On this day in 1867, Russia formally transfers possession of Alaska to the United States.
The name Alaska come from the Aleut word alyeska, which means “great land.”
The name is appropriate given that Alaska is nearly twice the size of Texas, along with its abundance of natural resources.
Secretary of State William Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million. That is less than two cents an acre, and about $119 million today.
Public opinion regarded the purchase as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.”
That was until the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, anyway.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because in 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Seward Secretary of State. He also survived an assassination attempt as part of a plot to ‘decapitate’ the government the day Lincoln was assassinated.
Seward on Slavery
In the 1850s, the Seward family home was a safehouse on the Underground Railroad. He also signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Neither of these come as any surprise in light of these quotes from Seward:
“I deem it established, then, that the Constitution does not recognize property in man, but leaves that question, as between the states, to the law of nature and of nations. … When God had created the earth, with its wonderful adaptations, He gave dominion over it to man, absolute human dominion. The title of that dominion, thus bestowed, would have been incomplete, if the lord of all terrestrial things could himself have been the property of his fellow-man.”
“We hold no arbitrary authority over anything, whether acquired lawfully or seized by usurpation. The Congress regulates our stewardship; the Constitution devotes the domain to union, to justice, to defence, to welfare, and to liberty.
But there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes. The territory is a part, no inconsiderable part, of the common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator of the universe. We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure in the highest attainable degree their happiness.”
“[O]ur statesmen say that ‘slavery has always existed, and, for aught they know or can do, it always must exist. God permitted it, and he alone can indicate the way to remove it.’ As if the Supreme Creator, after giving us the instructions of his providence and revelation for the illumination of our minds and consciences, did not leave us in all human transactions, with due invocations of his Holy Spirit, to seek out his will and execute it for ourselves.”