Classic History Books

The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

Seward agreed, if Stoeckl would knock off the odd half million. Stoeckl accepted, on condition that
Seward add two hundred thousand as special compensation to the Russian American Company. It was

midnight of the 29th of March when $7,200,000 was made the price. Seward roused Sumner from bed,

and the three worked upon the form of a treaty until four o'clock in the morning. No captains of industry

could show greater decision.

The treaty, however, was not yet a fact. The Senate must approve, and its approval could not be taken for
granted. The temper of the majority of Americans toward expansion had changed. The experiences of the

later fifties had caused many to look upon expansion as a Southern heresy. Carl Schurz a little later

argued that we had already taken in all those regions the climate of which would allow healthy

self-government and that we should annex no tropics. Hamilton Fish, then Secretary of State, wrote in

1873 that popular sentiment was, for the time being, against all expansion. In fact, among the people of

the United States the idea was developing that expansion was contrary to their national policy, and their

indisposition to expand became almost a passion. They rejected Santo Domingo and the Danish Islands

and would not press any negotiations for Canada.

What saved the Alaska Treaty from a similar disapproval was not any conviction that Alaska was worth
seven million dollars, although Sumner convinced those who took the trouble to read, that the financial

bargain was not a bad one. The chief factor in the purchase of Alaska was almost pure sentiment.

Throughout American history there has been a powerful tradition of friendliness between Russia and the

United States, yet surely no two political systems have been in the past more diametrically opposed. The

chief ground for friendship has doubtless been the great intervening distance which has reduced

intercourse to a minimum. Some slight basis for congeniality existed in the fact that the interests of both

countries favored a similar policy of freedom upon the high seas. What chiefly influenced the public

mind, however, was the attitude which Russia had taken during the Civil War. When the Grand Duke

Alexis visited the United States in 1871, Oliver Wendell Holmes greeted him with the lines:

Bleak are our coasts with the blasts of December, Thrilling and warm are the hearts that remember Who
was our friend when the world was our foe.

This Russian friendship had presented itself dramatically to the public at a time when American relations
with Great Britain were strained, for Russian fleets had in 1863 suddenly appeared in the harbors of New

York and San Francisco. These visits were actually made with a sole regard for Russian interests and in

anticipation of the outbreak of a general European war, which the Czar then feared. The appearance of

the fleets, however, was for many years popularly supposed to signify sympathy with the Union and a

willingness to defend it from attack by Great Britain and France. Many conceived the ingenuous idea that

the purchase price of Alaska was really the American half of a secret bargain of which the fleets were the

Russian part. Public opinion, therefore, regarded the purchase of Alaska in the light of a favor to Russia

and demanded that the favor be granted.

Thus of all the schemes of expansion in the fifty years between the Mexican and the Spanish wars, for
the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 was really only a rectification of boundary, this alone came to fruition.

Seward could well congratulate himself on his alertness in seizing an opportunity and on his management

of the delicate political aspects of the purchase. Without his promptness the golden opportunity might

have passed and never recurred. Yet he could never have saved this fragment of his policy had not the

American people cherished for Russia a sentimental friendship which was intensified at the moment by

anger at the supposed sympathy of Great Britain for the South.


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