30
Mar
09

On This Day, March 30: Alaska

March 30, 1867

Seward’s Folly

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signs a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.”

The czarist government of Russia, which had established a presence in Alaska in the mid-18th century, first approached the United States about selling the territory during the administration of President James Buchanan, but negotiations were stalled by the outbreak of the Civil War. After 1865, Seward, a supporter of territorial expansion, was eager to acquire the tremendous landmass of Alaska, an area roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States. He had some difficulty, however, making the case for the purchase of Alaska before the Senate, which ratified the treaty by a margin of just one vote on April 9, 1867. Six months later, Alaska was formally handed over from Russia to the United States. Despite a slow start in U.S. settlement, the discovery of gold in 1898 brought a rapid influx of people to the territory, and Alaska, rich in natural resources, has contributed to American prosperity ever since.

“Seward’s Folly.” 2009. The History Channel website. 30 Mar 2009, 05:04 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=4875.

On This Day

1533 – Henry VIII divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

1814 – The allied European nations against Napoleon marched into Paris.

1822 – Florida became a U.S. territory.

1855 – About 5,000 “Border Ruffians” from western Missouri invaded the territory of Kansas and forced the election of a pro-slavery legislature. It was the first election in Kansas.

1870 – Texas was readmitted to the Union.

1905 – U.S. President Roosevelt was chosen to mediate in the Russo-Japanese peace talks.

1941 – The German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel began its first offensive against British forces in Libya.

1950 – U.S. President Truman denounced Senator Joe McCarthy as a saboteur of U.S. foreign policy.

1972 – The British government assumed direct rule over Northern Ireland.

1981 – U.S. President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded in Washington, DC, by John W. Hinckley Jr. Two police officers and Press Secretary James Brady were also wounded.

March 30, 1870

15th Amendment adopted

Following its ratification by the requisite three-fourths of the states, the 15th Amendment, granting African-American men the right to vote, is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution. Passed by Congress the year before, the amendment reads, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” One day after it was adopted, Thomas Peterson-Mundy of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, became the first African American to vote under the authority of the 15th Amendment.

In 1867, the Republican-dominated Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act, over President Andrew Johnson’s veto, dividing the South into five military districts and outlining how new governments based on universal manhood suffrage were to be established. With the adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870, a politically mobilized African-American community joined with white allies in the Southern states to elect the Republican Party to power, which brought about radical changes across the South. By late 1870, all the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, and most were controlled by the Republican Party, thanks to the support of African-American voters.

In the same year, Hiram Rhoades Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, became the first African American ever to sit in Congress. Although African-American Republicans never obtained political office in proportion to their overwhelming electoral majority, Revels and a dozen other African-American men served in Congress during Reconstruction, more than 600 served in state legislatures, and many more held local offices. However, in the late 1870s, the Southern Republican Party vanished with the end of Reconstruction, and Southern state governments effectively nullified the 14th and 15th Amendments, stripping Southern African Americans of the right to vote. It would be nearly a century before the nation would again attempt to establish equal rights for African Americans in the South.

“15th Amendment adopted.” 2009. The History Channel website. 30 Mar 2009, 05:04 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=4876.

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