What’s the caper on this? Did he really do it because he was broke?
November 27, 2001, 4:30am
This is all I could find:
On March 30, 1867: Russia sells Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million. Despite its wealth, Alaska had not been properly exploited by Russia since it was first settled in the 1780s, and the empire was happy to see it go.
I did see something about Bush wanting to sell it back to them, because Russia wouldn’t have any compunctions about drilling for oil.
Sounds like a bargain. Did they just have no idea of how much it was worth?
It wasn’t worth much at the time. There were a few Orthodox missions there, and trappers made decent enough money from seal pelts, but at that point, the interior was too cold for settlement, it was too far away from European Russia, which had the big population centers, no big gold deposits had been discovered yet, and no one knew that Alaska contained oil, and there wasn’t a big market for oil, besides. The general consensus in the US is that we were ripped off. Alaska got the nicknames “Seward’s Icebox” (after the secretary of state) and “Andy Johnon’s Polar Bear Garden”.
That’s “Johnson”, of course.
In 1867 Alaska wasn’t worth very much, especially to the Russians. Gold had not been discovered, oil had no value and what Alaska did have; namely pelts and timber, had to be transported all the way accross Siberia to reach European markets.
My understanding is that the negotiations for the sale began years earlier when Russia was at war with Britain and was afraid that Britain would raise a small army in Canada and simply take Alaska. Russia couldn’t really defend Alaska because of the distance, so they created a situation where a British attack on Alaska would be an attack on US interests as well as Russian interests.
I’m not certain why they went through with the sale, but in general Russia always had economic problems; and the Crimean War and freeing the Serfs didn’t help their economy.
One of my favorite early nicknames I’d heard of for Alaska was “Walrussia.” (No joke.)
I decided to get off my arse and look for myself.
I found the “treaty between the United States of America and his Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias” at this url:
which is a fascinating read. For Example, Article III reads:
The inhabitants of the ceded territory, according to their choice, reserving their natural allegiance, may return to Russia within three years; but if they should prefer to remain in the ceded territory, they, with the exception of uncivilized native tribes, shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States, and shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and religion. The uncivilized tribes will be subject to such laws and regulations as the United States may, from time to time, adopt in regard to aboriginal tribes of that country.
So, either you moved across the Bering Strait within 3 years, or you became a US citizen.
After the end of the American Civil War, the Russian minister to Washington, D.C., Edouard de Stoeckl, entered into secret negotiations with the United States regarding the possible sale of Alaska. The U.S Secretary of State, William Seward, a longtime promoter of American territorial expansion, eagerly agreed to the transaction, and final negotiations were eventually made. A settlement was made and Russia offered Alaska (a supposedly worthless and no-good piece of land) to the United States for 7.2 million dollars. Later this figure was calculated to be less that two cents per acre.
So, looks like it was Seward’s baby, confirmed by
President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, is responsible for negotiating the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Seward was so adamant on purchasing Alaska that he started negotiating with the Russian minister, Edouard de Stoeckl, before he was authorized by the President. His original offer was for $5,000,000.00 or possibly $5,500,000.00. While the Russian Minister was taking the offer to the Czar, Seward asked the Cabinet for authority to offer $7,000,000.00 As they had not been notified of the pending purchase, and due to their caring little about Alaska, they did not object to Seward’s request, much to his surprise.
By March 23rd, both parties had reached an agreement on the main points of the purchase. Stoeckl cabled St. Petersburg on the $7,000,000.00 figure that had been reached, and asked for authority to sign the treaty. On March 29th, Stoeckl received approval from Czar Alexander to sign the treaty with minor provisions.
Seward wanted so much for the treaty to be signed that he opened the State Department that evening after hours and made the Russian delegation welcome. Stoeckl wanted to improve on some of the smaller points, but Seward refused to consider them, but in turn offered another $200,000.00 to the purchase price. So the final agreed upon price became $7,200,000.00. This translated into approximately 2.5 cents per acre for 586,400 square miles of territory, twice the size of Texas.
It was a long and bitter battle to get Congress to approve the purchase then appropriate the money for it. Seward prevailed in completing the purchase, but he became the butt of popular jokes over his purchase. When asked what was the most significant act of his career, he declared “The purchase of Alaska! But it will take a generation to find that out.”
On the misty afternoon of October 18, 1867, at the city of Sitka, on the desolate Alaska coast, amongst the firing of Russian and American cannon, the Imperial Russian flag came down over Russian America. The Stars and Stripes was raised up the 90 foot flag pole, and “Seward’s Icebox” became a territory of the United States.
If anyone knows of any historical research on this, I’d be obliged. The entire event is very interesting.
November 27, 2001, 2:22pm
Try and get a copy of this book by a distinguished American historian:
It’s “The Conquest of a Continent”, the story of Russia’s amazing expansion across Siberia, and includes the Alaska story from a russian perspective.