One thing that comes up often when discussing "what-ifs" with family or friends is why the British government never nabbed Alaska when Russia had placed it up for sale and made it into Canada's fourth territory. Was it bad timing (Canada gained self-governance that year), lack of money (hard to believe with an Empire of that size), or lack of interest? Or indeed another reason that I haven't thought of?

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    Maybe Canada was not that colonised so it was a problem to maintain and protect such areas.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 20, 2013 at 11:16
  • @Voitcus: July 1, 1867 is Dominion Day (now Canada Day) in Canada, celebrating the day when the British North America Act took effect making Canada a Dominion instead of a colony. Jan 1, 2014 at 17:05
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    Well, Americans called it Seward's Folly. I would think the British would have held a similar view to it. Alaska's worth only surfaced when gold was struck in around 1899. Aug 21, 2015 at 0:53

3 Answers 3


Because Russia had been at war with Britain for most of the preceding two decades.

One of Russia's problems in owning Alaska was defending it against it being used as a British route to invade Russia (militarily insane - but that's politics) - remember Canada was British at the time.

By selling it to America they installed one of Britain's adversaries in the way

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    Right. Who they let have it was an important part of the transaction. Its not like they just put Alaska up on Ebay and anybody could bid.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 20, 2012 at 16:32
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    @T.E.D. Yeah, if they did that, just think of how many fake bids they would get. Jun 19, 2014 at 17:22

Russia and America (the Union) were very nearly allies during the Civil War. The implied enemies were not so much the South (Confederacy), but rather Great Britain and France, who threatened to intervene on behalf of the South, and who had fought Russia a few years earlier.

Although Russia wanted to "monetize" Alaska, she also wanted it in "friendly" hands. The (re-united) U.S. fit the bill. Great Britain did not, after having allied with France and Turkey in the Crimean war.

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    I think allies is overstating the case. During wartime the term generally implies co-belligerency not just strong friendly relations. Jul 12, 2012 at 18:08
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    The Russian government was sympathetic to the north, having recently freed their serfs. Also having France and England leaning to the South didn't hurt.
    – Oldcat
    Jan 24, 2014 at 1:43
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    @Oldcat: Exactly the point I was trying to make. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." And the reunited U.S. threatened to go to war with France over Mexico, so Napoleon III just abandoned his "puppet," Maximilian.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 24, 2014 at 1:44
  • Russia freeing its serfs in 1861 gave them a second reason to be sympathetic - we and they were trying to liberalize at the same time.
    – Oldcat
    Jan 24, 2014 at 1:49
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    @DanNeely: Russia had no reason to be a "co-belligerent" against the South. But if Britain and/or France had intervened on the side of the South...Russia had recently fought Britain and France in the Crimean War.I also said "nearly allies," not "aliies."
    – Tom Au
    Apr 6, 2017 at 15:07

The following might explain why the British did not try to acquire any American possessions anymore: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_Doctrine.

In brief, the Monroe Doctrine, introduced in the 19th century, is a statement by the United States that they would consider any European attempts to colonize in or interfere with North/South America as hostile, and respond accordingly. Conversely, the U.S. would not interfere with current European holdings.

The Monroe Doctrine was introduced in 1823 and Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867.

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    Welcome to History Stack Exchange! Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference.
    – Luke_0
    Jan 23, 2014 at 14:15
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    +1 - Interesting start to an answer - not at all bad. Edit it and follow American Luke's advice.
    – user2590
    Jan 23, 2014 at 22:38

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