The sale of Alaska by Russia to the United States : reasons for the sale and the purchase
On October 18, 1867 at Sitka, Alaska a ceremony took place in which Russia transferred its ownership of this territory to the United States. The price paid for what was to become our forty-ninth state was seven million two hundred thousand dollars or about two cents an acre. There are two essential viewpoints regarding this transaction. The first claims that a country not wanting to sell sold Alaska to a country not eager to buy. The second is that both countries were fully aware both of what they were selling and buying. The objective of this paper has been to review the evidence regarding this transaction and to show that both parties involved derived definite benefits from this important transfer of territory. An examination of the evidence has led me to believe that Russia had several valid reasons for liquidating its holdings in North America. The sale was made after long and deliberate consultation with the Russian officials deciding that this area was detrimental to Russia's future foreign and domestic development. Among the reasons for the sale were: the problem of defending its North American holdings, the fear that these possessions, being extremely hard to defend, might easily fall into the hands of its arch-rival England, the decline of the Russian-American Company both in its political influence as well as its commercial value, the shift of Russia's concern away from North America toward the Far East and Russian Central Asia, and finally, the Russian officials recognition of the fact that on the North American continent the influence of the United States was destined to reign supreme. The situation in the United States was different. It can be said that the United States acquired this territory by a lucky stroke. It was due to the antagonism between Russia and England and the close bonds between the United States that America at first reluctantly, acquired this valuable property. Except for some scientific people and a relatively small number of individuals who saw the commercial and trade possibilities of this area, Alaska was not well known. To these factors must be added the efforts of William H. Seward and the influence of Charles Sumner. It was almost entirely due to the initiative and vision of the former and the political influence of the latter that made the purchase a reality. Public opinion in Russia and the United States regarding the transaction was both favorable and hostile. In Russia, the idea that the Czar would voluntarily relinquish such a vast area of his domain was met with much criticism. Those directly connected with the Russian-American Company were indignant. Government officials who saw in this area its future possibilities were also critical. These protests were in vain for those in the positions of power had made their decision, and they intended to carry it through, by persuasion if possible, by pressure if necessary. Public opinion in the United States was mixed. Scientific men with knowledgeable information regarding this area were pleased. Merchants and traders were equally delighted. Public officials who took time to deliberate on the future possibilities of this area felt that the purchase was a good bargain. As to the man on the street, his reaction of the buying of Alaska was probably one of unconcern. After the Civil War the mood of the country reflected not an appetite for new territory but rather a determination to mend its fences and get on with the task of developing the vast resources of the territory it already possessed. In the last analysis I conclude that both countries gained from the transaction, Russia deliberately, the United States reluctantly.