The Real Reason Russia Sold Alaska To The United States

The Real Reason Russia Sold Alaska To The United States


The largest state in the union, Alaska boasts
a wealth of natural resources, rich in oil, fish, minerals, and beautiful scenery. When The United States bought Alaska from
Russia in 1867, though, many people on both sides were left scratching their heads. Why? Here’s a look at the real reason Russia sold
Alaska to the United States. In 1741, Vitus Bering crossed the straits
from Russia to Alaska, opening up a wealth of opportunities for industrious hunters and
entrepreneurs. One problem: Alaska was already inhabited
by a native population that wasn’t exactly thrilled by the Russian invasion. Tensions finally reached a breaking point
in 1802, when the Tlingit people rose up and attacked a Russian outpost, leading to two
years of warfare. That was just one of the problems that faced
the Russian-American Company, which was formed to exploit Alaksan resources. At first, the company thrived thanks to the
leadership of Alexander Baranov. He was on more-or-less friendly terms with
native tribes, which helped the company become wildly profitable. But when he retired, the Company was taken
over by the Russian military, and things went quickly downhill. In an attempt to raise profits, they slashed
the price they paid for pelts and furs. Desperate trappers ended up overhunting in
an attempt to make up the lost wages, which in turn led to the drastic decline of the
otter population, which led the complete collapse of the Alaskan fur trade. And without profits from the fur trade, the
whole endeavor suddenly began to make a lot less financial sense for the Russian government. It was also just really hard to survive in
Alaska. In such an unforgiving climate, the Russians
struggled to keep themselves fed – and with Moscow thousands of miles away, it became
increasingly difficult to sustain the Russian outpost. So in 1811, the Russian-American Company decided
to try somewhere new: California! Yes, it’s true: the Russians set up a fort
in California with the idea that they could grow food in the more temperate climate and
ship it up to Alaska to keep things running. It sounded good in theory, but the outpost’s
farming efforts struggled. By 1839, they had also managed to kill off
all the otters in that area too, so they decided to just give it up as a lost cause. The sparsely-populated colonies also presented
a logistical problem — how do you defend a territory as large as Alaska when there
are only 800 people living there? It was pretty clear early on that Alaska was
vulnerable, and Russia really wasn’t equipped to protect it. That became a big problem in the 1850’s thanks
to the Crimean War, which saw Russia face off against France, Turkey, and Britain over
control of access to religious places in the Holy Land. What exactly did that have to do with Alaska? Well, during the war, Russia’s enemies controlled
all of the sea routes, and the Russians were very rightly afraid that they would be cut
off completely from their North American territory. By the end of the war, Russia had lost half
a million troops and just didn’t have the ability to properly defend Alaska. With British and American whaling ships already
infringing on Russian territory, the Tsar feared that a potential goldrush could bring
another wave of Americans that would overwhelm the small Russian outposts. Selling the place off was starting to sound
like a good idea – and when you consider the fact that there actually was an Alaskan Gold
Rush in 1897, maybe the Russians knew what they were doing. So, why did Russia sell Alaska to the United
States instead of to Canada? The answer is pretty simple: when Russia began
seriously considering a sale in the late 1850’s, Canada was still part of Britain – which,
of course, Russia had just had a giant war with. Russia and America, on the other hand, were
on pretty good terms, so from a diplomatic standpoint, it made sense to strengthen those
bonds. Historian Susan Smith-Peter told the New York
Times, “From the Russian point of view, the deal
made a lot of sense. They could irritate Britain, and they could
have a closer relationship with the United States.” Still, things could have been different if
not for a quirk in timing: Canada gained its independence in the summer of 1867 – just
a few short months after Russia had officially sold Alaska to the U.S. If Alaska was bad for the Russians, why on
Earth did the USA imagine that it would be good for the Americans? Part of it was the idea that there may indeed
be gold up in them thar hills. But mostly, it was Manifest Destiny, the idea
that the United States was destined to expand to cover the whole continent from the Atlantic
to the Pacific. Though many mocked Secretary of State William
H. Seward for buying the distant, frozen land, he said that he did it because America was “destined to roll resistless waves to the
ice barriers of the north, and to encounter oriental civilization on the shores of the
Pacific.” And he got a pretty darn good deal, purchasing
Alaska for $7.2 million, or just 2 cents per acre. Though some derided the purchase as Seward’s
Folly, he got the last laugh 30 years later when the Klondike gold rush sent 100,000 settlers
to Alaska and brought $1 billion to the American economy. Meanwhile, Russia’s collective “damn it” was
heard ’round the world. 20/20 hindsight is a pretty brilliant thing,
isn’t it? Even today, there are people in Russia who
are still grumbling about the huge mistake that Tsar Alexander II made when he signed
away the entire Alaskan territory for 2 cents an acre. In 2014, the Moscow Times wrote that there
was a growing amount of “generally facetious” talk about taking back Alaska. And the 150th anniversary of the deal was
noted in 2017 by many hardliners who felt the Tsar had sold out the nation. Sergey Aksyonov, the prime minister of Crimea,
said “If Russia was in possession of Alaska today,
the geopolitical situation in the world would have been different.” And he’s right – if Russia still owned Alaska,
they’d be the ones controlling all of the oil, mining, fisheries, and the state’s other
riches. And America would have no strategically-placed
military bases at the top of North America, and no claim to the Arctic at all, which means
no real voice when it comes to addressing climate change-related problems like melting
glaciers. But hey, that’s not how it worked out, Russia. This is one literal cold war you definitely
can’t win. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Grunge videos about your favorite
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48 Comments on "The Real Reason Russia Sold Alaska To The United States"


  1. Russia was so huge that they simply didn't have enough people to colonize it! They sold it to US to spite the British! They actually gave it for chump change!

    Reply

  2. Mexico should had bought Alaska in the 1st place right after they'd got defeated by the Americans in the US-Mexican War & lost their Northern territories like California & Texas. But I don't know if the Mexicans would like to live in a cold weather conditions in Alaska.

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  3. Why no mention of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad that Russia was desperately trying to build, and that the proceeds of the sale of Alaska was used to build? The Czar wanted to have the Trans-Siberian Railroad built, and he sold Alaska in order to finance it. It's ironic, as although the railroad was eventually completed, due to the cold and harsh climate, as well as cheap substandard materials, for decades, the railroad was constantly breaking down and extremely inefficient and unreliable, at least until well into Stalin's regime…

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  4. Along with the Louisiana purchase, they were the best deals the USA ever made.
    If they had made a few deals south of the current US (And there were plenty of opportunities back in the 1800s), they could have gained possession of most of present day Mexico as well.

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  5. Very true account of the sale of Alaska by Russia to the United States. Some old maps show the Pacific Northwest of the continental U.S. as Russian America.

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  6. Theres one small problem with this story. At the time that Alaska was said to have been Russian. Russia only reached as far east as the Caspian sea. At that time on all maps Tartaria is marked as being the country that would have controlled Alaska in 18th century and it wasnt until later once what happened happened to give Tartaria to Russia that the lands were split and thats the excuse for the sale which most likely had a backdoor deal done at the same time. So this entire story is quackademia BS.

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  7. The Philippines was sold by Spain to America in 1899 but despite that we are not an American state nor part of American territory but personally with our current situation and Philippines as the number 1 American loving country I wish we had the same fate as Alaska.

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  8. To this day Russians are obsessed with Alaska-Alaskans. Especially local politics. The misogynist Russian male has a very low opinion of Sarah Palin but cannot take thier eyes off Alaskan news channels.

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  9. Eh. You’re dumb if you think America does better on climate change having Alaska. We just send cruises up there and don’t count anything they want. Not a help.

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  10. I was born & raised in So. Florida. My daughter (my only child) & her husband got stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska (talk about 'empty nest syndrome'). I was worried about how she (& I when I visited) would handle the weather as we've barely have seen snow (she was able to appreciate really seeing it before me; the only adjustment for her was the long periods of darkness over a couple of winter months as otherwise indoor heating was more than adequate even when she had a taste of some of their harshest weather; for us, we love that it's a dry cold in such a picturesque place after living in an area that can feel like a swamp many times; I swear it was a much better place to tolerate in the '80s as since the daily rain cycle in our wettest months has drastically changed throughout the years – i.e. afternoon showers are definitely not the same; I used to actually surf then & my father was a military meteorologist) . Long story short (please do not read below if you're not interested), WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE ALASKA!

    (Sorry this is long, I just had major back surgery & am recovering, so my grammar isn't probably the best either; I just wanted to comment because I think it's a bit unusual to be well situated in one part of the country as big as the U.S., & find yourself falling in love with everything about the complete opposite side of the country – especially the weather – since the two places are such drastically different from each other…literal opposite ends of the spectrum in many aspects including the culture of people found in each place in a lot of respects.)

    I was pleasantly surprised when I visited and almost everyone in my family & friends that visited with us fell in love with the place. My daughter & my son-in-law particularly love Anchorage. My parents have since done an annual month plus cruise for a few years that involves many parts off of Alaska after departing from So. California (where my Aunt lives; or more specifically, right off Pacific Coast Highway aka on the actual beach in Laguna Beach; LOVE Catalina Island too, which can be seen from her deck) or from Mexico while also stopping at some of the Hawaii islands at some point too (hopefully, one day I can do this cruise myself but I'm happy for my parents as they worked extremely hard to have this luxury). Now (at various stages) we're all looking at property in Alaska (mostly around Anchorage) to stay for part of the year. Even, a good friend of mine who went from a Chiropractor to a PBC Detective got interested and is on his way to becoming a detective for the Anchorage PD (he's already renting a condo out so when his daughter graduates HS next year she can attend college there). My daughter & her husband (& now their little one as I'm now an official 'nana') live back here in So. Florida, but we're not done with Alaska yet.

    In the areas we visited (& some of us already lived for several years), i can't say enough how absolutely beautiful of a place it is filled with the most amazing people (an added bonus was way less types & quantity of insects & reptiles, though I mean no offense as I appreciate all animals; it just sometimes it gets overwhelming when you have to worry about running into alligators, snakes, & the insects want to invade one's home much more fervently with all the crazy rainstorms & increase in hurricanes in the last decade or so; I was living in Miami during Hurricane Andrew & as the Everglades disappear one can tell with all the new and/or extra species that one can encounter if one has lived here as long as my parents, say over 60 yrs). I just never thought I would end up somewhere like there, but now I'm not surprised as to why I might enjoy the vast change of climate more than I ever imagined; I recently found that my ancestry DNA indicates that I should genetically be well acclimated to the climate as my family has apparently lived in a similar climate as far back as the 9th century (that we could trace anyway on my maternal side; 16th century for my paternal side…both in very similar climates near high mountains in NW Europe).

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  11. "Alaska's climate was too harsh and unbearable for the Russians"

    Dear God, how frigging harsh is it up there anyways?
    Must be as harsh as Finland.
    PERKELE! 🇫🇮

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  12. I've always wondered what the story is behind Alaska's Panhandle, how Russia managed to carve out that very strategic extension along the Pacific coast that almost landlocked the British Territories in the northwest. Quite the feat of foresight especially with Russian military being stretched so thin, how did Britain miss just shoving its claim all the way to the coast?

    Triva :Juneau is the only State Capital that you cannot drive and is not on US Interstate Hwy System.
    Even Honolulu has an Interstate Hwy designation, Hawaii gas three Interstates in fact, the H1, H2, and H3.

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  13. If Alaska was owned by Russia then Canada would allow the USA to set up camp in the North. Either way the USA would have bases in the northern part of North America

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  14. It always amazes me how little country's like great Brittan France and Spain thought that could come over to a new continent and claim they own it

    Reply

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