Seward’s Day, celebrated on March 25 in 2019, is a legal holiday in Alaska, falling on the last Monday in March and commemorating the signing of the Alaska Purchase treaty on March 30, 1867. It is named for then-Secretary of State William H. Seward, who negotiated the purchase from Russia. The Alaska Purchase treaty was ratified by the United States Senate, and signed by President Andrew Johnson. (Seward’s Day is sometimes confused with Alaska Day, observed on October 18, which marks the formal transfer of control over Alaska from Russia to the United States.)
Russia’s primary activities in the territory had been fur trade and missionary work among the Native Alaskans, but by 1867 Russia wanted to sell its Alaskan territory due to the difficulty of living there, apparent lack of natural resources (gold was later discovered in 1896), and fear that it might be easily seized by the United Kingdom in case of war between the two countries. The land added 586,412 square miles of new territory to the United States.
Reactions to the purchase in the United States were mostly positive; some opponents called it “Seward’s Folly” (after Secretary of State William H. Seward), while others praised the move for weakening both the UK and Russia as rivals to American commercial expansion in the Pacific region.
Originally organized as the Department of Alaska, the area was renamed the District of Alaska and the Alaska Territory before becoming the modern state of Alaska upon being admitted to the Union as a state in 1959.