Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
One of the biggest laughs of the 1800’s was the purchase of Alaska. Secretary of State Seward had been wanting to obtain the large area for quite some time. He wanted the U.S. to expand and by obtaining the Russian territory, the young country would be surrounding the British settlements of Canada. This land was virtually unexplored and therefore a wild card in many people’s eyes.
The constant conflicts and the extravagant living of Russia brought financial distress upon the large country. They needed funds. Since the land across the Bering Strait was still pretty much unknown and more of a burden than an asset, the Tzar gave approval for the Russian ambassador to approach America and see if they were interested in purchasing the land mass. The only other country that could possibly consider buying it was Great Britain and since Russia was in conflict with that country, they were out of the picture. America could get this land and in effect surround British Canada. America would expand in size, Russia would get its much needed money, and Britain would be on the outs. The sale of Alaska to America would please everyone but the British.
Negotiations began, but America slid into a civil war which halted all discussions. The assassination of President Lincoln pushed it further back. Once the war had ended negotiations began again, this time with success.
In 1867, Seward finalized the purchase of almost 600,000 square miles of unchartered territory. The next step was to go before Congress which was not to be an easy task. Though Seward was chomping at the bit to acquire the land, many others in the capital city were not so keen on the idea. The purchase of Alaska was given name of “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox”. It actually became a joke on capital hill, but despite all this the purchase was ratified by a slim margin.
March 1867 Alaska became a territory of America at less than two cents an acre. For $7,200,000 America increased twenty percent. For almost thirty years, many people scoffed at the purchase and thought it was ridiculous. That was until 1896 when gold was discovered. Alaska began to be looked at differently. The resources became more apparent as they years went by. An abundance of fish, fur, petroleum, and other large mineral deposits made the purchase the best steal of the century. In World War II, its location became a huge strategic plus against the Japanese forces that were planning on invading America.
Today, Alaska is still mostly undeveloped. Its resources are abundant, and its tourist trade is huge. Though considered a joke at the time of its purchase, Alaska has become one of the greatest acquisitions in American history.