Why Russia Sold Alaska to the United States So Cheaply

Why Russia Sold Alaska to the United States So Cheaply

Alaska, America’s Gateway to the Arctic, was once Russian territory. But why did Russia sell it to the United States in 1867? And, why for so cheap? After all, its land surface area is approximately 665,400 square miles, which makes it the largest state in the United States, nearly two and a half times as large as Texas.

Why Russia Sold Alaska to the United States

At the time, Russia was facing financial difficulties due to the expense of maintaining its North American colonies, which included Alaska. Additionally, Russia had just suffered a major defeat in the Crimean War, and its government was facing political turmoil. As a result, Russian officials were eager to sell Alaska, and the United States was willing to buy it.

Also, Russia had no interest in developing Alaska, as it was too far away from the rest of the empire. Plus, Russia feared that the United States would eventually take Alaska by force. So, there wasn’t any really good reason for Russia to hold onto the territory any longer.

“Seward’s Folly”

The deal, brokered by Edouard de Stoeckl, Russian minister to the United States, quickly gained a reputation for being an unbelievable bargain. In fact, just a simple internet search reveals people ask if the territory was really sold for a dollar and “Who bought Alaska for $1?” However, the actual purchase price totaled $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre.

The purchase of Alaska, known as “Seward’s Folly” after U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the deal, was controversial at the time. Many Americans saw it as a waste of money, and some even criticized it as an act of imperialism.

On March 30th, 1867, William H. Seward, secretary of state under U.S. President Andrew Johnson, signed the Alaska Purchase. The treaty was subsequently ratified by the US Senate on April 9, 1867, and then by the Russian government on May 16, 1867. The formal transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place on October 18, 1867.

Impact on Alaskan Natives

When Bering finally located Alaska in 1741, the indigenous population was about 100,000 people, including Inuit, Athabascan, Yupik, Unangan, and Tlingit. They lived in villages along the coast and in the interior.

The Russians arrived in 1784 and began to build settlements and trading posts. They also brought with them Christianity and Western culture. The Russians treated the indigenous people poorly, taking their land, enslaving them, and killing them.

By the time of the cession to the United States in 1867, the indigenous population had declined to 50,000. The United States government continued to treat the indigenous people poorly, denying them their land, their culture, and their rights.

It was not until the 1930s that the indigenous people began to fight for their rights. They formed tribal governments and began to demand equal treatment. In 1945, Alaska passed an anti-discrimination law, and in 1959, Alaska became a state.

Then, in 1936, the Indian Reorganization Act authorized tribal governments to form. Nine years later, overt discrimination was outlawed by Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. This law banned signs such as “No Natives Need Apply” and “No Dogs or Natives Allowed,” which were common at the time.

The Importance of Alaska to the US

Over time, Alaska has proven to be a valuable acquisition for the United States. The territory is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, and minerals, and has a strategic location in the Arctic, where melting ice is opening new shipping routes and access to valuable resources. 

Additionally, the purchase of Alaska was a major turning point in US history. It marked the beginning of the United States’ expansion into the Pacific, and it also helped to ensure the country’s economic prosperity.

Today, Alaska remains a unique part of the United States, with a rich history and culture shaped by its Russian and Native American heritage. It is also a key player in Arctic politics, with its vast wilderness and strategic location making it an important piece of America’s Arctic puzzle.