“Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox”: The Alaska Purchase

Exploring HeinOnline, Searching, Treaties and Agreements Library
Bonnie Hein

March 30, 2017 marked the 150th anniversary of the sale of the Alaska territory from Russia to the United States. Alaska later was approved by Congress for statehood on July 7, 1958 through the Alaska Statehood Act (72 Stat. 339). It was proclaimed the 49th state on January 3,1959 by President Eisenhower.

The Russian Federation had recently lost the Crimean War to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia and was fearful Britain would seize Alaska in a future conflict.  Additionally, the Russians were fearful that if gold was discovered in Alaska, Americans would invade the territory.  At the time, the deal helped to establish a closer relationship with the United States and aggravated Britain, all while acquiring much-needed funds for the struggling Russian Empire.

The United States hoped the purchase would help in its trade with China as well as protect from British invasions of the West Coast. The negotiated purchase treaty was for $7.2 million, or approximately $125 million in today’s currency. On March 30, 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signed the treaty with Russia acquiring more than 580,000 square miles for approximately 2 cents per acre. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. and signed by President Andrew Johnson.

The Alaskan purchase did have some opponents and was criticized by some members Congress and the press who referred to it as “Seward’s folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.”

Find the Treaty in HeinOnline

The U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library includes all U.S. treaties, whether currently in-force, expired, or not-yet officially published. This is the world’s largest and most complete online collection of U.S. treaties and agreements.

In the U.S. Treaty Index, enter Russian Federation in the drop-down menu option Country Name and Alaska in the Treaty Description:

Search results include 2 results. Use the links to view a brief summary and the treaty in multiple publications when available including the United States Treaties and Other International Agreements set (commonly referred to as the “Blue set”), as well as famous sets from Bevans, Miller, Malloy and others:

Note: Since the exact signing date is known, you may also search by Signing Dates in the drop-down menu within the U.S. Treaty Index in YYYY-MM-DD form. You may also note the U.S. Statutes at Large citation, where all treaties and international agreements approved by the Senate until 1948 were published.

Research Seward’s Folly in HeinOnline

Search across the full text of all subscribed HeinOnline libraries by entering “Seward’s folly” OR “Seward’s folly” OR “Seward’s icebox” OR “Sewards icebox” OR “polar bear garden” in the main search bar under the Full Text tab:

Note the phrases Seward’s folly, Seward’s icebox, and polar bear garden are in quotation marks and connected by the Boolean operator in all capital letters in order to search for different versions.

The search produces more than 300 results including more than 200 results in the U.S. Congressional Documents, nearly 40 results in the Law Journal Library, and 35 results in the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library. Using the facets on the left side of the page, narrow your search results by collection/library, section, and date.

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