Seward’s Folly: Who’s Laughing Now?

By | January 2, 2019

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Artwork Based After The Signing of the Alaska Treaty of Cessation, March 30, 1867 by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, shows William Henry Seward as the second person from the left. (Assistant Secretary of State). Source: (Getty Images)

When then-Secretary of State, William Henry Seward under President Andrew Jackson approached Congress for approval to purchase Alaska from the Russians in 1867, he met with plenty of opposition. Most of the members of Congress scoffed at the idea of adding 586,000 square miles of frozen nothingness to holdings of the United States, but Seward, an expansionist with an eye for a bargain, was persuasive enough to get the purchase approved but the margin of just one vote. But it made him the butt of jokes about the worthless purchased…called Seward’s Folly. A few decades later, however, Seward got the last laugh. 

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Alaska was a Bargain

The United States purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7 million dollars. That works out to roughly two cents per acre…truly a bargain basement price. Still, most people thought the purchase was a waste of money. They envisioned Alaska as a vast frozen expanse with nothing to offer. Boy, were they wrong.