MOSCOW, October 18. /TASS/. October 18, 2017, marks exactly 150 years since the cession of Russian possessions in North America to the U.S. in line with a treaty, which the two countries signed on March 30, 1867.
The U.S. ratified the document on May 28, 1867.
The official ceremony of the changeover to U.S. jurisdiction took place in a settlement known today as the town of Sitka.
Russian explorers Mikhail Gvozdev and Ivan Fyorodov discovered Alaska in the course of an expedition on the ship Svyatoi Gavriil [St Gabriel] in 1732. The Second Kamchatkan expedition of Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov explored the peninsula in more detail in 1741.
An expedition led by Grigory Shelikov arrived at Kodiak Island in 1784, thus heralding a period of Russian America. From 1799 through to 1867, Alaska and the adjoining islands stayed under the sway of the Russian-American Company that organized the study and charting of the peninsula from 1825 through 1860.
The indigenous tribes falling into dependence on the company were obliged to make up ‘game teams’ and to hunt for furred animals under the guidance of the company’s overseers.
First Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived in Alaska in 1794. The diocese of Kamchatka, the Kuriles and Aleutian Lands was established in 1840. It was reorganized in 1852 into the New Arkhangelsk Vicariate of the Kamchatka diocese. By 1867, Alaska had about 12,000 Orthodox Christians from among the indigenous ethnic groups.
New Arkhangelsk [currently Sitka] was the administrative center of the Russian possessions in North America, the borders of which were legitimized by the 1824 treaty with the U.S. and the 1825 treaty with the British Empire. Their total territory reached almost 1.5 million sq. km. The Russian population of the vast area stood at around 1,000 persons.
An idea of selling Alaska to the U.S. emerged for the first time in spring 1853. It came from the Governor General of Eastern Siberia, Nikolai Muravyov-Amursky, who sent a memorandum to
Emperor Nicholas I believed it was important for Russia to cede the North American possessions, as this country would not have either military or economic capability to defend them against the U.S. ambitions.
Gen Muravyov-Amursky proposed to concentrate efforts on development of the Far East instead.
The idea found a powerful supporter, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, a younger brother of the future Emperor Alexander II. Duke Konstantin was President of the State Council and the Maritime Minister. He made the first official presentation of the proposal for selling Alaska on April 3 [March 22 Old Style], 1857, in a letter to Chancellor [Foreign Minister] Alexander Gorchakov.
The arguments the duke put forward included the constricted financial situation and the believably small revenues from the American territories.
He also made a wise observation, writing: "There should be no deceiving ourselves, as we must foresee a situation where the United States, which is seeking permanently to expand its possessions and to establish unchallenged domination in North America, will take these colonies away from us while we will be unable to return them."
Emperor Alexander II supported his brother’s proposal and Chancellor Gorchakov endorsed it, too. He recommended, however, to take slow action on the issue and to put it off until 1862. The Russian ambassador to the U.S., Edouard de Stoeckl received an instruction "to make inquiries about the opinion of the Washington cabinet on this subject."
Duke Konstantin unfolded a campaign to oppose the operations of the Russian-American Company. In 1860, he organized an official scrutiny of the company’s operating costs and revenues. The latter turned out to be solid enough, about 430,000 silver rubles annually, but still the Grand Duke and the Finance Minister, Mikhail Reitern, managed to put brake on the transfer of rights to the company to explore and develop the island of Sakhalin. Many of the company’s trade benefits were revoked and this entailed a notable deterioration of its financial performance.
On December 28, 1866, the Russian Foreign Ministry in St Petersburg held a special conference on the sale of Russian possessions in North America. Emperor Alexander II, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, Finance Minister Mikhail Reitern, Naval Minister Nikolai Krabbe, and Baron Edouard de Stoeckl attended it.
The conference voted unanimously for ceding Alaska to the U.S. but the decision would be kept confidential. The degree of confidentiality was so high that Defense Minister Dmitry Milyutin learned about it from British newspapers. As for the board of the Russian-American Company, it received a notification on the deal a whole three weeks after an agreement with the U.S. government had been signed.
On March 30, Ambassador De Stoeckl and U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward signed the Treaty of Cession of Alaska for $ 7.2 million (or more than 11 million Russian rubles), which the U.S. pledged to pay within ten months. The amount contrasted notably with the estimated value of the Russian possessions in America, which Ferdinand Wrangel, the chief governor of Russian colonies in America put at 27.4 million rubles in April 1857.
The treaty was compiled in English and French. The U.S. received the entire Alaska Peninsula, the Alexander and Kodiak archipelagos, the Aleutian chain of islands, and several islands in the Bering Sea. The total land surface area sold to the U.S. stood at 1.519 million sq. km. Under the treaty, Russia ceded to the U.S. for a song all the properties of the Russian-American Company, inclusive of buildings and installations but exclusive of churches, and pledged to withdraw its troops.
The indigenous population of the new territories transferred to the U.S. jurisdiction but Russian colonists received the right to move to Russia over a period of several years. The Russian-American Company was disbanded and its shareholders received insignificant bonuses, the payment of which dragged on almost into the 1880’s.
Alexander II signed the document on May 15, 1867. On October 1867, the Governing Senate issued a decree on implementation of the treaty and published its Russian text in the Full Code of Laws of the Russian Empire.
U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on May 3, 1867 and an exchange of ratification instruments between the two countries took place in Washington on June 20.
The official ceremony of handover of Alaska to the U.S. sovereign ownership was held in New Arkhangelsk. To the accompaniment of cannon salutes, the officials hauled down the Russian flag and hoisted the American one.
The special governmental commissioner, Captain 2nd Rank Alexei Peshchurov, signed the transfer protocol on behalf of the Russian Empire. General Lovell Harrison Rousseau was the signatory on the part of the U.S.
U.S. Congress endorsed a decision on paying the monies to Russia on July 27, 1868. Bribes that Ambassador De Stoeckl gave to Senators took away $ 165,000 out of the amount.
In January 1868, sixty-nine soldiers and officers of the New Arkhangelsk garrison were evacuated to Nikolayevsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East. The last group of 30 Russians left Alaska on the Winged Arrow ship, specially purchased for the operation, on November 20, 1868. It eventually brought them to the Kronstadt naval base located on an island in the Gulf of Finland 17 nautical miles away from St Petersburg.
At the same time, fifteen Russians accepted U.S. citizenship.