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Alaska purchase

Painting by Emanuel Leutze, depicting the negotiation of the Columbia Purchase.

The Columbia Purchase (Russian: Приобретение Колумбии, Priobreteniye Kolumbii) refers to the acquisition of the United Colony of Vancouver Island and Columbia by the Russian Empire from Great Britain in 1872. The British agreed to sell the region in fear of losing it in a future conflict with Russia, as well as growing costs to maintain the colonies. Russia purchased the region for a total of nine million dollars. The purchased land corresponds to the modern day Alaskan governorates of Columbia, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Vancouver Island; with the British also transferring their control of New Caledonia over to Russia (ending the joint administration of the region).


By 1870, the Pacific Northwest was dominated by Great Britain and Russia (with Russia having the advantage). For the past decades, both Empires existed under peaceful cooperation, which mostly ended after the Crimean War of the early 1850s (which mostly affected Europe). Despite losing the European theater, Russia remained strong in the Americas.

The situation in the Americas further worsened for the British after the beginning of the American Civil War. While officially neutral in the war, the British came under American anger due mainly to two incidents (the "Trent Affair" and the construction of the CSS Alabama), both of which showing British support and cooperation with the Confederate States of America during the war. Because of which, the United States began demanding reparations from the British (including land concessions by the British). Russia became involved in this when they became the only European power to completely side with the Union (going as far as offering military aid in the event the conflict became international). This led to fears that any potential Russo-American alliance in a future conflict could potentially push the British out of North America. The British took precautions to prevent such fears (including the formations of the Acadian Confederation, the Colony of Assiniboia, and the United Colony of Vancouver Island and Columbia). However, the Pacific Coast colonies proved more troublesome over time.

Map of the Pacific Northwest 1856 (Russian America)

A map of the Pacific Northwest prior to the Columbia Purchase (the areas in pink are British controlled).

Another reason for the unification of Vancouver Island and Columbia was due to budget collapse and growing cost. By 1870, Britain was paying more for the colonies than they could pay back. This was also due to a low population (which was mostly centered on Vancouver Island, the Columbian coast and the northern bank of the Columbia River), and the growing Russian domination of the fur trade in the region. By the 1870s the Columbian population was about 20,000 (shrinking from previous calculations).

Russian (and American) interests were further placed on the British colonies with the agreement to construct a telegraph line through Columbia in order to connect America with Europe (via the Bering Sea). Britain dropped their cooperation in the project after the completion of a successful (British) Transatlantic telegraph line completed in 1866. Despite this, the Russian line was completed by 1872. With Russia now having access to British territory, fears grew over conflict.