newspapers endorsed the treaty as advantageous for the United
States, but the Radical Republican press, including Harper’s
Weekly and the New York Tribune, ridiculed the Alaskan
purchase as “Seward’s Folly,” “Johnson’s Polar Bear
Garden,” “Walrussia,” or “Russian Fairy Land.”
In two editorials, in the April 13
April 27 issues, Harper’s Weekly opposed
the treaty, derisively referring to Alaska in the latter as “The
New National Ice-House.” Editor
George William Curtis was not against territorial expansion per
se, but argued that the federal debt, conflict over
Reconstruction, and the need to assimilate European and Asian
immigrants created an inopportune moment for it.
He also feared that expansion would worsen relations with
Britain regarding its dominion of Canada, which lies between
Alaska and the rest of the United States.
Curtis dismissed comparisons of the Alaska treaty with the
Louisiana Purchase, and insisted that the economic advantages
could be gained in other ways.
the news story in the May 4, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly
describing “Our Russian Possessions”
with sarcasm concerning the purchase.
A map provided a glimpse at the geographic enormity of the
newly acquired land, the value of which was considered “another
territory’s agricultural production was demeaned as consisting
mainly of “icebergs and snow-drifts.”
The author delineated what he considered to be the dubious
distinctions added to the United States by Alaska’s physical
attributes and Indian population, and then he pointedly jabbed,
“to say nothing of our other minor advantages of the biggest
debt and most expensive government … on the … hemisphere.”
The last portion of the article, however, did extol the
possible economic benefits of the purchase, especially in timber,
coal, furs, and fisheries.