Monday, March 29, 2010
William Henry Seward
Alaska is celebrating Seward's Day today in commemoration of the day that Alaska was purchased from Russia. It is named for William Henry Seward who signed the treaty. William Henry Seward (1801-1872) was born in Florida, New York, and educated in Schenectady, New York. He became a lawyer at age 21 (1822) and was elected to the state legislature at age 29 (1830). He was governor of New York (1839-1842) and was elected to the United States Senate in 1849. He was against slavery and fought against its spread. He was the leading Republican in the nation in 1860, but Abraham Lincoln was nominated for President. Seward campaigned for Lincoln and became his secretary of state. Seward did such a good job in foreign affairs that no foreign nation joined the Confederacy in their fight against the Union. Seward was with Lincoln on the night he was assassinated. Seward was wounded by an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth. He recovered and remained as secretary of state for Andrew Johnson. An important accomplishment of Seward was the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The fur trade in Alaska had dwindled by the 1850s and Russia was weakened by the Crimean War (1853-1856). Russia was eager to sell Alaska. Seward accepted the sale price of $7,200,000 or about 2 cents per acre. Seward signed the Treaty of Cession of Russia America to the United States on March 30, 1867. Americans were divided about the purchase of Alaska. Many were in favor of the purchase, but others called it Seward's Folly or Seward's Icebox. Congress approved the purchase, and the United States flag was raised in Sitka by America troops on October 18, 1867. Seward has a town (Seward, Alaska) and a state holiday (Seward's Day) named in his honor. Facts for this post came from an article by Mark E. Neely, Jr. in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 17, p 331, and an article by Patrick Fitzgerald and Claus-M Naske in Vol. 1, p 301.