As the movement grew in the early 1950s, significant external opposition arose to a proposed new state. Some were icy to the idea of admitting two new members from Alaska into the U.S. Senate. Southern politicians in particular opposed Alaskan statehood out of fear that it would further the growing clout of the western states at the expense of their own political power. Louisiana Governor Earl Long remarked in March 1959 that he would rather the United States annex Canada and Mexico before Alaska. (Earl’s nephew, Senator Russell Long, did however support statehood efforts). Though by then the overwhelming majority of Alaskans hoped to achieve state status, there were some who opposed the notion because of the inevitable imposition of federal taxes.
Nevertheless Alaskans trudged on and, in true American fashion of republicanism, convened a convention to draft a state constitution. Despite recent sobering news of their pacific neighbors to the south having received a rejection by Congress concerning a vote for Hawaiian statehood, Alaskans remained hopeful and sent 55 constitutional delegates to Fairbanks, Alaska in November 1955. There they began a three month task of mapping out a proposed state government which they hoped would signal Washington D.C. that the territory was ready to rule itself. Surprisingly one of the influential speakers who addressed the members of the convention was a man from New Orleans with a proposal to expedite their cause.
|George Lehleitner (1906-1992)|
at the convention.
Lehleitner strongly helped the Alaskan campaign in particular through the use of careful historical research. Building upon a study conducted by political scientist in Hawaii, he added the weight of precedent to his principled arguments for statehood. Delving into America's past he discovered specifics about how many former territories had been admitted to the Union since its founding. He found that Americans of the nineteenth century, unlike many of his contemporary countrymen, did not share the reluctance of creating new states that were non-contiguous; indeed, Louisiana and California are two prime examples of states that were far-removed from the whole of the country and were admitted without having another state as a direct neighbor.