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#1
Old 10-04-2005, 04:11 PM
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Was Alaska never offered to Britain/Canada?

In 1867, Russia sold the territory of Alaska for a cool (very cool; it's freakin' Alaska don't you know) 7.2 million dollars to the United States. As far as I can tell, neither Great Britain nor pre-dominion Canada were ever made an offer. Here's a summary of the events leading up to the purchase, with some bolding added by me:
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In 1866, the Russian government offered to sell Alaska to the United States. Russia had held the territory since 1741, but by the mid-nineteenth century, British and American settlers were pressing Alaska's southern border, increasing the likelihood of territorial quarrels. Furthermore, the Russian treasury was short of funds. Accordingly, Baron Edouard de Stoeckl, the Russian minister to the United States, was instructed in December 1866 to negotiate the sale. He and [ U.S. ] Secretary of State William H. Seward worked out a treaty under which the United States would purchase Alaska for $7.2 million in gold. [...] Stoeckl received final approval of the treaty terms from his government on March 30, 1867.
There was some dithering on the American side before the treaty was fully approved, and a lot more dithering before the gold was actually handed over. (Ironically of course, lots of gold would be discovered in Alaska a couple decades afterward.) In any case, by 1868 Alaska was part of the United States.

It's always struck me peculiar that Alaska didn't end up with Canada. I understand that 1867 also happens to be the year the Dominion of Canada was formed, so in 1866-67 there probably was no central government in "Canada" for Russia to negotiate with. But there certainly was a Britain, ruling over British North America, which surely had the authority and the funds to buy Alaska, and would have been happy to grab the land.

Or would it? Maybe Britons felt they already had all the salmon and tundra they could eat, thank you very much, and passed on the opportunity without qualms. Or else, what seems to have happened, the Russians simply snubbed the Brits and dealt only with the Americans. That's an odd decision though, because letting the two countries bid against each other would have been to the Russians' advantage. Who knows, they could have sold the place for $10 million.

So then, why didn't Britain buy Alaska for Canada, ultimately? Did they ever have the chance to?
#2
Old 10-04-2005, 04:36 PM
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Remember Russia had fought Britain in the Crimean War (1854-1856) only 11 years earlier. I would think Russia would not want to hand Alaska to a potential European rival. The US at the time would not have been perceived as a possible threat to European Russia.
#3
Old 10-04-2005, 04:38 PM
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I have to admit I don't know the specifics about Alaska purchase so I might be wrong here, but the political situation leading to it has always seemed a pretty straightforward one for me: After stealing lots of land from China and founding Vladivostok in Asia, Russia wanted to get rid of Alaska which was unprofitable trade colony due to the transportation costs. Russia and USA are friendly; in fact, these two countries have always had reasonably good relationship between them, except the Soviet Union period (ok, that's quite an exception, but anyway). In addition, Russia and USA don't have any conflicting interests just about anywhere in the world, and Russians don't have to worry about Americans using Alaska as an invasion launching base, unlike they would if one of their European fellow great powers had it.

Now contrast this to Britain: in 1860s it's the world's leading superpower, especially on the sea. Less than 10 years ago, Russia was beaten pretty badly by a coalition of Britain and France in the Crimean War (some of the fighting took place in the Pacific coasts). It's safe to say that Russo-British relations are still less than cordial. If you were leading Russia in 1866, would you really want to give the Englishman even more potential power, and a colony near your very borders?

So, to answer the question: No, I don't think Russia considered selling Alaska to Britain. They simply would've thought it too dangerous for their own interests.
#4
Old 10-04-2005, 04:40 PM
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From a recap of the purchase buried within our State Department:
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Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in 1859, believing the United States would off-set the designs of Russia's greatest rival in the Pacific, Great Britain.
Apparently it was as simple as playing one country against another. And on preview, that corresponds pretty well with what other people have said.
#5
Old 10-04-2005, 04:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lno
From a recap of the purchase buried within our State Department:Apparently it was as simple as playing one country against another. And on preview, that corresponds pretty well with what other people have said.
It worked, too. I've been reading A History of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which notes that the sale of Alaska to the US, along with the popular view of "manifest destiny" in the US, made the British (and, later, the Dominion of Canada) very nervous. It was quite reasonable feared that with Alaska snatched up, the US would be coming after British Columbia and Vancouver next. That's why it was so important to bring BC into the Dominion, one of the province's stipulations being that the Canadian government provide a rail connection to the east. (And of course, the Canadian government wanted to make sure that it was a Canadian line, not one that cut through the US).

Kind of a tangent to the OP, but I thought it was interesting...
#6
Old 10-04-2005, 07:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
Remember Russia had fought Britain in the Crimean War (1854-1856) only 11 years earlier. I would think Russia would not want to hand Alaska to a potential European rival. The US at the time would not have been perceived as a possible threat to European Russia.
And then, Canada wasn't actually a country then, was it? Given the geopolitical situation of the time, I think the only likely choices would have been either the U.S., or Great Britain, which would have been an unlikely choice as mentioned.
#7
Old 10-04-2005, 08:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eurograff
Russia and USA are friendly; in fact, these two countries have always had reasonably good relationship between them, except the Soviet Union period (ok, that's quite an exception, but anyway).
Very true. Remember that Russia was the only major power to support the North during the Civil War (1861-1865). In fact, I believe they offered Lincoln a naval fleet as an ally which he turned down for political reasons. We sent our military to Archangel during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1922 (so yes, the US has invaded the Soviet Union; this is a major reason why the Soviets never trusted the US) but by then it was too late to save Tsarist Russia.
#8
Old 10-04-2005, 08:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SaintCad
Remember that Russia was the only major power to support the North during the Civil War (1861-1865). In fact, I believe they offered Lincoln a naval fleet as an ally which he turned down for political reasons.
However it is worth mentioning that this was more in the context of cynical realpolitik. Russia did indeed overwinter fleets in San Francisco and New York in 1863, but primarily to keep them in ice-free environs and free for action against GB and/or France in a period where it feared the possibility of a European war.

-Tamerlane
#9
Old 10-04-2005, 09:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Tamerlane
However it is worth mentioning that this was more in the context of cynical realpolitik. Russia did indeed overwinter fleets in San Francisco and New York in 1863, but primarily to keep them in ice-free environs and free for action against GB and/or France in a period where it feared the possibility of a European war.
Which is why I didn't mention the fleets in NYC. It was more for Russia's benefit than the US. But I think that it is important to note that it would have been very easy for Russia to declare neutrality given that there was a real possibility (at least early on) the Britain and France would actively enter the war in support of the CSA. This alliance was worthless militarily but it was very important in geopolitics and helped strengthen US-Russia relations.
#10
Old 10-05-2005, 10:59 AM
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Yes, and the Russian fleets were warmly welcomed when they visited, too. The officers and crew were very hospitably wined and dined. Northerners liked knowing that they had friends overseas when the Civil War was going poorly for the U.S., and Britain and France were flirting with granting the Confederacy diplomatic recognition.
#11
Old 10-05-2005, 12:43 PM
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Ah, of course, the Crimean War. The Russians were still in their Crimean War Syndrome phase. It makes a lot more sense now.

I want to thank everyone who's addressed the question so far, without discouraging anyone else from piping in. The side topics too are interesting. (I had no idea we ever harbored Russian Navy vessels, for example.)
#12
Old 10-05-2005, 12:46 PM
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I've sometimes wondered if the US could buy the Kamchaka Penninsula.

Today.
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