Looking To A Long Future
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
MEN who do not know the facts about Alaska and who do not realize the full implications of Alaska's colonial status, sometimes say, " Uncle Sam saddled himself with a white elephant when he bought Alaska." Did he? This has been said so often, by the unthinking and the unknowing, that perhaps we should not take it as a joke. which it really is—but treat it seriously for a moment. Getting down to solid brass tacks, then, how does the Alaska ledger balance, to date?
Every one has been taught that the United States paid $7,200,000 for the title to Russia's American possessions. Let us leave aside the fact, now recognized through Secretary Lane's researches, that of this sum only $1,400,000 was actually paid for Alaska, and that the rest went to reimburse Russia for her friendly naval demonstration during the War between the States. Keeping in mind the larger figure-the " marked up," padded expense account —how much has Alaska actually returned to Uncle Sam's pockets?
Alaska has already produced over a billion and a half dollars in new wealth. In 10o days in 1906 Nome alone produced $7,500,000 in gold—more than the original purchase price of the Territory. In the one month of August, 1929, $787,134 in new gold was shipped from Alaska,—more than one tenth of the purchase price—and the total 1929 gold production is close to $8,000,000. In 1928, California with its millions of population produced 523,429 ounces of gold, and Alaska, with it few scattered thousands, was second with 330,604 ounces; and only an in-grained pessimistic die-hard would prophesy that there will be no more big gold strikes in this great Territory." Every ten years whales alone, one of the least-considered industries here, pay the " blood money" for the Territory. Silver, merely a by-product as mined in Alaska, had as long ago as 1922 paid $8,104,000—topping the cost price and paying good interest on it. Tin, marble, gypsum, coal, petroleum, lead—resources just scratched in possibility-have already much more than paid for Alaska. Every five years the fur-bearing animals (not including seals) more than pay for Alaska. Exports for the one month of April, 1929, were worth a million and a half dollars—20 per cent. of the purchase price.
Alaska's potential water power has yet to be turned on. Thirty years ago the Eskimos had practically no real wealth, and now (at a minimum outlay on Uncle Sam's part) they control reindeer stock worth many millions. Wheat grown near Fairbanks took first prize at the agricultural fair in Minneapolis, in competition with the finest Minnesota and Dakota wheats. Twenty-one million acres of coal lands in Alaska, picked up on the international bargain counter at something like two cents per acre, hold enough coal (as estimated by the U. S. Geological Survey) to keep Uncle Sam's furnace running for full 300 years, at the present national rate of consumption. In round figures, fish and fur have brought in nearly a billion dollars to the United States, and the metal mines of Alaska another half billion.' One single mine, the Treadwell, paid for
The following statistics were compiled from government re-ports, by the Alaska Department of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce :
Minerals 1928 1867 to 1929
Gold $6,834,200 $ 372,885,515
Totals $ 14,828,110 $ 604,281,145
Salmon $ 47,542,264 $ 688,252,233
Totals $ 53,517,287 $ 777,360,039
Furs 4,694,262 116,499,587
Grand Totals $ 73,611,753 $1,505,688,472
These figures include the value of exports only, and to them should be added the sources of wealth consumed in the Territory and the value of goods imported by Alaska and used there, if the gross profits of " Seward's bargain " are fully to be appreciated.
Alaska over and over again in gold; and another, the Kennecott, has done the same in copper. At first, the main export of Alaska was fur; gold came to the front after 1900. During the World War the relative value of gold went down while copper prices soared, but after the War salmon supplanted copper as the main item in production value. Maybe, one day, wheat flour and reindeer meat will in turn supplant the " Silver Horde." That would be but a natural industrial development.
Even by the most pared-down official figures Alaska has already returned more than 200 times the purchase. The total cost of the purchase, of improvements that include a mountain-piercing railroad, and all administrative outlay on the attic since 1867, amounts to but 200 million dollars, and Alaska has already paid back over 1500 millions; or, if you accept Franklin K. Lane's statement that only $1,400,000 was actual purchase price, then the original investment has paid, to date, over a hundred thousand per cent! Was this "a poor bargain" ? How long must this continue before unthinking men shall cease to cry, " Alaska does not pay " ?
Perhaps Uncle Sam is a little like old Jacob. When his sons told him certain facts about the land of Egypt, he believed them not; but when he saw the Egyptian wagons actually standing before him, the spirit of the patriarch revived and he said, " It is enough!" Of the " Egyptian wagons" Judge Wickersham has stated: " In the Territory of Alaska there is wealth of every variety. There is more coal than there is in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia; there is more copper than in Michigan, Arizona and Montana; there is more gold than in California and Colorado; there is more agricultural land than in Sweden, Norway and Finland; and there is more fish than in all the balance of American waters, together." The truth is that Alaska today, if put up for auction on the international block, would fetch a thumping fat price on its visible assets and past, unaided, pioneer production.
Any misconception about Alaska's contribution arises from the fact that little of this wealth has remained in the land that produced it. Most of it has " gone Outside," to enrich the rest of the United States at Alaska's expense—just as many of New England's colonial profits went back into the pockets of stay-at-home Englishmen. That is why this Territory, rich beyond belief in natural resource, is virtually on trial for its economic life whenever pessimistic Congressmen choose to go on the ram-page. The producer of these accretions to the national wealth is in the position of a stepchild, a Cinderella, " an adopted orphan reared with pity and condescension (as one sourdough put it), scrubbing the floors of the nation, like a bound boy at a shucking "—compelled to accept whatever amount is doled out from Washington. Alaska has taxation with misrepresentation.
Alaska was purchased the same year that Canada was confederated into a Dominion. In the 1840's British statesmen were very indifferent to the fate of Canada. Disraeli referred to " these wretched colonies" (Canada) as " a millstone round our necks," and Tennyson, official poet of the Crown, sang lyrically,
" So loyal is too costly ! Friends, your love Is but a burden; break the bonds and go!"
But a new order came, and if Alaska had benefited by a fraction of the development Canada's northwest railroads have given, or by a fraction of the under-standing and appreciation showered on the Dominion by the British Government since '67, Alaska's position to-day would be a marvel to the civilized world, and our one, lone, voteless Delegate would not now be seen standing, hat in hand, humbly begging largess of Congress for Alaska's just and modest needs-a sum which is but a fraction of the usufruct of her own inherited natural wealth.
We Alaskans see no problems here unsolvable by time and patience and the least mite of understanding on the part of Mother Country statesmen—and journalists! For if there be an " Alaska problem," it is but the old one of colonial administration with-out true representation, of employing the outworn and hoary and long-exploded "mercantile theory" of colonial exploitation in this twentieth century, of not heeding the clear-written lessons of history, of not listening to words of Pitt which echo down the years like a Cassandra message : " The colonies have become too great an object to be grasped, except in the arms of affection.
Stefansson remarks, with great truth, that it is merely " human nature to undervalue whatever lands are distant and to consider disagreeable whatever is different." New and undeveloped countries (like new and undeveloped people—children) must depend for the unfolding of their " natural resources " or future greatness, not only upon their own inherent health and vigor but, in good part, upon the patience and the oversight and long-term credits of older, perhaps wiser, but surely more stable and financially able mother countries. Vigorous young provinces must have wise and able parents, if they are to grow to full and safe maturity and not sow too many wild oats en route.
Our own United States, in its youth, was able to develop its great national resources because of the long-term credits extended to it by English and Dutch bankers, who were glad-to lend their money to young and ambitious America wishing to build great railroads and great mills. There must be this element of faith—of patience and generosity and understanding of the needs of youth, upon the one hand, and willingness to learn and to do upon the other. When and how did the Louisiana Purchase begin to pay? When and how did the Oregon Tract begin to pay—or California, or Texas? When they were taken in and treated as one of the family, and not as aliens and strangers. Carpers say, "Alaska is a non-contiguous territory." Oregon and California were both made into States while they were yet non-contiguous territory, were not yet touching other States of the Union; and Oregon and California have well repaid this confidence.
Granted that Alaska is a stepchild of the Nation, what is the education a parent gives a child but an-other name for long-term financing? Development and education are two words with but one meaning -leading out, drawing out from its enwrapping envelope the precious hidden thing—out and up and on. Alaska needs these things now, in her days of youth. It is easy to realize why Service imagined her saying:
" Lofty I stand from each sister land, patient and wearily wise,
Not long ago I listened to a very well-known gentleman lecture upon Alaska. He talked for an hour about the scenery, the fish, the foxes, the seals of Alaska—but he never once mentioned the Alaskans! In last night's Washington paper I saw a headline, " Alaska Evening at the Cosmos Club." I read that eminent scientists had discussed the geology of Alaska, the prehistoric paleo-Asiatic implications of Alaska, and the progress of Alaskan fisheries—but not one word had been uttered to indicate that Alaska, to-day, has meaning to the United States of America chiefly because it is an overseas colony of actual American citizens, doing a big pioneer job in the best way they know.
Uncle Sam's attic is a potential living-room, not a mere storeroom, and to ignore the human element in " the Alaska problem " seems to me to be ignoring the problem itself, if problem there be. Which, I ask you, would have proved more worth while to England, in the eighteenth century: the fish and fur and timber trade of the colonies, or the good will of John and Sam Adams of New England, the respect of a certain printer-body named Franklin who lived in Philadelphia, and the confidence and unexasperated loyalty of a quiet Private Gentleman then recently married to a wealthy widow and settled on his comforable plantation at Mt. Vernon? The in-come from a colony may be golden eggs, but no wise householder kills his goose to get that egg! Rather he feeds the goose and plays silent partner with Time, for his own increased profit.
How much is a colonist worth to a mother country? How can you measure such worth? You can measure it in part by dollars, and in dollars a white man in Alaska to-day is said to be worth $1,302.75 in yearly trade! But the commerce of Alaska is worth about a hundred million dollars a year, in imports and exports. In 1927 the exports were $80,000,000 and the imports $32,000,000. the one month of August, 1929, the exports were $19,000,000, with half a million in imports. Commerce with Alaska averaged more than trade with the Orient, over a period of several years, and Alaska is the greatest per capita contributor to the national revenues. Alaska's Governor has said, " If taxes collected in the United States from the people, the industries, and the resources, equalled per capita similar collections from Alaska, the yearly national revenues would be roughly five times as much as the Treasury receives at present."—So much for the tangible value of colonists.
But there are other values, intangible but no less real—questions of national honor, prestige, contracted word, given bond. How are these to be rated? How many colonists are equal to a shipload of copper? George III found, to his sorrow, that satisfied colonials might be the best product of a colony, and the British Government have never had to relearn that lesson, be it said to their great credit. It was an expensive lesson, but the meaning penetrated and stuck. There is a famous speech which every schoolboy knows (spoken by one Edmund Burke, Esq., in the British House of Commons on a day in March of 1775) in which I'd like to change but two words and then recall to your memory:
Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together. If we are conscious of our situation and glow with zeal to fill our place as becomes our station and ourselves; we ought to auspicate all our public proceedings on Alaska with the old warning of the Church, Sursum corda ! We ought to elevate our minds to the greatness of that trust to which the order of Providence has called us. By adverting to the dignity of this high calling, our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire, and have made the most extensive, and the only honor-able conquests—not by destroying, but by promoting, the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race. Let us get an Alaskan revenue as we have got an Alaskan empire. American privileges have made it all it is; American privileges alone will make it all it can be.
George III never visited America, but the one American President who has visited Alaska during his term of office said, as he left the country, that he now had a suspicion that most of the complaints which he had heard about Alaska had " come from those who are commercially disposed, who have a desire to acquire more than the average share of this world's goods—and then take it somewhere else! From this day forth my official as well as my personal interest in Alaskans will be in those who are trying to make a real empire of Alaska, and who intend to abide in the empire which they have helped to create."
Who " owns" a colony—the Mother Country or the colonists who go there and live? Neither—both —and partnership often causes bad feeling about responsibility and profit, unless there is perfect accord and perfect understanding of one another's points of view. The nation as a whole has a great stake in Uncle Sam's attic, as a storehouse of commodities; but the people who live in Alaska, who have made their homes here, who have invested everything they own in time and money here, are certainly entitled to be heard in matters which affect their destiny. They have not become aliens by coming to Alaska, for this is American soil. Without their coming, the country would nourish only its aboriginal and " savage " population, and a country without a working population is not a country but a waste, a desert, no matter what potential riches lie hidden within it. To let raw materials lie idle seems to Americans absurd, but raw materials are of no value unless and until there are people who know how to produce and use them.
Alaska, a decade after the World War, stands to America as the far West stood a decade after the Civil War. Today America's citizens have elbow room, but to-morrow they may know crowding. Then these spaces may truly be put to work, to feed, clothe and house American citizens of a new North-west, and tie them further to a soil that is also truly American. If there be any Alaskan problem, it is not the problem people outside of Alaska are talking about, but one they do not even think about: the problem of absentee government and ownership; the problem of getting an informed and working Federal administration to cooperate with an informed and working group of local colonists. The Alaska problem is not that of getting profitable products out of the country, but of getting profitable people in to the country. If you must have an " Alaska Problem," here it is in a paper-shelled nut!
Alaska needs the right kind of people, Alaska needs small capital in many industries and large capital in a few, and Alaska needs liberal Federal development of her roads and all other transportation facilities. But more than these things, Alaska needs time, the ally of all youthful projects and lands; and Alaska needs patience and understanding—that last great test of true friendliness. For, more than any material want, Alaska stands in need of friends. " The truth about Alaska is good enough," as Colonel Dick used to say. She needs to be spoken of simply as she is, nothing extenuated and naught set down in malice. Alaska has been called The Ugly Duckling, Cinderella, Orphan Annie, Alaska the Misunderstood. In all these names there lies the hint of need for patient friendliness and quiet intelligent understanding. Aren't friends the people who make us do our best because they believe the best about us, under whose eyes we double our capabilities and possibilities? Alaska needs such friends, today.
This colony of Alaska stands as yet, politically, in the early and not in the late eighteenth century. She stands in need of friendly and eloquent Burkes in Congress, but she has not yet reached to 1776 nor has she a formidable list of grievances such as the famous Philadelphia document of that date contained. There have been irritation and petty annoyance, but the cauldron has not yet boiled over; and there is no good reason why it ever should. But " he who knows the whence will also know the whither," and in a democratic country such as the United States it is essential that every private citizen should make himself a potential statesman, by considering the past and gaining the perspective which is seen through historical parallel. As globe circlers will tell you, through Alaska alone of all American territory runs the line where yesterday, to-day and to-morrow actually meet.
There are three classes of people whose questioning about Alaska should be answered freely and truly by all loyal Alaskans: real colonists seeking a home here, honest national statesmen seeking a genuine Alaska policy (something as yet unformulated), and the youth of America's today seeking facts about the new frontier which is their national right and heritage and which they, to-morrow, will be called upon to administer. To all three of these classes I believe the historical parallel between Alaska now and New England 200 years ago may prove, as I know it has to me, a touchstone to truth. With the founding of New England in mind, its problems and its potentialities, the colonist can imagine what to expect in present-day Alaska, the statesman has an index from the past to point out possible future difficulty, and the youth of America's today can best realize the promise and the future dormant in this heritage—provided it is preserved for them in honest stewardship, and provided a body of contented colonials grow up on America's last frontier. If, when reading of Alaska news and doings, you will keep in the background of your mind this thought—" She is a colony; she is passing now through phases and experiences that New England knew 200 years ago, that the West knew Too years ago "—then and then only, I believe, will any one not himself an Alaskan understand The Great Country.
Think of us as men and women of your own race and breed, holding fast behind our feeble palisade of hope and fear Uncle Sam's last outpost to the not unfriendly North. Think of us as distant colonial kinsmen, as " contemporary ancestors." And think of us as Charles Sumner thought, when with the vision of a true statesman, he rose in the Senate of the United States to beg for the ratification of the cession of Russian America, and concluded with these words:
" Your best work and most important endowment will be the republican government which, looking to a long future, you will organize, with schools free to all and with equal laws, before which every citizen will stand erect in the consciousness of manhood. Here will be a motive power, without which Coal itself will be insufficient. Here will be a source of wealth, more inexhaustible than any Fisheries. Bestow such a government, and you will bestow what is better than all you can receive—whether quintals of fish, sands of gold, choicest furs, or most beautiful ivory."