William Seward and the Purchase of Alaska

Garry Gamber asked:


Aren’t you glad you purchased Alaska? You got a bargain, you know. You purchased it for 2 cents per acre for all 586,000 acres of it.

By “you” I mean you as a tax payer. Back in 1867, under President Andrew Johnson, successor to Abraham Lincoln, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.

Purchasing Alaska was not an impulsive decision. The U.S. Congress had been discussing it for several years. Alaska represented a huge parcel of land and nobody really knew what was up there in that part of the world. Russia was motivated to sell. Alaska was too far away for them to be able to do anything worthwhile with all that territory. And, after all, Russia had gotten Alaska for nothing, so they knew that they would realize a nice profit no matter what price they sold it for.

So, finally, on March 30, 1867, the purchase was finalized. The man responsible for negotiating the purchase was William H. Seward, Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. The land deal was immediately named, “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Ice Box” and “Walrussia” by folks who thought that the United States had purchased a wasteland. It was also referred to as “Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden.”

In fact, the deal almost did not go through. The Alaska Purchase was ratified by a margin of only one vote.

William Seward, of New York, envisioned the ownership of Alaska as part of a bigger plan. Seward dreamed that the U.S. would someday own all of North America.

Most people do not recall that on the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated an attempt was made on Seward’s life by Lewis Powell, an associate of John Wilkes Boothe, who broke into Seward’s bedroom and stabbed him multiple times.

Today, Alaska is recognized as a state rich in resources and not as a frozen wasteland. Alaska produces almost 20 percent of the nation’s oil and it is home to several outstanding gold mines. Alaska also leads the nation in seafood production and soon will be home to the largest natural gas pipeline project in North America and the world. Alaska now exports over $3 billion worth of natural resources.

So, it should be no surprise that one of Alaska’s most picturesque, thriving cities, Seward, is named after the shrewd negotiator of the Alaska Purchase. And on the last Monday in March, Alaska celebrates a State holiday, Seward’s Day.



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5 Responses to “William Seward and the Purchase of Alaska”

  1. Jireh says:

    This will help me for my S. Studies assignment due next week.

  2. Nate says:

    I noticed the chair in the picture. Have you purchased your replica chair yet?

  3. B. Nash says:

    Ah, you must have read ‘Team of Rivals’?

  4. Paul R says:

    The man who would be President! :)

  5. B. Nash says:

    Interesting. Good post!

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