Friday, March 30, 2012

Seward's Folly

America has made some pretty shrewd land acquisitions over the years — Manhattan, the Louisiana Purchase and so on.

One of the best may have been the one that took place on this date in 1867 — when William Seward, secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, purchased Alaska from Russia for about 2 cents an acre.

That doesn't sound like much — and, in 2012 dollars, it isn't — but it was the equivalent of $95 million in 2005 dollars. Clearly, it was a considerable sum in 1867, nothing to sneeze at — especially the bottom line, which added up to $7.2 million at the time.

Critics called it "Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox." They couldn't see the benefits of the acquisition, but Seward had the last laugh. Alaska has proven to be richly endowed with resources like gold, copper and oil.

Seward, who died in 1872, was asked once what he felt had been his greatest achievement as secretary of State. He didn't hesitate.

"The purchase of Alaska," he replied, "but it will take the people a generation to find it out."

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