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THE CESSION OF RUSSIAN AMERICA
THE UNITED STATES.
Thirteen governments founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense
• * WASHINGTON:
Mr. PRESIDENT: You have just listened to the reading of the treaty by which Russia cedes to the United States all her possessions on the North American continent in consideration of $7,200,000, to be paid by the United States. On the one side is the cession of a vast country with its jurisdiction and its resources of all kinds; on the other side is the purchase-money. | Such is this transaction on its face.
BOUND ARIES AND CONFIGURATION,
In endeavoring to estimate its character I am glad to begin with what is clear and beyond question. I refer to the boundaries fixed by the treaty. Commencing at the parallel of 54° 40′ north latitude, so famous in our history, the line ascends Portland channel to the mountains, which it follows on their summits to the point of intersection with the 141° west longitude, which line it ascends to the Frozen ocean, or, if you please, to the north pole. This is the eastern boundary, separating this region from the British possessions, and it is borrowed from the treaty between Russia and Great Britain in 1825, establishing the relations between these two Powers on this continent. It will be seen that this boundary is old; the rest is new. Starting from the Frozen ocean the western boundary descends Behring straits, midway between the two islands of Krusenstern and Ratmanov, to the parallel of 65° 30%, just below where the continents of America and Asia approach each other the nearest; and from this point it proceeds in a course nearly southwest through Behring straits, midway between the island of St. Lawrence and Cape Chonkotski, to the meridian of 172° west longitude, and thence, in a southwesterly direction, traversing Behring sea, midway between the island of Attou on the east and Copper island on the west, to the meridian of 193° west longitude, leaving the prolonged group of the Aleutian islands in the possessions now transferred to the United States, and making the western
boundary of our country the dividing line which separates Asia from America. Look at the map and see the configuration of this extensive region, whose estimated area is more than five hundred and seventy thousand square miles. I speak by the authority of our own coast survey. Including the Sitkan archipelago at the south, it takes a margin of the main land, fronting on the ocean thirty miles broad and three hundred miles long, to Mount St. Elias, the highest peak of the continent, when it turns with an elbow to the west, and then along Behring straits northerly, when it rounds to the east along the Frozen ocean.
Here are upwards of four thousand statute miles of coast, indented by capacious bays and com
modious harbors without number, embracing the peninsula of Alaska, one of the most remarkable in the world, fifty miles in breadth and three hundred miles in length ; piled with mountains, many volcanic and some still smoking; penetrated by navigable rivers, one of which is among the largest of the world; studded with islands which stand like sentinels on the coast, and flanked by that narrow Aleutian range which, starting from Alaska, stretches far away
to Japan, as if America were extending a
friendly hand to Asia. This is the most general aspect. There are details specially disclosing maritime advantages and approaches to the sea which properly belong to this preliminary sketch. According to accurate estimates the coast line, including bays and islands, is not less than eleven thousand two hundred and seventy miles. In the Aleutian range, besides innumerable islets and rocks, there are not less than fifty-five islands exceeding three miles in length ; there are seven exceeding forty miles, with Ounimak, which is the largest, exceeding seventy-three miles. In our part of Behring sea there are five considerable islands, the largest of which is St. Lawrence, being more than ninety-six miles long. Add to all these the group south of the peninsula of Alaska,
including the Shumagins and the magnificent island of Kodiak, and then the Sitkan group, being archipelago added to archipelago, and the whole together constituting the geographical complement to the West Indies, so that the northwest of the continent answers archipelago for archipelago to the southeast.
DISCOVERY OF RUSSIAN AMERICA BY BEHRING, UNDER INSTRUCTIONS FROM PETER THE GREAT.
The title of Russia to all these possessions is werived from prior discovery, which is the admitted title by which all European Powers have held in North and South America, unless we except what England acquired by conquest from France; but here the title of France was derived from prior discovery. Russia, shut up in a distant interior and struggling with barbarism, was scarcely known to the other Powers at the time they were lifting their flags in the western hemisphere. At a later day the same powerful genius which made her known as an empire set in motion the enterprise by which these possessions were opened to her dominion. Peter the Great, himself a shipbuilder and a reformer, who had worked in the ship-yards of England and Holland, was curious to know if Asia and America were
Empress Catharine, faithful to the desires of
her husband, did not allow this work to be neglected. Vitus Behring, a Dane by birth, and a navigator of some experience, was made commander. The place of embarkation was on the other side of the Asiatic continent. Taking with him officers and ship-builders the navigator left St. Petersburg by land 5th February, 1725, and commenced the preliminary journey across Siberia, northern Asia, and the sea of Okhotsk to the coast of Kamtschatka, which they reached after infinite hardships and delays, sometimes with dogs for horses, and sometimes supporting life by eating leather bags, straps, and shoes. More than three years were passed in this toilsome and perilous journey to the place of embarkation. At last on the 20th of July, 1728, the party was able to set sail in a small vessel, called the Gabriel, and described as “like the packet-boats used in the Baltick.” Steering in a northeasterly direction, Behring passed a large island, which
he called St. Lawrence from the saint on whose day it was seen. This island, which is included in the present cession, may be considered as the first point in Russian discovery, as it is also the first outpost of the North American continent. , Continuing northward, and hugging the Asiatic coast, Behring turned back only when he thought he had reached the northeastern extremity of Asia, and was satis. fied that the two continents were separated from each other. He did not penetrate further north than 67° 30'. In his voyage Behring was struck by the absence of such great and high ‘waves, as, in other places, are common to the open sea, and he observed fir trees swimming in the water, although they were unknown on the Asiatic coast. Relations of inhabitants, in harmony with these indications, pointed to “a country at no great distance toward the east.” His work was still incomplete, and the navigator before returning home put forth again for this discovery, but without success. By another dreary land journey he made his way back to St. Petersburg in March, 1730, after an absence of five years. Something was accomplished for Russian discovery, and his own fame was engraved on the maps of the world. The straits through which he sailed now bear his name, as also does the expanse of sea which he traversed on his way to the straits. The spirit of discovery continued at St. Petersburg. A Cossack chief undertaking to conquer the obstinate natives on the northeastern coast, proposed also “to discover-the pretended country on the Frozen sea.” He was killed by an arrow before his enterprise was completed. Little is known of the result; but it is stated that the navigator whom he had selected, by name Gwosdew, in 1730 succeeded in reaching a “strange coast” between sixtyfive and sixty-six degrees of north latitude, where he saw people, but could not speak with them for want of an interpreter. This must have been the coast of North America, and not far from the group of islands in Behring straits, through which the present boundary passes, separating the United States from Russia, and America from Asia. . . The desire of the Russian Government to get behind the curtain increased. Behring volunteered to undertake the discoveries that remained to be made. He was created a commodore, and his old lieutenants were created captains. The Senate, the Admiralty, and the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg all united in the enterprise. Several academicians were appointed to report on the natural history of the coasts visited, among whom was Steller, the naturalist, said to be “immortal” from this association. All of these, with a numerous body of officers, journeyed across Siberia, northern Asia, and the sea of Okhotsk, to Kamtschatka, as Behring had journeyed before. Though ordered in 1732, the expedition was not able to leave the western coast until 4th June, 1741, when two well-appointed ships