were several reasons why Russia sought to sell its territory of
Alaska to the United States.
By early 1867, the Russian company administering Alaska
teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and the imperial government in
St. Petersburg desperately needed an influx of funds.
Russian officials also worried that the increasing American
population in the region would one day lead to calls for
annexation by the U.S. government (as occurred decades earlier in
strategic concern was how to defend it during a possible war with
Great Britain, Russiaís enemy which controlled Canada. Consequently, the Russian minister to the United States,
Baron Edouard de Stoeckl, contacted Secretary of State William
Seward in March 1867 with an offer to sell Alaska.
the opportunity presented itself, President Andrew Johnson was
enmeshed in a bitter struggle with Congress over Reconstruction
policy. Seward had
alienated most of his Republican colleagues by siding with
Johnson. Both men hoped that such a diplomatic coup would enhance
their political prestige by diverting attention from domestic
interest, however, was their overriding motivation.
The great landmass, jutting well into the Pacific Ocean
near Asia, offered numerous economic and strategic benefits.
Seward and Stoeckl quickly negotiated a treaty for the
United States to buy Alaska for $7,000,000 in gold.
Seward hoped to gain Senate approval before the
congressional session ended, and secured the presidentís
approval, but the Russians raised additional issues and upped the
ante by $200,000. By
this time, Congress had adjourned, so President Johnson called the
Senate into special session on April 1, 1867.
overcome personal animosity to the president and himself, Seward
waged an intensive war of propaganda and lobbying.
The effort received a boost from the support of Congressman
Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, a leading Radical Republican
opponent of Johnson. The
decisive factor was winning the approval of Senator Charles Sumner
of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
In addition to his standing as a prominent Radical, many
Republican senators followed his lead (at the time) on foreign
policy issues. Like
Seward, Sumner believed that the purchase of Alaska would expedite
the withdrawal of Britain from Canada and the dominionís
ultimate union with the United States.
(Britain, too, envisioned and feared that scenario.)
On April 9, the Senate voted in favor of the treaty, 37-2.
S. The Transformation of American Foreign Relations,
1865-1900. New York:
Harper & Row, 1976.
The Presidency of Andrew Johnson. Lawrence, KS: University
Press of Kansas, 1979.
H. American Diplomacy:
A History. Third
Edition. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 1975.
The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations.
Vol. II: The
American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913.
New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993.