Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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October 18th
Seward’s Savvy Deal
In 1867, when word spread that William Seward, Andrew Johnson’s secretary of state, had inked a deal for the United States to buy Alaska from the Russians, critics growled. They said that paying $7.2 million, or about two cents per acre, was too much for “a large lump of ice.” They called Alaska “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Ice Box,” and “Walrussia.”

Seward was an old hand at politics. He had been Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state during the Civil War. (The night Lincoln was murdered, Seward survived an assassination attempt by one of John Wilkes Booth’s accomplices, who broke into his bedroom and stabbed him.) When critics objected to the land deal, he refused to back down. After all, the tsar was eager to sell – his Alaskan fur-trading business had dried up, and he worried that the British would eventually seize the territory. After a week of debate, the U.S. Senate approved the agreement.

On October 18, 1867, the official transfer took place at Sitka, the last capital of Russian America. United States and Russian soldiers beat drums while a small crowd looked on, including the Russian governor, Prince Maksoutov, and his wife. As cannons boomed, the Russian flag started down a 90-foot pole. A sudden gust of wind wrapped the imperial double-eagle banner around the staff, and there it stuck. The harder anyone tugged, the more it refused to budge. Finally a seaman was hoisted up the pole to cut loose the flag, which fluttered down and landed on Russian bayonets. The Russian princess reportedly fainted. By the time she woke, the Stars and Stripes had been raised, and Alaska was U.S. soil.

In the late 1800s, prospectors found gold in the territory, and even critics decided that Seward had been pretty savvy after all. On January 3, 1959, Alaska entered the Union as the forty-ninth state.

American History Parade
1767
Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon complete their survey of the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Mason-Dixon Line.

1842
In New York Harbor, Samuel Morse lays the first underwater telegraph cable.

1867
The United States takes possession of Alaska from Russia.

1898
U.S. troops fighting in the Spanish-American war raise the American flag in Puerto Rico, signaling U.S. authority over the former Spanish colony.

1989
The shuttle Atlantis releases the space probe Galileo, which begins a six-year journey to Jupiter.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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