ALEXANDER RAMSEY was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1815. He was orphaned at ten and sent to live with an uncle in Harrisburg. He apprenticed as a carpenter but was fascinated with politics from an early age. He studied the law at Lafayette College and was admitted to the bar in 1839. After receiving a number of political appointments, he was elected to the US House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. He served as chairman of the Whig party in Pennsylvania and helped carry the Presidential election for Zachary Taylor.
Ramsey's reward was appointment as the first governor of the Territory of Minnesota. He also served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory, and negotiated important treaties with the Dakota Sioux. The negotiations were complex and Ramsey was accused of fraud. He was exonerated by the US Senate, but not until after he had been succeeded by Willis Gorman.
In 1855 Ramsey was elected mayor of St Paul. After losing the first gubernatorial election to Henry Sibley, Ramsey was elected second governor of the state and served two terms as the state's chief executive. Minnesota became the first state to do so when Ramsey pledged 1,000 volunteer soldiers to the defense of the Union in 1861. In 1863, the state legislature elected him to the US Senate and Ramsey held that office until 1875. He went on to serve as Secretary of War under President Rutherford B. Hayes. Alexander Ramsey remained active in politics and community affairs until his death on April 22, 1903.