Obviously something like a crisis was at hand with regard to these possessions. The existing government was not adequate.
Continuing The Alaska Purchase,
our selection from Charles Sumner’s Speech to the Senate During the Alaskan Treaty Ratification Debate in 1867. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Alaska Purchase.
Place: Washington, D.C.
Shortly afterward another influence was felt. Mr. Cole, who had recently been elected to the Senate from California, acting in behalf of certain persons in that State, sought to obtain from the Russian Government a license or franchise to gather furs in a portion of its American possessions. The charter of the Russian-American Company was about to expire. This company had already underlet to the Hudson Bay Company all its franchise on the mainland between 54° 40′ and Mount St. Elias; and now it was proposed that an American company, holding direct from the Russian Government, should be substituted for the latter. The mighty Hudson Bay Company, with its headquarters in London, was to give way to an American company, with its headquarters in California. Among the letters on this subject addressed to Mr. Cole and now before me is one dated at San Francisco, April 10, 1866, in which this scheme is developed as follows:
There is at the present time a good chance to organize a fur trading company to trade between the United States and the Russian possessions in America, and, as the charter formerly granted to the Hudson Bay Company has expired, this would be the opportune moment to start in. . . . I should think that by a little management this charter could be obtained from the Russian Government for ourselves, as I do not think they are very willing to renew the charter of the Hudson Bay Company, and I think they would give the preference to an American company, especially if the company should pay to the Russian Government 5 per cent. on the gross proceeds of their transactions, and also aid in civilizing and ameliorating the condition of the Indians by employing missionaries, if required by the Russian Government. For the faithful performance of the above we ask a charter for a term of twenty-five years, to be renewed for the same length of time if the Russian Government finds the company deserving. The charter to invest us with the right of trading in all the country between the British-American line and the Russian Archipelago. . . Remember, we wish for the same charter as was formerly granted to the Hudson Bay Company, and we offer in return more than they did.”
The Russian Minister at Washington, whom Mr. Cole saw, was not authorized to act, and the Department of State was induced to address Mr. Clay, Minister of the United States at St. Petersburg, who laid the application before the Russian Government. This was an important step. A letter from Mr. Clay, dated at St. Petersburg February 1, 1867, makes the following revelation:
The Russian Government has already ceded away its rights in Russian America for a term of years, and the Russo-American Company has also ceded the same to the Hudson Bay Company. This lease expires in June next, and the president of the Russo American Company tells me that they have been in correspondence with the Hudson Bay Company about a renewal of the lease for another term of twenty-five or thirty years. Until he receives a definite answer he cannot enter into negotiations with us or your California company. My opinion is that if he can get off with the Hudson Bay Company he will do so, when we can make arrangements with the Russo-American Company.”
In October, 1866, Mr. De Stoeckl, who had long been the Russian Minister at Washington, and who enjoyed in a high degree the confidence of our Government, returned home on leave of absence, promising his best exertions to promote good relations between the two countries. While he was at St. Petersburg the applications from the United States were under consideration; but the Russian Government was disinclined to any minor arrangement of the character proposed. Obviously something like a crisis was at hand with regard to these possessions. The existing government was not adequate. The franchises granted there were about to terminate. Something must be done. As Mr. De Stoeckl was leaving in February to return to his post, the Archduke Constantine, brother and chief adviser of the Emperor, handed him a map with the lines in our treaty marked upon it, and told him he might treat for this cession. The Minister arrived in Washington early in March, and a negotiation was opened at once with our Government. Final instructions were received by the Atlantic cable from St. Petersburg on March 29th, and at four o’clock on the morning of March 30th this important treaty was signed by Mr. Seward on the part of the United States and by Mr. De Stoeckl on the part of Russia.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history