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Tag: sewards folly

Facial Hair Friday: From Russia With Love

Czar Alexander II of Russia, ca. 1860-1865 (ARC 526175)

When Russia sold the Alaska territory to the United States in 1867, Czar Alexander II did not take part in the negotiations. Could it be that he did not want to take time away from meticulously manicuring his royal mustache?

Czar Alexander II was a true man of the era, sporting mutton chops along with a full mustache. He would have had no problem fitting in with the negotiators of the Alaska purchase.

Americans Robert S. Chew, William Hunter, and Frederick W. Seward all brought a unique style of beard to the bargaining table. Secretary of State William H. Seward was one of the few renegades of the American contingent, preferring to remain clean shaven.

Although even Moscow’s top diplomats could not fill the mutton chops of a monarch, the Russian delegation made a manful attempt, with envoy Eduard de Stoeckl emulating the Czar’s handlebar mustache and plush sideburns.

When the war of the whiskers finally concluded, the two sides reached an agreement. On August 1, 1868, the United States wrote de Stoeckl a check for more than 586,000 square miles in the Alaska territory for $7.2 million.

At the time, the deal was with disapproval from some, who called the enormous piece of land “Seward’s Folly.” But in 1896, the discovery of gold made the recently acquired district far more … [ Read all ]

Seward’s time-traveling folly

Treasury Warrant in the Amount of $7.2 Million for the Purchase of Alaska (ARC301667)

Treasury Warrant in the Amount of $7.2 Million for the Purchase of Alaska (ARC301667)

One hundred forty three years ago today, the people of Alaska went to bed under the Russian flag, and awoke under the Stars and Stripes. They also woke up eleven days in the future.

The purchase of Alaska was not an easy sell for anyone. Russia wanted to offload the frozen territory in the 1850s. They tried to start a bidding war between Great Britain and the US for its purchase, but Great Britain wasn’t very interested. Then the American Civil War broke out. Then Lincoln was assassinated and the notoriously unpopular Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency. The unfortunate task of convincing an angry Congress that Alaska was a steal at 2.3 cents an acre fell to Johnson’s Secretary of State William Seward (7.2 million total). Somehow Seward managed though, and on October 18, 1867, Russian General Lovell Rousseau handed over the territory to US General Jefferson Davis. Or was that October 7?

Among the overwhelming drama of the unpopular purchase–one newspaper referred to it as a “sucked orange,” another called the buy a “dark deed done in the night”–no one seemed to notice that Russia worked off the Julian calendar, and the US worked off the Gregorian. The result was time travel.

That night, the calendar was officially … [ Read all ]