By Tom Quiner
The year was 1867.
Russia’s biggest rival was England. Russia owned a huge chunk of land they called Russian America. It was land that would be difficult to defend in a war with England., whom they had already fought in the Crimean War. England had a base in British Columbia in close proximity to Russian America.
What should Russia do? Sell it!
They entered into negotiations with the United States. The Secretary of State, William H. Seward, handled the deal, purchasing 586,412 square miles of what would be known as “Alaska” for a couple of cents per acre, or $7.2 million ($118 million in today’s dollars).
If you saw the movie “Lincoln,” you know that William Seward was a rival of Abraham Lincoln who Lincoln turned into an ally by naming him Secretary of State. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a wonderful book, upon which the movie was based, called “Team of Rivals.” I’ve only read excerpts so far, but look forward to reading the entire book.
Secretary Seward was blasted by many for paying so much for a land of dubious value to the United States. The purchase was dubbed “Seward’s Folly” by the press. A newspaper, the New York World, described the folly this way:
“It contained nothing of value but furbearing animals, and these had been hunted until they were nearly extinct. Except for the Aleutian Islands and a narrow strip of land extending along the southern coast the country would be not worth taking as a gift.”
I’m enjoying my second trip to Seward’s Folly this week. Let me tell you, our 49th state is stunning. Mr. Seward has been redeemed. Yes, it produces buckets of oil, but it is Alaska’s pristine beauty my wife and I are so enjoying this week. The tundra in this Southwest corner of Alaska is stark and cold, but beautiful in its own way.
Thank-you William Seward for your folly!