Charles Sumner - Senate Service - Alaska Territory Annexation Treaty

Alaska Territory Annexation Treaty

Throughout March 1867, Sec. William H. Seward and Russian representative Edouard de Stoeckl met in Washington, D.C., and negotiated a treaty for the annexation and sale of the Russian American territory of Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000. President Johnson submitted the treaty to Congress for ratification with Sumner’s approval and on April 9, his foreign relations committee approved and sent the treaty to the Senate. In a 3-hour speech, Sumner spoke in favor of the treaty on the Senate floor, describing in detail Alaska’s imperial history, natural resources, population, and climate. Sumner wanted to block British expansion (from Canada), arguing that Alaska was geographically and financially strategic, especially for the Pacific Coast States. He said Alaska would increase America’s borders; spread republican institutions; and represent an act of friendship with Russia. The treaty won its needed two-thirds majority by one vote.

The 1867 treaty neither formally recognized; categorized; nor compensated any native Alaskan Eskimos or Indians; only referring to them as “uncivilized tribes” under the control of Congress. By federal law, Native Alaskan tribes, including the Inuit, the Aleut, and the Athabascan, were entitled to only land that they inhabited. According to treaty, native Alaskan tribes were excluded from United States citizenship. However, citizenship was available to Russian residents. Creoles, persons of Russian and Indian descent, were considered Russian. Sumner stated the new territory be called by its Aleutian name Alaska meaning "great land". Sumner advocated for U.S. citizens of Alaska free public education and equal protection laws.

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