How Did the US Acquire Alaska: The Purchase of 1867 Explained

The U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, expanding territory and strategic influence.

Historical Context of Alaska’s Acquisition

The acquisition of Alaska by the United States in 1867 marked a significant expansion of American territory and influence.

This event occurred during a time of significant change and strategic interest for both the Russian Empire and the burgeoning United States.

The Push for Expansion

Following the American Civil War, the United States, under President Andrew Johnson, was driven by the concept of Manifest Destiny, a belief in the inevitable expansion of U.S. territory across North America.

This period saw continued westward movement and the consolidation of the union.

Alaska’s Pre-Purchase Significance

Prior to its purchase, Alaska, known then as Russian America, was a territory loosely controlled by Russia.

The expansive region, which included the Aleutian Islands and stretched down to the northern part of the Pacific coast, was rich in fur-bearing animals, fisheries, and had strategic importance due to its proximity to both Russia’s Siberian territories and the Pacific.

Motivations Behind the Purchase

Negotiations for Alaska’s transfer were stimulated by a variety of factors.

The Russian Empire, weakened financially after the Crimean War and concerned about being able to defend distant Alaska, was willing to sell the territory.

Additionally, Russia preferred an American purchase over risking Alaska falling into British hands.

Secretary of State William H. Seward and Russian Minister Edouard de Stoeckl led the negotiations, culminating in the Treaty of Cession.

The treaty, ratified by Congress, had the United States compensate the Russian Empire $7.2 million—about two cents an acre—for the region.

The purchase was initially met with skepticism but over time proved to be a strategic and resource-rich addition to the United States.

The United States’ Administration of Alaska

The United States acquired Alaska from Russia in 1867 through a treaty for $7.2 million

Following the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, the United States took on the task of establishing governance and incorporating the vast territory, eventually leading to its statehood and the development of its abundant natural resources.

The Treaty of Cession and Its Aftermath

The transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States was formalized by the Alaska Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Cession, signed on March 30, 1867.

Secretary of State William Seward and Russian envoy Eduard de Stoeckl were integral to the negotiation.

The U.S. Senate ratified this agreement, and the U.S. formally took control in a ceremony at Sitka on October 18, 1867.

Initially called “Seward’s Folly” due to skepticism about its value, Alaska proved to be a treasure trove of resources like gold and oil.

However, American administration began awkwardly, with military rule followed by a civil government only slowly establishing order.

Alaska’s Path to Statehood

Alaska’s journey to becoming the 49th state began with the region operating as a district without voting rights in Congress after a civil government was established in 1884.

It wasn’t until January 3, 1959, that Alaska achieved full statehood.

This transition recognized Alaska’s growing population and economic importance, fueled in part by the Klondike Gold Rush and later the potential for oil exploitation.

Statehood granted full political rights to residents and provided a more structured platform for the management and development of the state.

Economic and Strategic Impact

Alaska has rich natural resources, including oil, gold, and seafood, which have been significant to its economy.

The gold rush in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the first major economic boost.

Following the discovery of oil, particularly after the establishment of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, crude oil production became a leading industry.

Strategically, Alaska’s proximity to Russia and location in the Bering Sea gives the U.S. a vital stance on the Pacific Coast.

During World War II and throughout the Cold War, Alaska held considerable military significance, and it continues to be an important region for national defense.