Russia had her share in the task of discovery and exploration on the continent of North America during the centuries when the enterprising Europeans were blazing their trails here. Captain Behring, the most famous of Russian explorers, whose name is immortalized in the name of the strait that separates Russia from North America in the extreme north of their territorial possessions, discovered Alaska, which was to become soon after the land known as Russian America.
The year 1783 is the date of the first permanent Russian settlement there. After that the work of colonization proceeded with considerable rapidity. The immediate cause of this increase of Russia’s interest in her American possessions was the appearance there of other European explorers, attracted by the fame of the Russian explorers.
The Russians came to Alaska principally to hunt fur-bearing animals, and soon after the appearance of their first settlements there, they began to push down the coast, still for purposes of hunting. In 1809 a Russian expedition appeared off the coast of California.
It was not until 1812, or three years after the Russian settlement there, that the first American immigrants appeared in California. The Russian post at ROSS was maintained until 1841, when it was abandoned to the Americans.
Early Relations Between Russia and America.
The annals of American diplomatic history record the fact that the attitude of Russia toward the United States has been one of uninterrupted friendship from the very appearance of the Colonies as an independent State.
During the American Revolution a League of Neutrals was organized in Europe, and a leading role in its organization was taken by Empress Catherine II of Russia. It was this League that finally broke the stubborn opposition of George III to recognize the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain and constitution into an independent State.
In 1812 Napoleon's commercial policies dictated his demand upon Russia that American vessels be excluded from the Russian ports in the Baltic. Czar Alexander I refused this demand, and this refusal was the immediate cause of the French invasion of Russia.
Two years later, then, at the termination of the war between Great Britain and America, the question of peace was a very difficult and delicate one to settle, it was Russia’s intercession that brought about a settlement satisfactory to both sides. The result was the Treaty of Ghent, which terminated the last struggle between the United States and Great Britain.
Capain Henry W. Hunt, a well known citizen of Boston, says: “I can’t understand how Americans can forsake an old friend like Russia for an old enemy like England. Have we forgotten that Russia refused tempting financial offers from George III to furnish troops to subjugate the American colonies during the revolution, at the time when the British government was employing Indians who massacred the families of our patriot forefathers!”
Russia Upholds American Unity.
When the secession of the American South precipitated the Civil War and the future existence of the United States hung in the balance, Russia remained true to her traditional policy of friendship toward America. In June 1861, Czar Alexander II expressed Russia ’s sympathy with the cause for which the North was fighting; at same time voicing his hope that Confederate States would send their agents to St. Petersburg to try to influence the Russian Government in its attitude toward the American conflict.
In the course of the next two years when France and Great Britain sided definitely with the Confederacy, Russia remained steadfast in her attitude of friendship toward the North. The confidence which Lincoln and advisers had at the time is the fact that “Russia’s attitude can be entirely relied upon as the American ambassador in St. Petersburg put in his report, helped the American President very greatly in finding his way out of the most difficult and complicated international situation that existed at the time.
By the year 1863, this international situation reached its most critical point. Great Britain and France seemed definitely committed to a policy of intervention in the American struggle, with the view of helping the South to realize its separatist aspirations, Russia held out firmly against all such plans of intervention in the struggle. And when, in spite of this, in the summer of 1863, a European invasion of the United States, by way of Mexico, seemed quite imminent, Russia sent two squadrons into the American waters:
On September 11, 1863, a Russian squadron commanded by Admiral Lisofsky, appeared in the harbor of New York. Almost simultaneously another Russian squadron, commanded by Admiral Popoff. appeared in the harbor of San Francisco.
The Russian squadrons were met with utmost enthusiasm, which remained unabated at anchor in the harbor. The Russian Admiral, in a call upon Admiral Farragut at the Astor House, replying to a question as why he was spending the winter idly in American waters, said: “I am only here under sealed orders, to be broken only in a contingency which has not occurred.” He said also that the Russian commander in San Francisco was under similar orders, and, further, that they were under orders to break the seals if, while they remained here, the United States became involved in a war with any foreign nation.
The appearance of the Russian fleet in New York and San Francisco stayed permanently the execution of whatever plans Great Britain and France might have had at the time. Cassius Clay, the American ambassador in St. Petersburg during the first years of the Civil War, in discussing the question of the Russian naval demonstration in the American waters, says in his Memoirs:
“Whatever may have been the ultimate purpose—Russia thus made a masterly exhibition which prevented a foreign invasion of the United States.”
In an unofficial call upon the Russian Chancellor at St. Petersburg at this time, to a prominent American was shown the Czar’s order to Admiral Lissofskv to report to the President of the United States for duty in case the Northern States become involved in a war with England (See “Life of Thurlow Weed.” Vol. II, page 346).
The presence of this Russian armament in American waters did much to prevent an attack on the Union from abroad, an event which might have resulted in the victory of the Confederacy and the ultimate destruction of this great Republic. And yet practically only historians remember to-day this great debt which the United States owes to Russia.
During Russia's war with Japan, strange to relate, the following in the United States was largely with the non-Christian eountry (Japan) and the cause of this is not far to seek. Previous to this period, biased writers, such as Mr. Kennan, had not hesitated to decry Russia as a land of terrible barbarism, from which but little good could emanate. Furthermore, the increasing Russo-Jewish population of great centers, such as New York, added fuel to this flame by their outspoken hatred of their mother-land, which expression undoubtedly did much to spread abroad the prejudice of Americans against Russia. It must be admitted moreover, that Russia may not be justified for every act which was performed in the name of her Government in connection with her internal affairs. The former prison system, especially in Siberia, was clearly not worthy of a great civilization. The Jewish problem was harshly and unwisely handled and much misery undoubtedly resulted from defective internal management and yet even this state of affairs was often grossly exaggerated. In fact, so strong a prejudice arose in the United States from the often intentionally garbled reports of Russia ’s treatment of her non-Russian speaking subjects, that it is difficult even to-day to make some Americans realize, that, during the past twenty-five years, a new and enlightened Russia has arisen, where every attempt was made to rectify former wrongs.
Of course, we do not take into consideration the present “Bolshevik” state of affairs in Russia, which is more than horrible.
It should be remarked that Americans can’t afford to throw stones at Russia on the ground of internal mismanagement, because a very similar condition prevails to this day in a number of the American States, where the negro is openly and unblushingly debarred from political rights in absolute defiance of the principles gained by the Union over the South. This is a situation which is perfectly recognized, not only by the South, but by many people in the North itself. Lynchings of negroes—often with the most horrible torture—occur many times every year all through the American
South and this, in spite of the fact that the southern States are well provided with officials and courts to arrest and punish legally the criminal.
Russian America (Alaska).
The existence of RUSSIAN AMERICA lasted from 1740, when Captain Behring first reached the mainland of Alaska and took possession of it in the name of Russia, until 1867, when Alaska was sold by Russia to the United States.
On October 18, 1867, the United States military forces took possession of Sitka, the capital of Alaska, and Russian America to exist.
At the time that the transaction took place, Russia did not know what she was selling, and America knew just as little as to what she was buying. The only economic importance of the territory lay apparently in its fur hunting and its fisheries.
But in 1896-7 enormous gold deposits were discovered in various parts of Alaska, and the whole territory immediately acquired the character of a veritable treasure-house. Since then railroads have been laid in Alaska, and this has rendered possible the exploitation of its timber resources. At the same time, coal and other mineral wealth was discovered there. And today the Russian America of 66 years ago is indeed, a treasured possession of the United States for billions of dollars.
Within the half century that has since elapsed, “Seward's Folly” has long since ceased to be a byword. Of incalculable value have been the treasures taken from sea and land in Alaska and its borders in fish, fur and minerals. During forty-three years of mining, Alaska has produced over $351,000,000 worth of gold, silver, copper and other minerals and it has seams of coal as yet scarcely touched that are not second in magnitude to any in the world.
History often justifies the judgment of one man against that of many. Could William H. Seward stand before Congress todav. cheers would rise where denunciation and ridicule were heard 66 years ago. For “Seward’s Folly” has turned to “Seward's Glory” during the half century that has elapsed since President Andrew Johnson, on March 30, 1867, sent his message to the Senate announcing the negotiation of a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska. This purchase created a new empire on the Pacific and contributed considerably to the commercial growth of all the Pacific coast cities.
The man chiefly responsible for the acquisition of Alaska by this country was William II. Seward, then Secretary of State. During President Johnson’s administration Seward renewed old discussions regarding such a purchase with the Russian minister. Edward de Stoeekel. He found that Russia was not unwilling to allow her possessions to pass into the hands of a traditional friend, but would not permit it to go to a European power. As a remote province, not easily defensible. Russian America was a source of danger to Russia, whereas in the hands of the United States it might become a safeguard.
Within a short time the preliminaries were threshed out. The price to be paid was largely a matter of maintaining the dignity of the contracting parties. Russia thought $10,000,000 would be about right. Seward proposed $5,000,000. “Splitting the difference” followed, after which Seward suggested “knocking off“ half a million. This brought the sum down to $7,000,000. It was then found that the Russian Fur Company had claimed against the Russian Government which it was thought the purchaser should extinguish. This was agreed to, and $200,000 was added for that purpose. The general argument was that the interest on the payment, $7,200,000, would easily be met by the annual yield of timber, mines, furs and fisheries.
On the evening of Friday March 29, 1867, the Russian Minister informed Mr. Seward at his home that the Emperor had given consent to the cession and suggested that the treaty be entered upon at the State Department next day.
“Why wait till tomorrow, Mr. Stoeckl?” asked the Secretary. But your Department is closed. You have no clerks, and my secretaries are scattered about the town.
‘‘Never mind that,” responded Seward. “If you can muster your legation together before midnight you will find me at the Department, which will be open and ready for business.”
Thus is the conversation recorded in the reminiscences of Fredrick W. Seward, son of the Secretary, and Assistant Secretary of State under him. Two hours later they were at work, and by four o’clock the next morning the treaty was engrossed, signed, and ready for transmission by the President to the Senate. There was need of haste, for the end of the session was near at hand.
In the debate which followed the President 's message the extremes of ridicule were reached. It was a “barren, worthless Godforsaken region.” The ground was “frozen six feet deep,” and the only products were “icebergs and polar bears.” It was a place of “wretched fish,” for “wretched Esquimaux” and for this the United States was expected to pay seven millions of good money! What shall be its new name? “Walrussia,” “Johnson's Polar Bear Garden,” and “SEWARD’S FOLLY” were proposed, of which ,,SEWARD’S FOLLY” was longest remembered. And so the matter dragged along with outcries of protests, until the ratification on May 28th. But it was not until the 27th of July of the follwing year that an act making appropriation to pay for Alaska was finally passed and approved. On the next day the Secretary of State made requisition upon the Treasury for $7,200,000 to be paid to the Russian Government, whereby Alaska became ours by payment in full.
The rechristening of the newly acquired territory was a matter of some difficulty. “Sitka,” the name of its capital, “Yukon,” that of its greatest river, and “Aliaska,” or “Alaska.” derived from “Oonalaska,” its greatest peninsula and “ Alieuta,” derived from its chain of islands, were all considered. Finally, “Alaska” was adopted.
Russian Immigration to America.
The United States Federal Census for 1920 gave the number of persons born in Russia or of parents born in Russia as 2,715,842, out of a total of 32,200,000 persons in the United States of foreign birth or parentage.
The racial and nationalistic composition of these millions is rather difficult to determine, with any degree of accuracy, because the governmental records in this regard are very incomplete. It is estimated, however, that the three largest groups are those of Russian Slavs, Poles and the Jews. The numerical size of the Russian group is variously estimated as from two hundred and fifty to four hundred thousand.
During the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, not less than 1,119,000 Jews emigrated to the United States from Russia. The next large stream of Russian immigration began about 1890, not only from Russia proper, but also from Galicia and Uhorschina (Carpathian Russia). This time, the immigrants were Slavs of Russian origin; their number may be estimated at about 1,000,000.
Since 1905. thousands of peasants, from those parts of Russia, where land was scarce, and peasant land holdings were utterly insufficient to provide a livelihood, began to seek their fortunes in America.
The largest centers in which Russian immigrants are gathered are the industrial cities of the East and the Middle West. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh, and some of the larger industrial cities of New Jersey and the New England states all large numbers of Russian immigrants. San Francisco is also an important center for Russian immigration.