Today in History: The U.S. Buys Land off Russia

Today in History: The U.S. Buys Land off Russia

by M.C. Millman

On Mach 30, 1867, the United States Secretary of State, William Seward, under the 17th President Andres Johnson, signed the Treaty of Russia, purchasing Alaska from the Russian Empire. 

At the time, Alaska was an enormous tract of land in the Northwest of the continent of North America. The purchase completely surprised the Senate as negotiations were conducted in secret.

The press called the purchase Seward's Folly as many felt there was nothing to gain except a hostile environment, hostile natives, and limited resources. Americans opposed the purchase because only a few people were likely to move to the inhospitable territory, leaving the rest of U.S. cities with taxes to cover the $7.2 million purchase price. This was deemed an exorbitant price and a massive mistake at the time, even if the purchase increased the size of the U.S. by 20%.

Twenty-nine years later, people weren't calling the purchase Seward's Folly anymore as gold was discovered in the Yukon, leading to the 1896 Klondike gold rush. But it wasn't only gold that Alaska contributed to America. Alaska was also rich in oil, fish, timber, and many other goods, which far exceeded the purchase price paid to Russia. 

At two cents per acre of land, for a territory that covered 586,412 square miles, in hindsight, it doesn't seem to have been such a poor investment after all. 

Photo Credit: Stuart Cohnen

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