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It might be safe to say that most folks hereabouts know of William Henry Seward because we live in his “folly.” As Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln, Seward successfully pushed for the 1867 purchase of Russian Alaska for $7.2 million.
The deal was agreed to on March 30 and is celebrated in Alaska on the last Monday of March; the paperwork was signed by the president in May and the former transfer came on what we call Alaska Day, Oct. 18, 1867 — our other holiday commemorating our becoming part of the United States.
Seward, who visited Saxman, never saw the purchase appreciated, but rather derided as worthless during his lifetime. He died within five years of the purchase.
No matter what his reputation regarding Alaska, Seward — once described in The New Yorker as a gregarious optimist — lived a life of public service. He was a former governor of New York, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State (for eight years, almost to the day). He was a founder of the Whig Party, with which he became disenchanted and so was instrumental in the formation of the Republican Party. He was well known for his anti-slavery sentiments, praised or excoriated as a result of them and his willingness to express them.
For a long time after the Alaska purchase with which his reputation was intertwined, the United States paid little attention to the Territory. (Klondike gold changed all that.)
We’re lucky Seward stuck to his guns, expressed his beliefs and moved forward, no matter what others thought or said of him.
Sounds almost Alaskan, doesn’t he?