1867. It’s the historical year of the historical fiction book Lighthouse Loyalty. In chapter eleven, after Uncle Richard’s trip to town, the family reads the news from a newspaper.
Father read about debates on a newly purchased territory of the United States in the far northwest; the paper called it Alaska and said it was just a frozen wasteland. He started to read aloud about Indian fighting on the western plains but then changed to a different column which discussed President Andrew Johnson’s arguments with Congress over Reconstruction – how to rebuild the South after the war. I thought the Indians would’ve been more frightfully exciting than the release of the former Confederate president and increasing tension between the President Johnson and Congress.
Today’s post covers some of the topics they read about and a few other interesting happenings in history during that year.
Alaska – “Seward’s Folly”
In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Secretary State William Seward who negotiated the purchase was widely mocked for the arrangement and the new territory was quickly dubbed “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Ice-box,” and other unflattering names.
While many citizens questioned the wisdom of the purchase, others resoundingly support it, seeing it as a measure against Russian and British expansion in the north Pacific region. Time would prove the real value of Alaska, a land rich with natural resources and opportunity for the stouthearted.
It wasn’t anything new. These conflicts had been going on prior to the American Civil War and would continue for a couple more decades. As white settlers explored and settled the West, they displaced and threatened the traditional way of life for Native American tribes. Understandably wary from past broken treaties, tribes fought back against the settlers and U.S. military.
Following the Civil War, these conflicts increased, and the tribes were further embittered because of a new U.S. policy which called all tribes to either assimilate into general population with citizenship rights or live peacefully on reservations, without raiding or fighting. The U.S. army enforced these rules, leading to escalating troubles.
The Reconstruction Era
The Reconstruction Era of American history officially began in 1865 at the end of the Civil War continued until 1877. Filled with controversy and many challenges, the Reconstruction was supposed to rebuild the South and the Southern economy which had been devastated by the war.
In 1867, President Andrew Johnson and Congress argued about who should control the Reconstruction, how long Federal troops should stay in the South, how Southern states should be readmitted to the Union, how to help and protect the Freedmen, and host of other problems. Eventually, in 1868, Johnson faced impeachment, though he was found not guilty and remained in the executive office for the remainder of his term.
Another important Reconstruction Era event in 1867… It was the first year Freedmen used their right to vote, granted and guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.
Jefferson Davis Released
It was one of the most controversial things President Johnson did in 1867. He allowed Jefferson Davis, former Confederate president, to be released from prison in Fortress Monroe on bail for $100,000. Davis never stood trial during the imprisonment or afterward, frustrating many Northerners who considered him a traitor. Later in 1868, Davis was included in the president’s pardon to former Confederates and in 1869 the case against Davis was officially dropped.
These actions sparked continuing discussion about the causes of the Civil War, definition of traitor, and decisions about how to treat former Confederates. It also prompted questions of loyalty and justice which carried many of the Constitutional debates surrounding the Civil War forward for generations.
Queen Victoria Reigns
1867 marked Queen Victoria of England’s thirtieth year as ruler of the British Empire. Already widowed, the queen faced a difficult period of personal life, but her empire flourished. Imperialism marked global politics and interactions, creating (or setting the stage) for future conflicts, expansionist quarrels, and wars of conquest.
The Victorian Era continued to develop impressive rules of manners, restrictive (though beautiful) fashions, fascinating inventions, and wonderful art, literature, and music. It’s an era of change and yet steadiness in British and British Empire history. Queen Victoria’s reign provided stability and power to the throne and her country flourished in many ways.
Emperor Meiji In Japan
Half-way around the globe from England, a new ruler came to power in 1867. Emperor Meiji began to rule Japan and usher in many changes for this Asian nation. Under Emperor Meiji’s leadership, Japan emerged from centuries of isolationism and experienced political, social, and industrial revolutions. Japan enter the “modern era” and the world stage as a powerful, rising nation who would have vast influence on events and geography in the 20th Century.
When Emperor Meiji died in 1912, Japan had capitalistic and imperial powers and was ready to challenge the West and other nations in the East for dominance.
1867 can be seen as a year of change. But – then – I suppose almost every year could be seen that way! Still, with the Reconstruction Era, Victoria Era, and rising power in the East, 1867 set the next scenes and played a brilliant drama on the stage of history in the United States and around the world.
Against this backdrop, common, everyday life continued. Lighthouse keepers and their families focused on their daily tasks and duties, aware but hardly focused on the world changing event happening around them.
P.S. This is far from everything of historical note that happened in 1867. What else would you add to the list? Let us know in a comment.