor the representation, nor the freedom from restrictions. We suffer taxation without representation, which is no less “tyranny” in 1955 than it was in 1775. Actually it is much worse in 1955 than in 1775 because the idea that it was “tyranny” was then new. Since the Revolutionaries abolished it for the states a century and three-quarters ago, it has become a national synonym for something repulsive and intolerable.

We are subject to military service for the nation–a privilege and obligation we accept gladly–yet we have not voice in the making and ending of the wars into which our young men are drafted. In this respect we are worse off than our colonial forefathers. King George III did not impose conscription upon them. They were not drafted to fight for the mother country. Therefore there was no revolutionary slogan “no conscription without representation.” But it is a valid slogan for Alaskans today.

The treaty obligation of 1867 is an obligation to grant us the full equality of statehood, for which Alaskans did not press in the first 80 years of their subordination, but which now, overdue, they demand as their right.

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