The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Alaska Day celebrates land transfer


The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz

Secretary of State William H. Seward with his daughter Fanny.

Alaska Day is celebrated on Oct. 18, the anniversary of the formal transfer of the Alaskan Territory, and the raising of the U.S. flag at Sitka. On this day in 1867, officials held a ceremony transferring the ownership of Alaska from Russia to the United States, and changed the flag in Sitka, the former capital of Russian Alaska.

Alaska Day was designated an official state holiday in 1917 by the third Territorial Legislature. That same year, territorial lawmakers also created Seward’s Day on each final Monday in March honoring the signing of the purchase treaty.

The U.S. took formal possession of Alaska 1867, after purchasing more than 586,000 square miles of land from Russia for $7.2 million, which is less than two cents an acre. Russia wanted to sell the remote, Texas-sized land, which was so sparsely populated and difficult to defend, rather than risk losing it in a battle with a major rival such as Great Britain.

President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State William Henry Seward championed the Alaska purchase, but it was ridiculed by a public who believed it to be worthless, thus the term, “Seward’s Folly.”

President Johnson was also unpopular at the time, especially among radical Republicans, following his post-Civil War reconstruction efforts. In fact, he was impeached a year after the Alaska purchase, but was acquitted by a single vote. Congress eventually ratified the Alaska deal nonetheless.

Public opinion of the Alaska purchase improved nearly 30 years later when gold was discovered in a tributary of Alaska’s Klondike River, sparking a gold rush.

Alaska became the 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959.


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