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The Alaska Purchase was the United States' acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867 by a treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate. Russia wanted to sell its Alaskan territory, fearing that it might be seized if war broke out with Britain. Russia's primary activities in the territory had been fur trade and missionary work among the Native Alaskans. At first Russia attempted to sell Alaska to the US company Western Union, which had explored the region when making the Russian–American Telegraph line. The land was eventually sold to the United States, the purchase of which added 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of new territory to the country. Reactions to the purchase in the United States were mixed, with some opponents calling it "Seward's folly" while many others praised the move for weakening both Britain and Russia as rivals to American commercial expansion in the Pacific region. The purchase threatened British control of its Pacific coast colony, giving added impetus to Canadian Confederation, which was realized just three months later, in July 1867. The Dominion of Canada would welcome British Columbia to confederation in 1871, ending U.S. hopes of annexation and an uninterrupted connection of Alaska to the United States. Originally organized as the Department of Alaska, the area was renamed the District of Alaska and the Alaska Territory before becoming the modern state of Alaska upon being admitted to the Union as a state in 1959.
Russia was in a difficult financial position and feared losing Russian America without compensation in some future conflict, especially to the British, whom they had fought in the Crimean War (1853–1856). While Alaska attracted little interest at the time, the population of nearby British Columbia started to increase rapidly a few years after hostilities ended, with a large gold rush there prompting the creation of a British crown colony on the mainland in addition to the one that was already established on Vancouver Island, where the French and British fleets had retreated after the Battle of Petropavlovsk in the Russian Far East. The Russians decided that in any future war with Britain, their hard-to-defend colony might become a prime target, and would be easily captured. Therefore, the Russian emperor, Alexander II, decided to sell the territory. Perhaps in the hope of starting a bidding war, both the British and the Americans were approached. However, the British expressed little interest in buying Alaska. In 1859 the Russians offered to sell the territory to the United States, hoping that its presence in the region would offset the plans of Russia's greatest regional rival, Great Britain. However, no deal was reached, as the American Civil War was a more pressing concern in Washington. Grand Duke Konstantin, a younger brother of the Tsar, began to press for the handover of Russian America to the United States in 1857. In a memorandum to Foreign Minister Alexander Gorchakov he stated that "we must not deceive ourselves and must foresee that the United States, aiming constantly to round out their possessions and desiring to dominate undividedly the whole of North America will take the afore-mentioned colonies from us and we shall not be able to regain them." This proposal was a topic in the higher echelons of the Russian government throughout 1857 and 1858. Konstantin's letter was shown to his brother, Tsar Alexander II, who wrote "this idea is worth considering" on the front page. Supporters of Konstantin's proposal to immediately withdraw from North America included Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin and the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl. Gorchakov agreed with the necessity of abandoning Russian America, but argued for a gradual process leading to its sale. He found a supporter in the naval minister and former chief manager of the Russian-American Company (RAC), Ferdinand von Wrangel. Wrangel pressed for some proceeds to be invested in the economic development of Kamchatka and the Amur Basin. The Emperor eventually sided with Gorchakov, deciding to postpone negotiations until the end of the RAC's patent, set to expire in 1861. Over the winter of 1859-1860 De Stoeckl held meetings with American officials, though he had been instructed not to initiate discussions about the sale of the RAC assets. Communicating primarily with Assistant Secretary of State John Appleton and Senator William M. Gwin, De Stoeckl reported the interest expressed by the Americans in acquiring Russian America. While President James Buchanan kept these hearings informal, preparations were made for further negotiations. Senator Gwin tendered a hypothetical[clarification needed] offer of five million dollars for the Russian colony, a figure Gorchakov found far too low. De Stoeckl informed Appleton and Gwin of this, the latter saying that his Congressional colleagues in Oregon and California would support a larger figure. Buchanan's increasingly unpopular presidency forced the matter to be shelved until a new presidential election. With the oncoming American Civil War, De Stoeckl proposed a renewal of the RAC's charter. Two of its ports were to be open to foreign traders and commercial agreements with Peru and Chile to be signed to give "a fresh jolt" to the company. Additionally, the Russian Crown sought to repay money to its landowners after its emancipation reform of 1861 and borrowed 15 million pounds sterling from Rothschilds at 5% annually. When the time came to repay the loan, the Russian government was short of funds. Russia continued to see an opportunity to weaken British power by causing British Columbia, including the Royal Navy base at Esquimalt, to be surrounded or annexed by American territory. Following the Union victory in the civil war, the Tsar instructed the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, to re-enter into negotiations with William Seward in the beginning of March 1867. The negotiations concluded after an all-night session with the signing of the treaty at 04:00 on March 30, 1867, with the purchase price set at $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre ($4.74/km2). American public opinion was not universally positive; to some the purchase was known as "Seward's folly". Nonetheless, most newspaper editors argued that the U.S. would probably derive great economic benefits from the purchase; friendship with Russia was important; and it would facilitate the acquisition of British Columbia. Forty-five percent of newspapers endorsing the purchase cited the increased potential for annexing British Columbia in their support. Historian Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer summarized the minority opinion of some American newspaper editors who opposed the purchase: Already, so it was said, we were burdened with territory we had no population to fill. The Indians within the present boundaries of the republic strained our power to govern aboriginal peoples. Could it be that we would now, with open eyes, seek to add to our difficulties by increasing the number of such peoples under our national care? The purchase price was small; the annual charges for administration, civil and military, would be yet greater, and continuing. The territory included in the proposed cession was not contiguous to the national domain. It lay away at an inconvenient and a dangerous distance. The treaty had been secretly prepared, and signed and foisted upon the country at one o'clock in the morning. It was a dark deed done in the night… The New York World said that it was a "sucked orange." It contained nothing of value but furbearing animals, and these had been hunted until they were nearly extinct. Except for the Aleutian Islands and a narrow strip of land extending along the southern coast the country would be not worth taking as a gift… Unless gold were found in the country much time would elapse before it would be blessed with Hoe printing presses, Methodist chapels and a metropolitan police. It was "a frozen wilderness."