Have you ever tried looking for Alaska on the US map? You might need a few seconds to spot it at first. Despite being the biggest state of the US by landmass, you might not easily spot it because it’s not connected to any other state. There’s the whole of Canada between Alaska and the US. So, why isn’t Alaska part of Canada instead?
Alaska isn’t part of Canada because the US bought it from Russia in 1867. Before then, it was Russian territory while Britain controlled Canada. Even though it’s closer to the US than Canada, Russia decided to sell it to the USA because its old rivals, Great Britain, controlled Canada at that time.
Despite selling the land to the USA, border disputes remained until resolution in 1903. Even today, Alaska is still only accessible by land through Canada. Read on to learn more about how Alaska became part of the USA.
Why Alaska is a US State
Alaska is one of two non-contiguous states of the US, the other being Hawaii. These are states that are not connected to the US directly by land. In the case of Hawaii, it’s an island. But even though Alaska is connected by land, it requires you to go through Canada before getting there.
Alaska became a US territory in 1867 when the USA bought it from Russia for $7.2 million. The then-Secretary of State, William Seward, negotiated the deal. At first, some didn’t like the deal and even termed it Seward’s Folly, but it turned out to be one of the best bargains ever. At the time of its sale, it had no economic significance and was a liability. However, it was later on that the discovery of gold and oil worth billions of dollars happened. Alaska was a US territory from the time of its purchase till 1959. In 1959, it became the 49th US state.
Why Did Russia Sell Alaska to the US?
In order to understand why Alaska is part of the US and not Canada, there’s a need to go back in history. Russia claimed Alaska as its territory in 1741, and in the coming years, Russia established colonies in the territory. Russia focused on exploiting Alaska’s natural resources, which was mostly fur at that time. Fur trading was a booming business, and Alaska gave Russia access to a plethora of fur-producing animals.
While Russia was establishing itself in Alaska, another world power was growing on the other side of North America, and that was Britain. Apart from its colonies which would later become the United States of America, it has also established colonies farther north in Canada. Britain had settlements in areas such as Nova Scotia. Newfoundland, and Hudson Bay.
The expansive policies of the Russian and British empires meant both were rivals. They both wanted control of the Pacific Ocean and had fought wars over territories beforehand.
By the middle of the 19th century, the United States of America had established itself as an independent state, and Britain had created the Dominion of Canada. As the power of both the United States and Britain increased in North America, Russia started losing its influence on the continent. In addition, the fur trade had dwindled, which meant that Russia wasn’t gaining much from holding Alaska. So, it opted to sell it.
At this point, Canada was still under Great Britain, which is an old enemy of Russia. Therefore, Russia opted to sell it to the United States of America in 1867, even though Canada and Alaska shared a border. Thus, the lack of independence of Canada and Britain’s control was why Russia sold it to the USA instead. In the same year, Britain established the Dominion of Canada, which was one of the first steps towards the country’s independence.
Alaska Border Dispute
After the sale of Alaska to the USA, the United States and the United Kingdom had a dispute over the territorial boundary of Alaska and Canada. The dispute on where Canada ends and Alaska begins has existed between the British and Russian empires since 1821. It led to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1825, which the two world powers used to define the borders. However, the terms of the boundaries remain vague. With the acquisition of the territory, the US also acquired the boundary issues along with it.
By 1871, British Columbia decided to become part of the Canadian Confederation. Although there were calls for a survey of the territories and several discussions on how to settle the border dispute, one of the various parties involved always rejected the deal, which meant it remained unresolved.
By 1897, the Klondike Gold Rush in Yukon brought this territorial dispute to the fore as the disputed lands now had clear economic value. More people moved to the area to mine gold, and each country wanted control of the disputed area. The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) of Canada mounted police posts along the area to secure it, and an Army Unit of 200 men also joined them. Even though the two countries tried to resolve it amicably, either party would not agree.
In the end, the Hay-Herbert Treaty of 1903 delegated the decision to a tribunal made up of six important people, three Americans, two Canadians, and one British man. In the end, the final decision was made, which granted the US and Canada half claim each to the disputed lands. Canadians felt they were betrayed by Great Britain, who chose to foster Anglo-American relations over Canadian interests. The anger resulting from this betrayal is one of the factors attributed to the eventual full independence of Canada. Even though Canadians felt that the decision was not fair, they eventually accepted it and blamed the British.
Despite Canada separating Alaska from the rest of the United States, Alaska is part of the US and not Canada. This is due to the sale of the territory by Russia to the US in 1867. However, if you’re traveling to Alaska by land, you have no choice but to travel through Canada.