Why Did Russia Sell Alaska to the United States?

In 1867, Alaska was sold by the Russian Empire to the United States of America for 7.2 million dollars, an event that is often regarded as a mere footnote in history. However, the purchase of Alaska has been the subject of much debate and discussion over the years. This blog post will explore the reasons behind Russia’s decision to sell Alaska, why they sold it to the United States, and what made the sale necessary.

Reasons for the Sale of Alaska

The primary reason for the sale of Alaska was Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War. The war had a significant impact on the Russian Empire, both economically and militarily. The cost of the war had largely bankrupted Russia, and they were struggling to repay the debts that they had racked up in order to fight it. Additionally, the victories of the Royal Navy over the modernizing Russian Navy had made it clear that Russia had a long way to go before it could challenge Britain at sea. The Russian leadership realized that should another war break out, there was little to stop Britain from conquering the territory via Canada. As such, the sale of Alaska was seen as a necessary move to prevent a potential loss of territory to Britain.

The Territory of Alaska

At the time of the sale, Alaska was known as Russian America. The territory provided the Russian Empire with prestige for owning an overseas territory, but the economic benefits were mixed. Alaska was a difficult territory to protect, and the costs associated with its defense outweighed its economic benefits. The sale of Alaska was seen as a way to alleviate the burden on the Russian Empire’s finances.

Why the United States?

When considering potential buyers for the territory, Britain was an obvious choice. However, Russia and Britain were imperial rivals, and giving Britain a large coastline so close to Russia was potentially dangerous. Additionally, Canada was already a vast territory, and Britain had sufficient access to the Pacific Ocean. The United States of America was the only likely candidate for the purchase. The U.S. had already expressed interest in buying Alaska in the early 1860s, but due to the American Civil War, negotiations were put on hold. After the war ended, the purchase of Alaska was seen as a useful distraction for the U.S. and a way for Russia to maintain good relations with an ally.

The Negotiations

Russia sent a team of surveyors to Alaska to assess the territory’s natural resources and the quality of life. The surveyors determined that Alaska was worth about ten million dollars, but they also suggested that the governance of the territory could be reformed instead of selling it. However, the Russian Emperor ignored this suggestion, and negotiations between the U.S. and Russia continued until a price of 7.2 million dollars was agreed upon.

The purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867 was a significant event in the history of both countries. The sale of Alaska was necessary for Russia due to their defeat in the Crimean War, and the United States was the only likely candidate for the purchase due to their existing relations with Russia. While the purchase price may have been lower than the initial estimate, it was still a significant amount at the time. The sale of Alaska has been the subject of much debate and discussion, but it ultimately allowed the United States to expand its territory and provided Russia with a way to alleviate the financial burden associated with the territory’s defence.

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