One of the biggest laughs of the 1800’s was the purchase of Alaska. Yes, believe it or not, that was the political joke of the time. Despite the fact that it has brought the country and people millions and millions of dollars each. Secretary of State Seward had wanted to obtain the large area for quite some time. He desired for 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.
It was barren and cold. There was no lush lands to farm. There was nothing enticing about it. Only logistically and politically did it help anyone in the United States.
Why Russia Sold Alaska
The constant conflicts and the extravagant living of the Russian brought financial distress upon the large country. They needed funds, and they needed them badly to prevent bankruptcy. 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. Unofficial contact had been made many times on the sale, but now Russia was serious in listening to offers.
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. There was no way Russia wanted to help Britain. 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.
America would get Alaska.
Civil War Hiccup
Negotiations began, but America slid into a civil war which halted all discussions. American had more important things to consider. It was being torn apart from within. With no America there would be no purchase of Russia. No matter how bad Seward wanted it, the purchase had moved down the list of priorities.
As the war began to wrap up in America, talks arose again, but the assassination of President Lincoln pushed it further back. Again, the nation had more important things to focus on. Once the war had ended and leadership had transitioned negotiations began again, this time with success. America was moving on and looking for a brighter future.
In 1867, Seward finalized the purchase of almost 600,000 square miles of uncharted territory. It was a gamble for sure. 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 had been given name of “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox”. It actually became a joke on capital hill.
Politicians jumped on it to bring down the administration and win favors. It became a gaming piece, but despite all this the purchase was ratified by a slim margin.
Over 7 Million Dollars
In March 1867, Alaska became a territory of America at less than two cents an acre. If only land was that cheap now, but to many people that was way too much for such a wasteland. In essence, for $7,200,000 America increased in size twenty percent.
For almost thirty years, many people scoffed at the purchase and thought it was ridiculous. Alaska was largely ignored like the ugly step-child of the country. That was until 1896 when gold was discovered. Alaska began to be viewed differently. It began to be where thousands wanted to be. Quite a different viewpoint.
The resources the land offered became more apparent as the years went by. An abundance of fish, fur, petroleum, and other large mineral deposits made the purchase the best steal of the century. Suddenly, this folly became the one of the best moves the nation had ever been.
In World War II, its location became a huge strategic plus against the Japanese forces that were planning on invading America. If American had not owned that land, the enemy might have ventured into mainland America and changed the course of the war.
Today, Alaska is still mostly undeveloped. After all these years, most of it is still uninhabited. The land is nearly as wild and untouched as it was when American bought it.
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 giving much more back to the country than ever dreamed it could.