William H. Seward regarded the purchase of Alaska as his greatest achievement and Alaskans are prone to agree. But biographers from Outside say Seward's other accomplishments were far more critical to the continuation of the United States as a whole.
We observe the 150th anniversary of our country's acquisition of Russian America this year. It's worth noting things Seward did that contributed as much to the survival of the Union as the strategies of Abraham Lincoln or the battles of Ulysses S. Grant.
The ‘Secession Winter’
In November 1860, after Lincoln was elected president with less than 40 percent of the popular vote, Southern states declared independence and began arming for war. President James Buchanan was warned that Washington, D.C., was in imminent danger of falling to forces opposed to Lincoln taking office. But no soldiers could be spared; Congress had refused funds to increase the nation's army. The lame-duck president was unable to take action to protect the capital and the president-elect could do nothing until his inauguration the following March.
For four months the seat of the national government was thus exposed to a serious threat of invasion. It would not have taken much of a rabble to seize the Capitol Building, the Treasury and War offices, White House and other buildings.