Will William H. Seward survive the progressives' cultural revolution? - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, April 19, 2021
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Will William H. Seward survive the progressives’ cultural revolution?

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William Seward was always controversial. He was not exactly beloved by all who knew him in his day, and even in 2021, he has a few marks against him, with not so many devoted defenders.

Seward became a New York State senator for the newly launched Anti-Masonic Party in 1830. They hated the Freemasons; there were all kinds of conspiracy theories around the secretive group. After the Anti-Mason Party began to fizzle, he joined the Whigs, and was elected governor of New York.

Controversy continued. He worked across party lines, reaching out to Irish-Americans and proposing to fund Catholic schools for them. The new immigrants were keeping their children out of public schools, which were then using the Protestant King James Version of the Bible. Very controversial. His move to create state-paid parochial schools was not universally praised.

He ran for president against Abraham Lincoln and lost, which surprised him. But then he helped Lincoln with his inaugural address, and as soon as Lincoln was sworn in, Seward became Secretary of State.

Seward, a long-time abolitionist, championed emancipation for slaves, and later he engineered the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Once, he sold a seven-acre plot of land to Harriet Tubman, with whom he was friends until he died. Selling land to an ex-slave involved in the Underground Railroad? Quite controversial.

During the plot to assassinate the president, he was laid up in bed, after having been thrown from a carriage. His neck was in a brace, which was the only thing that saved him from certain death when a knife-wielding assassin broke into his home and slashed him repeatedly.

In 1869, Seward began an epic voyage to Alaska, beginning with a railroad trip across the country on the new transcontinental railroad. He boarded a ship in San Francisco, the Active, and sailed to Sitka. Alaska had only been in U.S. hands for two years when Seward visited as one of the first tourists.

Times are different now. White men are being redefined as universally evil. A statue was commissioned of William Seward by the Seward Statue Committee to mark Alaska’s sesquicentennial. Today stand in front of the Alaska Capitol in Juneau, with cheek scars and all, only to be critiqued by the far left because Seward is … controversial.

Protesters have their way with the statue of William Seward in Juneau.

By 2020, hardline Democrats wanted the statue gone, and an online petition was started to demand the removal of the bronze depiction of the man who petitioners call a “colonizer who contributed to the disenfranchisement of Alaska Native peoples.” Once again, Seward was controversial, but this time not because he was anti-slavery, but because he was a colonist.

In their words, “In this current climate, where other monuments depicting racists and representatives of slavery are being taken down across the country, Juneau should honor our Indigenous hosts whose land we stand upon and remove William H. Seward from the capital courtyard,” said the petition, signed by 1,942 people with a limited view of history and time itself.

Another petition quickly was launched, this one to save the statue, which challenged “the action of a small group of citizens wanting to dismantle all things that ultimately honors the peoples history … If this small group of individuals get their wish of the removal of this statue then it is going to do nothing to change our history and will only cost the people more money … The removal of the statue will only serve to increase the tension of the people on both sides of this issue.”

Although the petition to keep the statue in place was signed by 1,386 people, both petitions lost momentum during the tumultuous months that followed, when statutes were toppled and vandalized, as cities were looted and burned. The election of Joe Biden seems to have, ironically, tamped down the fury unleashed against white founders of the nation, at least for now.

Seward’s life is uniquely celebrated as a state holiday in Alaska on Monday, which means state services are shuttered for the day and state workers can get outside and enjoy the land that Seward purchased from people who, frankly, didn’t really own it, but who had an organized system of government that allowed them to at least transfer titles.

One of the many ironies is that slavery continued in the District of Alaska after the Civil War and the freeing of southern slaves. Alaska Native tribes raided and took slaves from neighboring tribes.

On Seward’s trip to Southeast Alaska, he very well may have witnessed slavery, but not had the cultural competency to recognize it.

Although slavery ended with the 13th Amendment on Dec. 18, 1865, when Alaska was purchased, little was known about the ubiquitous human trafficking that continued in far-off Alaska for decades to come.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • The history of mankind is of one population replacing another, only to be replaced themselves. The Vikings largely drove the Celts from Ireland, the Angles and Saxons replaced the Britons, The Norse replaced the Franks in northern France (we call them Normans), Romans replaced Carthaginians, Lakota Sioux replaced Arapaho who replaced Crow who replaced Cheyenne who replaced Arikara in the Black Hills. The Erie and Huron, for which two Great Lakes are named, were both driven to extinction by the Iroquois Federation which assumed their lands. Human Beings are a mobile bunch with history of good and bad. It is our history, not necessarily reflecting upon us today. I look at our Vice President, the descendant of a slave owner. So should she be condemned as well and removed from the public eye for the sins of her ancestors? (maybe not for that reason) Those who do not know history are bound to repeat it, and according to the Huffington Post, ‘When We Forget History, We Forget Our Values’. Each of us in our lives has done some very good things and likely some things which we regret, but ‘Let he is without sin cast the first stone.’ Progressives want to erase our history to replace it with ideals of their own liking, much as Robespierre started the calendar with Year One, meaning the onset French Revolution. That didn’t work out well for him (or the French), but those who do not know history don’t know that and will likely repeat his mistakes if we let them.

  • The right to life guy goes nuts. Seward statue gets abused. But not a word on the single largest event in modern Alaska history, the great Alaskan earthquake on March 27th 1964. I guess being a new comer to Alaska nothing existed before 1969.

    It seems your readers must mostly be Cheechakos that came after oil or the dividend check and have no interest in Alaskan history or at least you do not.

    Maybe you should write something about Governor Bill Eagan and the efforts of the many other Alaskans to get Statehood passed, Swanson River, Purdhoe Bay, the pipeline to name the big ones. Removal of the fish traps and fighting to take control of Alaska fish resources from fish processors was another.

    The major take away from the old timers that built Alaska is that they were working to make Alaska a better place to live and were not tearing down each other to make some lame political point. The disease of everyone that disagrees with me or doesn’t vote the way I vote is my enemy had not been invented yet. You could imagine how much harder it would have to accomplish statehood with folks like yourself that write poison everyday about someone. But you probably do not care as you write whatever will get keep your small amount of followers interested and the advertising dollars rolling in whether you believe it our not.

    I was a eight year old kid in Valdez when the earthquake literally rocked our world. The trauma of that day will never be forgotten no matter how long I live.

    You would be wise to educate yourself about the about how people feel about the quake that lived through it. There is a number of facebook sites on the earthquake that have been getting a ton of comments the last few days. There is less and less of us each year and many of us have become friends from the shared event.

  • Not a fan of art chance.

    • Write your own column and share your experiences. Suzanne publishes many guest columnists.

  • Thank you Suzanne for reminding us of our shared history as Alaskans, homegrown and transplants alike

  • Trouble is, slavery has always existed and still does. The real question is where did freedom come from?

  • Freedom came from the blood of dedicated patriots suffering untold hardships against extreme odds fighting arrogant heartless megalomaniac tyrants. And the patriots must win every time while the tyrants can win only once to crush liberty for generations of suffering.

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