Tsar's Ratification of the Alaska Purchase Treaty

The original treaty for the purchase of Alaska by the United States from the Russian Empire, written in parallel columns in French and English, is presented here with the signatures of U.S. secretary of state William H. Seward and the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl. The diplomatic language of the Russian imperial court was French, so there was no official Russian version of the treaty. The Russian tsar, Alexander II, affixed his signature at the end of this copy of the treaty following a short commentary on his ratification in Russian. This version includes a lengthy listing of the tsar’s historical titles in Russian on the first page, which is absent in the American copy. Following consent by the U.S. Senate, President Andrew Johnson signed an equivalent ratification on June 20, 1867. The subsequent Certificate of Exchange noted minor textual changes in the English and French versions of the treaty. The U.S. House of Representatives failed to appropriate funds for the Alaska Purchase for more than a year, on account of internal American political opposition and the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. Alaska became United States territory on October 18, 1867. The U.S. government finally issued a treasury warrant to Russia for payment for Alaska on August 1, 1868.

French Translation of the Tsar's Ratification of the Alaska Purchase Treaty

The Russian tsar, Alexander II, affixed his signature at the end of this copy of the Alaska purchase treaty following a short commentary on his ratification in Russian. This copy includes a lengthy listing of the tsar’s historical titles in Russian on the first page, which is absent in the American version. Since both of these portions of the ratified text in the tsar’s copy were written in Russian, they subsequently were translated into French. The diplomatic language of the Russian imperial court was French, so this constituted standard practice. Following consent by the U.S. Senate, President Andrew Johnson signed an equivalent ratification on June 20, 1867. The subsequent Certificate of Exchange noted minor textual changes in the English and French versions of the treaty. The U.S. House of Representatives failed to appropriate funds for the Alaska Purchase for more than a year, on account of internal American political opposition and the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. Alaska became United States territory on October 18, 1867. The U.S. government finally issued a treasury warrant to Russia for payment for Alaska on August 1, 1868.

Senate Ratification of the Treaty on Cession of the Territory of Alaska

Under the provisions of the U.S. Constitution relating to treaties, the U.S. Senate is required to give its advice and consent, by a two-thirds vote, for any treaty to be ratified and become law. On April 9, 1867, the Senate gave its advice and consent to the Alaska Purchase treaty by the necessary number of votes. Shown here is the notification, by John W. Forney, Chief Clerk, of the Senate’s action. Secretary of State William H. Seward relied on a number of supporters within the Senate to provide the political momentum for the purchase. Prominent among these was Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, who gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate in support of the acquisition. In spite of his lofty rhetoric, Sumner was largely spurred by political calculation. The Russians had for years set a boundary that limited foreign fishing and whaling access to Alaskan waters. Yankee whalers sought unimpeded entry to new whaling grounds in Alaskan waters in both the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, especially since decades of intensive whaling had devastated whale stocks elsewhere. The global center of commercial whaling in the 19th century was southeastern Massachusetts, especially Nantucket and New Bedford. The whaling constituency was formidable at the state capitol on Beacon Hill in Boston and lobbied Sumner and other local politicians in support of the Alaska purchase. West coast fishing interests were also eager to gain access to the vast ocean expanses near Alaska, and this gained the votes of some Western senators. Bribery proved to be a part of the voting process as well, as the Russian ambassador in Washington paid secret kickbacks to select congressmen to secure their votes in favor of the purchase. Although pained by such corruption, Seward subsequently acknowledged its role to President Andrew Johnson.

Original of Treaty with Russia for Cession of Alaska

The original treaty for the purchase of Alaska by the United States, written in parallel columns in English and French, is presented here with the signatures of the U.S. secretary of state William H. Seward and the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl. The diplomatic language of the Russian imperial court was French, so there was no official Russian version of the treaty. Following consent by the U.S. Senate, President Andrew Johnson affixed his signature to the end of this copy of the treaty on June 20, 1867. The Russian tsar, Alexander II, signed an equivalent ratification. The subsequent Certificate of Exchange noted minor textual changes in the English and French versions of the treaty. The U.S. House of Representatives failed to appropriate funds for the Alaska Purchase for more than a year, on account of internal American political opposition and the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. Alaska became United States territory on October 18, 1867. The U.S. government finally issued a treasury warrant to Russia for payment for Alaska on August 1, 1868.

Certificate of Exchange

On June 20, 1867, U.S. secretary of State William H. Seward and the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, exchanged the official instruments of ratification of the Alaska purchase treaty in Washington, D.C. While the Russian government rubber-stamped the tsar’s authorization of the treaty, under the terms of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Senate had to consent to the treaty on the American side. The final exchange of ratified treaties took place approximately three months after the signing of the agreement in late March. This Certificate of Exchange notes that the two ratification texts were checked against each other, and then against the original text of the treaty. The Russian and American governments agreed to minor textual variations in the respective English and French versions of the treaty. Aside from their signatures, Seward and de Stoeckl affixed their respective governmental seals to the certificate. This exchange marked the conclusion of the treaty process, and Alaska became United States territory on October 18, 1867, even though the U.S. House of Representatives still had to appropriate the funds for the purchase. Internal American politics swirling around the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson delayed the authorization of funding for more than a year, causing irritation in Saint Petersburg and giving rise to complaints from the Russian government. The money ultimately was appropriated and final payment for the Alaska purchase was issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on August 1, 1868.

Draft for Payment for the Purchase of Alaska

In 1866 the Russian government offered to sell the territory of Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William H. Seward, enthusiastic about the prospect of American expansion, negotiated the deal for the U.S. government. Eduard de Stoeckl, Russian minister to the United States, negotiated for the Russians. On March 30, 1867, the two parties agreed that the United States would pay Russia $7.2 million for the territory. For less than two cents an acre, the United States acquired nearly 600,000 square miles (1.55 million square kilometers) of new territory. At the time, critics of the purchase called it “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.” Payment for Alaska, which by law required an appropriation of funds by the U.S. Congress, was delayed for a time by internal American political opposition and by the political wrangling that surrounded the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. The U.S. government finally issued a treasury warrant for the Alaska purchase on August 1, 1868, a full 16 months after the treaty had been signed by Seward and de Stoeckl. This note certifies receipt of $7.2 million by the Russian minister in fulfillment of the Alaska purchase, which he subsequently received in gold coin from the Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.

Treasury Warrant in the Amount of $7.2 Million for the Purchase of Alaska

On the night of March 29−30, 1867, U.S. secretary of State William H. Seward conducted the final negotiations and signed the treaty for the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire with the Russian minister in Washington, Eduard de Stoeckl. After years of advocating the expansion of the United States through the acquisition of various territories, Seward finally had acquired a major new territory in fulfillment of what he believed was the country’s “Manifest Destiny.” The U.S. Senate soon voted its consent to the treaty, but appropriation of the $7.2 million needed to complete the purchase was delayed in the House of Representatives. The treasury warrant for the purchase, as seen here, was not issued until August 1, 1868, a full 16 months after Seward and the Russian minister had signed the treaty. The tsarist autocracy required no substantive ratification procedure or internal political agreement, and the Russians were aggravated by the lengthy approval process on the U.S. side. Following the purchase, the United States for the most part ignored its new territory for another 30 years until the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, when Alaska’s vast economic potential suddenly became apparent.

An Island South of Muir Glacier

This image is from the album of photographs compiled by Albert K. Fisher (1856−1948) to document the Harriman Expedition that explored the coast of Alaska in June and July of 1899. Fisher was an ornithologist and vertebrate zoologist who participated in many important scientific expeditions to the American West, including the Death Valley expedition of 1891 and biological surveys in California, Nevada, the Arizona Territory (including New Mexico), Utah, and portions of other western states in 1892. Fisher was also a member of the Harriman Expedition. The photograph is one of 386 preserved in a 127-page album held in the Albert K. Fisher Papers at the Library of Congress. The primary photographer on the expedition was Edward Curtis (1868‒1952). Other photographers and scientists whose images are included in the album are Clinton Hart Merriam, W.H. Averell, Edwin Chapin Starks, Grove Karl Gilbert, Walter Devereux, and Fisher himself. Funded and accompanied by railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman (1848–1909), the expedition, or "floating university" as it was called, included famous scientists, naturalists, artists, writers, and photographers. The results of the expedition’s scientific and ethnological investigations filled 13 volumes that were published between 1901 and 1914. Most of the images in the album are of the Alaska coast, Kodiak, and the Aleutian Islands, but it also includes scenes from the beginning of the expedition in Wyoming, Idaho and on the Snake River in Oregon and in British Columbia, as well as views of Plover Bay, Siberia, which the expedition visited briefly in July 1899.

Gulls on an Iceberg in Glacier Bay, Alaska

This image is from the album of photographs compiled by Albert K. Fisher (1856−1948) to document the Harriman Expedition that explored the coast of Alaska in June and July of 1899. Fisher was an ornithologist and vertebrate zoologist who participated in many important scientific expeditions to the American West, including the Death Valley expedition of 1891 and biological surveys in California, Nevada, the Arizona Territory (including New Mexico), Utah, and portions of other western states in 1892. Fisher was also a member of the Harriman Expedition. The photograph is one of 386 preserved in a 127-page album held in the Albert K. Fisher Papers at the Library of Congress. The primary photographer on the expedition was Edward Curtis (1868‒1952). Other photographers and scientists whose images are included in the album are Clinton Hart Merriam, W.H. Averell, Edwin Chapin Starks, Grove Karl Gilbert, Walter Devereux, and Fisher himself. Funded and accompanied by railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman (1848–1909), the expedition, or "floating university" as it was called, included famous scientists, naturalists, artists, writers, and photographers. The results of the expedition’s scientific and ethnological investigations filled 13 volumes that were published between 1901 and 1914. Most of the images in the album are of the Alaska coast, Kodiak, and the Aleutian Islands, but it also includes scenes from the beginning of the expedition in Wyoming, Idaho and on the Snake River in Oregon and in British Columbia, as well as views of Plover Bay, Siberia, which the expedition visited briefly in July 1899.

Expedition Members in a Sealing Canoe. Yakutat, Alaska

This image is from the album of photographs compiled by Albert K. Fisher (1856−1948) to document the Harriman Expedition that explored the coast of Alaska in June and July of 1899. Fisher was an ornithologist and vertebrate zoologist who participated in many important scientific expeditions to the American West, including the Death Valley expedition of 1891 and biological surveys in California, Nevada, the Arizona Territory (including New Mexico), Utah, and portions of other western states in 1892. Fisher was also a member of the Harriman Expedition. The photograph is one of 386 preserved in a 127-page album held in the Albert K. Fisher Papers at the Library of Congress. The primary photographer on the expedition was Edward Curtis (1868‒1952). Other photographers and scientists whose images are included in the album are Clinton Hart Merriam, W.H. Averell, Edwin Chapin Starks, Grove Karl Gilbert, Walter Devereux, and Fisher himself. Funded and accompanied by railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman (1848–1909), the expedition, or "floating university" as it was called, included famous scientists, naturalists, artists, writers, and photographers. The results of the expedition’s scientific and ethnological investigations filled 13 volumes that were published between 1901 and 1914. Most of the images in the album are of the Alaska coast, Kodiak, and the Aleutian Islands, but it also includes scenes from the beginning of the expedition in Wyoming, Idaho and on the Snake River in Oregon and in British Columbia, as well as views of Plover Bay, Siberia, which the expedition visited briefly in July 1899.