ALASKA: Second Purchase

When Secretary of State William H. Seward bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, his critics quickly asked: Who wants 375 million acres of "icebergia," good only for a few "wretched fish"—even at $7.2 million, or 2¢ an acre? The answer is now plain: everyone. Most Alaskans see the state as a treasure house of minerals, including the huge North Slope oil reserves on the edge of the Beaufort Sea. Ardent conservationists yearn to protect as much as possible of America's last great wilderness. But standing in the way of fulfilling anyone's wishes was a knotty legal hitch.

What Seward...

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