Americana: Alaska Purchase


In 1866, the Russian government offered to sell Alaska to the United States, Russia had controlled the territory since 1741, but by the middle of the 19th century, British and American settlers were pressing Alaska’s southern border, increasing the possibility of quarreling over territory; as well as the Russian treasury was short of funds.

Baron Edouard de
, the Russian minister to the United States, negotiated the sale
in December of 1866. He and Secretary of State William H. Seward worked
out a treaty under which the United States would purchase Alaska for $7.2
million in gold. Mr. Seward made an original offer of $5 million, an amount
Baron Stoeckl would readily accept; however, he judged that Mr. Steward would
agree to a higher figure because Steward’s commitment to expand American
territories as well as conclude the agreement while Congress was still in
session. The official approval from the Russian government was received and on
March 30th, 1867, the treaty terms were completed.

On the American end, there was a glitch in getting approval from the Senate
before its adjournment on March 30th, so Mr. Stewart persuaded
President Andrew Johnson to call the Senate back for a special session
the following day.

Radical Republicans of the day scoffed at what they called Seward’s folly,
but the criticism, spurred by political animosity, against the Jackson
administration rather than the deal itself.

Mr. Seward, with the support of Charles Sumner, chairman of the
Foreign Relations Committee, won approval of the treaty on April 9th
of 1867 by a vote of 37-2.

For more than a year, the House of Representatives refused to appropriate
the funds necessary to complete the treaty agreement due to the animosity
against the Johnson administration. However, in June of 1868, after President Johnson’s
impeachment trial was completed, Baron Stoeckl and Mr. Seward renewed the
campaign to complete the campaign for the purchase of Alaska.

Public appeal, private persuasion and bribes to a number of Republicans, a
vote was won on July 14th of 1868.

The United States had gained a land area larger than Texas; however, it was
not until the Klondike gold strike that Alaska, Americans realized the value of
the territory of the United States.

See also: Seward, William H.