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Most 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 and 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. 

Even the news story in the May 4, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly describing “Our Russian Possessions”  was laced 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 question.”  The 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.

Harper's Weekly References

1)  April 13, 1867, p. 226, c. 2-3
editorial, “The Russian Treaty”

2)  April 27, 1867, pp. 258, c. 4—259, c. 1
editorial, “The New National Ice-House”

3)  May 4, 1867, pp. 277-278, c. 1
illustrated article, “Our Russian Possessions”

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