How They Voted: Alaska and Hawaii Statehood

When we think about “dead” issues, two that are as dead as doornails are the controversies surrounding the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. The issues surrounding the two were in some ways the same and in others different. Unlike today, when the controversy began Alaska was seen as a Democratic state while Hawaii was seen as a Republican state. After World War II, admission of both became a cause supported by the liberal lobbying group Americans for Democratic Action. Conservatives didn’t seem to prioritize opposition to statehood, as Americans for Constitutional Action didn’t find these issues ideologically significant enough to score in their ratings. The primary opposition group to both were Southern Democrats. Southern Democrats had three reasons for opposition to statehood. First, the state was Republican (at least before 1954), second, the state would be majority non-white, and third was the civil rights issue. They saw, correctly from their standpoint, the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as granting four more votes for civil rights legislation. Indeed, when the critical vote to end debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed 71-29, four of the votes came from Alaska and Hawaii. Although Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.) voted to admit Hawaii in 1959, he had previously been deeply involved in previous efforts to stymie its admission; in 1952 he voted to kill Alaska and Hawaii statehood for the session, which had been killed by a margin of a single vote. Johnson also voted against in 1954. Some Democrats had as motive to oppose Hawaii statehood that Alaska statehood was being blocked…. this motivated some House Democrats to vote against Hawaii’s admission in protest in the Republican controlled 83rd Congress, the House leadership which refused to consider Alaska statehood. Republicans saw Alaska statehood as a boon for Democrats and also thought of Alaska as a “welfare state”, which to be fair it kind of is with its annual payments to people as enticements to live there. Critical in getting the states admitted was in the persuasion of President Eisenhower to publicly back both, which he did in 1958.

First up was Alaska for statehood. House passage of Alaska statehood was a bit contentious, with it being passed 210-166. Democrats broke for 118-81, and Republicans did so 92-85 on My 28, 1958. The Senate easily adopted Alaska statehood on a vote of 64-20, with Democrats breaking for 31-13 and Republicans 33-7 on June 30th. Nearly all Senate votes against were Southern, and the seven Republicans against included Prescott Bush of Connecticut with its admission resulting in the elevation of its two foremost advocates who I’ve covered earlier, Bob Bartlett and Ernest Gruening, to the Senate.

On March 11th, the Senate voted to admit Hawaii on a vote of 76-15, with Democrats voting for 46-14, and Republicans voting for 30-1. All of the Democrats against were Southern, and the one Republican in opposition was Maryland’s John Marshall Butler. the House followed suit the following day on a vote of 323-89, with Democrats breaking for 203-65 and Republicans 124-24. Nearly all of the Democratic opposition was from the South, and many of the Republicans who were against were among those who also consistently opposed civil rights legislation.

Eisenhower signs Alaska statehood, 1958.


Alaska Statehood, House and Senate:

Hawaii Statehood, Senate and House:

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