The Alaska Purchase – was it originally a lease?

The US bought the territory of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

I once read a (fictional) story based around the idea that, at the time, the agreement with Russia included a clause allowing Russia to purchase the territory back (after 99 years) at a then considered astronomical figure ( something like 1000 times the original $7.2 million paid). No one ever believed there would be that amount of money available for them to do so. But this then give Russia the option to re-own Alaska in 1966 for a now affordable £7.2 billion.

The question is – was the idea behind this entire plot in the imagination of the author, (whom I shutter to think may have been Jeffery Archer) or was the story based around an actual possibly that had once existed in the original documents and purchase agreement? In short, did Russia ever have a legal possibility of reclaiming Alaska from the US?


I shudder to think…

…an actual possibility that…

And I checked it too. Gah!

I have read several accounts of Seward (who was then Secretary of State) negotiating the purchase of Alaska. I have always seen it referred to as a straight out purchase, and never heard reference to any provision that would have given the Russians the right to reacquire the territory.

It was a sale, not a lease.

Okay. I guess the entire story surrounding that particular plot was completely fictional then.

Thanks guys.

At the National Archives you can see the cancelled check and the receipt (just in case we ever decide we’d like to return it).

It was indeed Jeffrey Archer: A Matter of Honour.
While not the worst he’s written, it’s definitely not ‘great literature’.

That’s interesting jklann. Russian companies lost their rights to Alaskan lands, but Russian individuals did not. Now I need is an old Russian document giving mineral rights for the North Slope to a Russian individual.

Right, the same was true of our earlier land acquisitions such as the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. If you had valid title under the previous government, you kept it. The trick is that it would be up to an American court to determine whether your title was valid under the laws of the previous regime, which could be difficult to do since the French and Mexican governments made some very arbitrary and ambiguous land grants. Likewise with any czarist title deeds you might unearth! :slight_smile:

“We just weren’t looking for an icy frozen waste. Do you have anything in a tropical island?”