On October 18th, 1867, the U.S. would make an arrangement with Russia in order to take possession of Alaska. The purchase price for the territory that was agreed upon was $7.2 million that was the equivalent of fewer than two cents an acre. The decision to purchase this land, which is roughly twice the measurement of Texas and consists of 586, 412 square miles, was the idea of William Henry Seward who served under President Andrew Johnson as the excitable expansionist secretary of state. Without him, Alaska would most likely still belong to Russia today.
Looking back at what was going on in the world during that time, it made perfect sense for Russia to have made the decision to sell the Alaska territory. Russia had several reasons for wanting to sell the Alaska territory such as it was hard to defend was remote and the population was sparse. Furthermore, it was better to make a profit by selling to the U.S. instead of running the risk of having it taken away in battle from a rival like Great Britain. Seward (1801-1872) began negotiations in March of 1867 with Eduard de Stoeckl, the Russian minister to the United States. However, this was not a decision that Americans felt was a wise one.
Since President Johnson was considered unpopular by many, the decision to purchase Alaska was not well received. According to the American public, the ongoing belief was that the land was worthless and barren as well as using derogatory names to describe the purchase such as “Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden” and “Seward’s Folly.” This was of no real surprise as the animosity towards the purchase most likely stemmed from how unpopular the President was. Johnson was the 17th United States President who found himself at odds with Radical Republicans in Congress regarding policies of Reconstruction after the Civil War. He also had to deal with being impeached in 1868 but survived the process by only one vote! Despite this, Congress would eventually approve the Alaska purchase and even public opinion would change in his favor.
The main reason for public opinion about the deal for changing had to do with the discovery of gold in 1896 on a tributary of Alaska’s Klondike River that created a gold rush. Ironically, it did not actually become a state until January 3rd, 1959 and today has become known for containing a large number of natural resources. At present, fifty percent of America’s seafood and twenty-five percent of its oil comes from Alaska. Even though the population is still sparse, it is the largest state in the area, roughly one-fifth the size of the combined lower 48 states. The state celebrates their history with two holidays: Alaska Day is recognized on October 18th which signifies the anniversary of the actual transfer of land and Seward’s Day, which is celebrated on the last Monday of March because March 30th, 1867 was the actual signing of the land agreement between Russia and the U.S.