Celebrating Lincoln through Stamps and Postal History

Secretary of State Henry Seward

Check for the Purchase of Alaska
Cancelled check in the amount of $7.2 million, for the purchase of Alaska, issued August 1, 1868; Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury; Record Group 217; National Archives

An integral member of Lincoln’s cabinet was Henry Seward, the Secretary of State. At the time of the 1860 election, Seward represented New York in the US Senate and had been a major contender for the Republican Party’s nomination. At first Seward was skeptical of Lincoln when he arrived in Washington in 1861 to take office. To the surprise of many, the two political rivals became close friends. On the same day as the assassination of Lincoln, the conspirators also attempted to kill Secretary Seward. The assassin, Lewis Powell stabbed Seward in the face and neck, but miraculously Seward survived the attack. Following Lincoln’s assassination Seward continued serving as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson. During his time in the Johnson Administration, Seward assisted the United States in its purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia. Some regarded this act as 'Seward's Folly," as the land was filled with ice and believed to not be worth the expense. Nonetheless, Alaska became a state in 1959.

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2-cent carmine Seward DL watermark stamp

William Seward is featured on the 1909 2-cent Alaska Yukon Issue. The stamp depicts a profile view of the secretary. The backers of the Alaska Yukon Exposition of 1909 asked the Post Office Department to issue a stamp celebrating the event, and the government responded with the 2-cent stamp. The Seward depiction was accepted only after the exposition’s backers rejected a wide variety of other designs such as a seal standing on ice. The supporters of the exposition wanted to advertise Alaska's mild summer. They did not want an image of ice to deter travelers. In the end, given his connection with Alaska, Seward was a fitting selection for the stamp.