Seward’s Day, which falls on the last Monday in March and takes place on March 25 this year, is named for then-Secretary of State William H. Seward, who was responsible for the purchase in the first place. This legal holiday (in Alaska) commemorates the day the Alaska Purchase treaty was signed. This day shouldn’t be confused with National Alaska Day, however, which marks the formal transfer of control of Alaska from Russia to the U.S. Read all about this day, here (https://nationaltoday.com/national-alaska-day/).
History of Seward’s Day
A long long time ago — around the 18th century — Alaska was owned by the Russians. Then came the Crimean War. Fought for the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land (a part of the Ottoman Empire), Russia fought against the alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom, and Sardinia, and lost. Reeling from this, Russian Tsar Alexander II started exploring options to raise money for the country. He turned his gaze towards Alaska. Not only had the sea otter population vastly declined, but Alaska would also prove to be very difficult to defend in the event of a future war. Especially since the British forces were based out of neighboring Canada.
The Russians discussed this plan and were all for selling to the U.S. by 1857, in the hopes that their presence would deter the British from any attacks. Negotiations began; however, the American Civil War took precedence at this time and any plans for buying Alaska were put on hold. Following the Union win, Tsar Alexander asked for another round of negotiations. The U.S. Secretary of State William Seward negotiated with Russian Minister Eduard de Stoeckl. They agreed to a treaty on March 30, 1867, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate. At the time, they paid $7.2 million, or about two cents per acre.
They called this place ‘Alaska,’ changing it from the Russian name, ‘Аляска’ (or ‘Alyaska’). Most Russian citizens went home, barring a few — traders and priests, mostly — who chose to remain. They would eventually leave Alaska too, as records indicate.
The reactions to this purchase were largely positive, with people believing the added possession would create a base to expand trade in Asia. Seward’s political opponents coined the phrase ‘Seward’s Folly’ or ‘Seward’s Icebox,’ referring to Alaska as ‘useless land’’ Alaska would remain sparsely populated until the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 when the region came to be seen as a truly valuable addition to U.S. territory. Today, Alaska stands as the U.S.’s 49th largest territory and is a booming tourist spot.
Seward’s Day timeline
A Russian expedition led by Danish explorer Vitus Bering — and including German Zoologist and explorer George Steller — sights Alaska; the land is already inhabited and has been since around 10,000 B.C., as per historical records.
Russia enters into re-negotiations with the U.S. to sell Alaska; they approached America with this plan before the Civil War too.
William Seward and Russian Minister Eduard de Stoeckl agree on a treaty for the purchase of Alaska, which is signed at 04:00 on March 30.
Alaska's ownership transfers from Russia to the U.S.; the Russian flag is lowered and the U.S. flag takes its place as American soldiers parade in front of the governor's house.
Originally called the 'Department of Alaska,' the name changes to 'District of Alaska' (1884), then the 'Alaska Territory' (1912), before being admitted as a state in the U.S.; it gains the name 'State of Alaska'.
Seward’s Day FAQs
What is Seward's Day in Alaska?
The last Monday in March is celebrated as Seward’s Day and commemorates the signing of the Alaska Purchase Treaty.
Why is Alaska Day celebrated?
Alaska Day celebrates the formal transfer of the territory of Alaska from Russia to the U.S. This event took place on October 18, 1867.
Is there school on Seward's Day in Alaska?
Seward’s Day is a paid holiday, so all state employees, all state, county, and city government offices, along with most schools and libraries, will close. Private businesses can close at their own discretion.
How to Observe Seward’s Day
Read up on William Seward
On this day named after this guy, we recommend doing a little light reading on who he was and how he came to be in politics. It’s bound to be a fascinating story.
Watch a special about Alaska
On Seward's Day, multiple channels air history programs about different facets of this state. Put on your favorite one or find a special documentary you want to watch, and settle down for some fun, educational screen time.
Learn more about the transfer
Did you know more than 150 years on, some Russians still have second thoughts about the sale? Find out more facts like these by digging into documents and articles centering on Alaska's transfer.
5 Facts You Didn't Know About John Seward
He was an abolitionist
Seward was a dedicated opponent to slavery and was a prominent member of the Republican Party in its formative years.
A house with a secret
Seward's home in Auburn, New York, formed part of the Underground Railroad and was apparently a well-regarded stop; the kitchen was one of its most popular stops, quoted an 1891 article in the “Auburn Herald.”
The unseen fruits of his efforts
Seward did not live to see his efforts to purchase Alaska turn very profitable; he died in 1872 before his foresight was commemorated as a legal holiday.
His efforts led to many memorials
These are found in Alaska and all over the U.S. — Seward Park in Seattle, Washington, the City of Seward in Alaska, and a figure of Seward in Ketchikan, Alaska.
He was almost assassinated
He was one of the targets of the 1965 assassination that killed Lincoln; he sustained grievous injuries, which took a long time to heal.
Why Seward’s Day is Important
We love Alaska
There’s the land, the weather, even the moose. Who doesn't love this place?
It was the best bargain ever!
Sure, it might not have seemed like it at the time to some people. However, Seward knew a good deal when he heard one.
It's all about tenacity
Russians exhibited this tendency by coming back to the U.S. with their deal, and Seward stayed steadfast during the purchase, despite the detractors. The purchase, and Alaska's sheer magnificence, show us determination (and patience) does, indeed, reap rewards and influence change.
Seward’s Day dates