Alaska In the late 19th century and early 20th century, new u.s territorial ambitions and acquisitions in the Western hemisphere and pacific accompanied heightened public debates over America's Role in the world.

In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. (Seward's Icebox)
Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1900
Alaskan Highway completed 1942

The Alaskan Purchase

Letter of Hon. Joseph S. Wilson, Commissioner of the General

Department of the Interior, General Land Office, May 12 1868.

Hon. N. P. Banks, Chairman Committee of Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives:

Sir: Referring to our conversation and your oral request of a few days ago in reference to our Russian purchase, concluded on 30th March, 1867, by treaty with the Emperor, I have the honor to present the following in regard to the importance to this Republic of that purchase.

The acquisition of this territory is essential to the full success of that career of wonderful progress upon which the United States have lately entered. Its continental position commands the navigation and commerce of the North Pacific, placing us almost in contact with the massive and hoary continent of Asia, whose garnered wealth, the product of her peculiar industry during the entire period of human history, it has ever been the ambition of Western nations to absorb by means of a monopoly of her trade. It gives her also a hold upon the coast of the great circumpolar ocean, the importance of which, as yet imperfectly appreciated in the country, is awakening very great interest in Europe. England, Denmark, Sweden, France, and Germany are contemplating and organizing movements looking to the exploration and occupancy of the unappropriated northern regions of this continent—movements which it becomes us to watch with jealousy, and promptly circumvent. Judged from this standpoint alone, and supposing the entire country of Alaska to be a mere polar desert and utterly uninhabitable, the developments of a very few years will show that the acquisition of this territory at the stipulated price is one of the most advantageous arrangements that our diplomacy ever secured.

But this violent and groundless supposition as to the character of Alaska is contradicted by facts of the most satisfactory nature. In the first place observation has long shown a higher range of climatic temperature upon the Pacific than upon the Atlantic coast of this continent within the same parallels.

Many years ago science demonstrated the cause of the ameliorated climates of Western Europe in that wonderful current of warm water rushing from the Gulf of Mexico diagonally across the Atlantic, called the Gulf Stream. Later scientific explorations have shown in the Pacific ocean an analagous current, called by the Japanese the “ Kuro Siur ,” or B ? ack Stream, and by navigators the Japan current, striking our north western coast nearly midway between Vancouver's Island and Sitka Island. The narrowness of Behring's strait and the consequent smaller volume of reactionary Arctic currents which are deflected still further west by the projecting a leutian islands, permit the almost unabated influence of this Japan current in raising the temperature of the southern coast of Alaska

The influence of this stream is well developed in the “General Examination of the Pacific Ocean,” by Captain Kerhallet, of the French Imperial navy. The fact of this higher temperature has been stated by numerous and reliable witnesses. Mr. Collins, our commercial agent on the Amoor river, represents that the isothern of Sitka is fully equal to that of Newfoundland or St. Petersburg. The ice on the Kvichpak broke on the 25th of May, 1866, giving river navigation at that date for five hundred miles from the ocean. Captain Brewer states that he, as first officer of the American brig Chincella, spent two months of each of the years 1826, 1827, and 1828, between August and October, in the harbor of Sitka. He was surprised at the extreme mildness of the climate, compared with what he had expected. Captain Cook noticed the same peculiarity during one of his famous voyages. He recorded his opinion that “cattle might exist in Onalaska, without being housed, all the year round.”

The growth of wheat and the cultivation of gardens is not impossible as far north as sixty degrees. The fur and fishing monopolies of Russia have not favored general cultivation, as diverting labor from their specific enterprise. Potatoes, turnips, cabbages, and other hardy vegetables have been successfully cultivated by the Russians.

Many of the islands are covered with abundant grass. Berries and fruits have also been raised in considerable quantities. The best agricultural land is on the peninsula of Kenay.

Mr. Lorin Blodgett, the American climatologist, in an able communication to this office, estimates the amount of land in Alaska that can be disposed of to actual settlers, under the land system of the United States, at 20,000 square miles, being 12,800,000 acres, or a larger agricultural area than was supposed to exist in California prior to the admission of that State into the Union. The most reliable estimate of agricultural land in California, at present, is about 89 000,000 acres. How much a more perfect knowledge of Alaska may enlarge Mr Blodgett's estimate it is now impossible to say.

The whole country, well up the coast, is heavily timbered with hard pine, interspersed with poplar. Mr. Collins reports that building timber is abundant and cheap. Saw-mills extensively introduced on the coast would render this an important branch of manufacture. The failing timber of the coast regions of California and Oregon will soon create a demand for timber in this locality, which will support a large and lucrative industry. The finest spar timber is found on the coast about Sitka, which is largely covered with pine and spruce. Yellow cedar, excellent for shipbuilding, also abounds. The hemlock spruce bark contains the ingredients essential to the process of tanning leather, and is met with in large quantities. The climatic and meteorological conditions necessary to arboreal vegetation are known to exist to a great extent on the coast, and to an indefinite distance backward into the interior. These elements of future prosperity promise speedy development.

The mineral value of the Territory is decided. Gold is to be found in different parts of it The Russians, as I have intimated, discouraged mining, as well as agriculture, as interfering with the successful prosecution of their fur and fishing monopoly, yet gold diggings have not been unsuccessful.

The general indications now are that these diggings are extending northward. If these are reliable, we may look for extensive deposits of the precious metals in those hitherto unvisited regions, laid up by Providence for the necessities of the grand chapter of commercial enterprise now opening upon the world.

Specimens of gold panned out in Russian America are not wanting, and reports of extensive deposits in the interior, of which these are the mere placer detritus, are rife on the coast.

On the Stricksen river, even with very crude processes, miners are reported as making from $2 to $7 per day.

Silver, copper, and iron have also been discovered to very considerable extent, promising to meet great industrial wants of the country, not less important than the purposes subserved by the precious metals.

But prominent among the mineral deposits of this region are extensive beds of coal, often of the purest anthracite. Marble and other building stone are also met with in great quantities.

The fur trade of Alaska is of immense importance. Of the less valuable fur it is represented that on the islands north of the Aleutian chain the Russian Fur Company have annually taken no less than 180 000 seal skins, worth, at $3 a piece, $540,000. The yield of the Aleutian and more southern islands greatly exceed this aggregate. But the more valuable furs also are found in unexpected abundance. The sea otter, commanding $50 per skin; the black fox, $50; silver fox, $40, and other furs of higher grade, are by no means uncommon.

Some facts in regard to the late Russian Fur Company are first being brought to light, showing an enormous margin of profits in their enterprise. But the coast and island fisheries will soon gather a population rivalling that of Newfoundland and the Atlantic coast east of Cape Cod.

Codfish, unsurpassed in size, richness, and delicacy, are found upon the numerous banks contiguous to the shore.

Near Onalaska a large and valuable bank has been developed, with excellent facilities for drying upon the island.

Heretofore codfish caught in the Pacific have been brought to San Francisco for drying.

The herring and halibut fisheries are large and important, but the salmon fishery transcends anything of the kind in the world. John Keast Lord F. Z S., naturalist to the British North American Boundary Commission, in his two splendid volumes upon the natural history of Oregon, graphically describes the abundance and richness of the salmon fishery of the Columbia. In June the grand piscatorial invasion begins. The countless masses of salmon rush up the main stream, send detachments into all its branches, stem its rapids and cascades, and finally, perish by the million from rapid overcrowding. The naturalist, in attempting to ford astream thus packed with salmon, was nearly thrown from his horse, frightened by the terrific mass of animal life. On pointing out these facts, thus stated, to Mr E. Hunter Scoville, who had charge of one of the surveying parties of the Russian Telegraph Company, that gentleman confirmed the statement in every particular, and furthermore, represented from actual observation that this wonderful phenomenon became still more marked in Alaska. He also said that the salmon improved in size, quality, and richness towards the north. Mr. Scoville promised to furnish a brief statement of the points of his observations, which on receipt will be sent you.

Our whaling interests in the seas immediately contiguous to Alaska are of vast extent and importance. In 1857, of the six hundred or seven hundred American whalers of all descriptions, at least one-half, embracing mostly the larger craft, were employed on the North Pacific. The depredations of cruisers during our domestic war having ended, we may expect this branch of maritime industry to revive, and to assume its former importance.

The extension of American nationality over this territory will relieve our commerce and navigation, especially our fishing enterprise, from the restraints imposed by the policy of Russia.

The animus of that policy is clearly shown in the correspondence between Hon John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State during President Monroe's administration, and the Chevalier de Poletica, then Minister from Russia near our Government. (see American State Papers, Foreign Relations, vol. 4 p 856) Among the rules controlling navigation enacted by the Russian authorities, was one forbidding foreign vessels to approach within one hundred Italian miles of the coast, except in cases of distress. The exclusion was grounded upon the theory that the Pacific ocean north of 51 deg., the southern limit then claimed by Russia, being enclosed by Russian territory, was a mare clausum , and that Russia, at pleasure, might suppress all foreign flags north of that limit. Mr. Adams most emphatically repudiated this principle, and claimed the right of our vessels to navigate the e seas beyond the ordinary line of territorial jurisdiction of the sea as a part of our independence. Russia, however, has never abandoned or disavowed this theory. While she retains both shores of the Pacific, it may at any time be reasserted, and thus place us in the dilemma of seeing our growing maritime interests in the North Pacific crippled and destroyed on the one hand, or of our rights being maintained by arms, at a cost in money greatly transcending the sum stipulated in the treaty, besides the desolations of war and bloodshed; for it is not to be doubted that our right of freely navigating these seas, so courageously claimed by Mr. John Quincy Adams, will ever be maintained by the utmost power of the American people.

It is submitted then, that the facts presented, which may readily be verified and indefinitely extended, reveal a breadth and importance of American interests, dependent upon the acquisition of that region, which renders the expenditure of a few millions a mere bagatelle.

The pressure of our commercial relations demand it in order that we may dominate the trade and navigation of the Pacific ocean, which is soon to rival the Atlantic as the great highway of nations. The immense values of the fur trade and ocean fishery, of massive mineral deposits, and of agricultural capacities far from contemptible, indicate the speedy establishment upon that northwest coast, provided this treaty is finally consummated, of an American industrial population, which will strengthen and fortify our home civilization, and assist materially in securing the control of the world's commerce.

The policy of American domination upon this continent, so powerfully enunciated by President Monroe, has become deeply seated in the heart and mind of the American people. In his annual message to Congress, delivered December 2, 1823, speaking of the generic differences between our Government and those of Europe, and disclaiming any disposition to become involved in the political combinations of the Old World, Mr. Monroe says: “We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the auricable relations subsisting between the United States and those powers, to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere dangerous to our peace and safety.”

This significant utterance, though at the time it produced great excitement and hostile criticism, has been carefully respected by European powers; with the exception of the abortive effort to transform the Mexican Republic into an empire, an attempt promptly abandoned upon the termination of the late insurrection, no defiance of this expressed national determination has been made. But if we should now recoil from the acquisition of territory on this continent, which has become one of the distinctive ideas of our career of progress, we will lower the moral influence of this brave utterance of our fathers, and embolden European powers to extend their anti-quated despotisms to this continent, consecrated to democratic freedom.

If the views presented in the foregoing should be coincident with your mature judgment and superior statesmanship, it would be gratifying to

Yours, with great respect, Jos S. Wilson, Commissioner.

HAPP-Y Analysis

H: The Reconstruction was taking place in the States in attempt to reinstate the Confederacy to the Union. Civil rights movements to protect blacks and farmers were happening almost everywhere.

A: The audience of the letter is Chairman Committee on Foreign Relations.

P: The purpose of the document was to establish the purchase of Alaska from Russia.

P: Wilson's point of view seems almost nervous and cautious. Though he's thrilled to have purchased new land, he warns the House of possible downturns the land could have

Y: The Alaskan purchase relates to America In The World because it's a foreign affair and is expanding the United States. It also relates to Contextualization because it's important to understand how this land was influenced by the states after it was purchased.

Klondike Gold Rush

happ-y analysis

H: The United States is becoming increasingly more modern. New innovations are making life easier and more enjoyable, opportunity is high for immigrants, and industrial production is at an all time high.

A: The audience is the people reading the article, which can either be families of those taking part in the Gold Rush, or spectators marveling at how the hunt for gold is going.

P: The purpose is to inform readers of the status of the gold rush.

P: The writer of the article is giving out a warning-like tone. In doing this, he can warn other men thinking of joining the rush, but also to inform families of the treacheries their friends or family members are facing.

Y: This article pertains to geography because it deals with the excavation of land to obtain a mineral. Contextualization relates to this article because it's important to understand how it impacted not only the states, but the newly acquired land as well.


Created with images by Boston Public Library - "Greetings from a great country"

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.