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The Alaska Purchase

In March 1867, the United States bought a piece of land as large as all the states east of the Mississippi: Alaska. It was described as "a dreary waste of glaciers, icebergs, white bears, and walruses." Chief negotiator William Seward, the shrewd American Secretary of State, saw its strategic importance, but even he could not have foreseen that this purchase would pave the way for the world's most dramatic gold rush.

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Top of the World Hwy

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Alaska Highway

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Richardson Highway

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Fairbanks

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Denali National Park

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George Parks Highway

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Anchorage

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Chugach

Prince William Sound

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Glenn Highway

 
The Russians had been eager to sell Alaska since the disastrous effects of the Crimean War. The purchase price was an incredibly low $7.2 million. But Seward faced an immediate and hostile public and press reaction. Critics called the new territory "Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox". The House of Representatives refused to approve the deal until the following year. The Russians formally handed over the territory in October 1867, although they still had not been paid.

Washington ignored its new northern territory for ten years, just as the Canadian government ignored the Yukon. Meanwhile, American free traders moved in, sold illegal liquor openly, and flagrantly ignored the law. Still, the American authorities did nothing until 1879, when they sent Captain L.A. Beardslee in the U.S.S. Jamestown to deal with an outbreak of violence in Sitka. Beardslee agreed to help American miners in Sitka negotiate the opening of the Chilkoot Pass. The gateway to the goldfields of the Klondike swung wide open.

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last updated:  15.04.2008