When Liechtenstein was able to buy Alaska

There was a time when Alaska was Russian territory, something of which there is hardly a trace today, except for a few churches and a population that professes the majority of the Russian Orthodox religion.

In 1867 the Russians sold Alaska to the United States, seeing it as a better deal than letting it fall into British hands without receiving anything in return. At the time, Russia was in serious financial difficulty and the United States thought that the purchase could be a way of helping the Tsar, who had been a good ally of the Union in the Civil War, while at the same time pressuring the British for a future sale. from Canada.

In the end, the operation was finalized for an amount of 7,200,000 dollars and the transfer of sovereignty took place on October 18, 1867. As we already mentioned in a previous article, that day was Friday, but when the inhabitants of Alaska got up from bed the next day, it was also Friday.

However, things could have been completely different. In 2015 a German newspaper, Welt am Sonntagpublished a curious article in which he stated that, before opting for the American option, the Tsar of Russia Alexander II had offered him Alaska (which at that time was not called Alaska but simply Russian territory in North America) to Liechtenstein. After the prince of Liechtenstein rejected her, she was offered to the United States.

What evidence is there that this really happened? In November 2018, a documentary broadcast by Swiss public television SRF reaffirmed the fact and raised such a stir in the small Central European country that the Prince of Liechtenstein himself, Hans-Adam II, had to come out on top of the matter. And to general surprise what he did was confirm it. The possibility of acquiring Alaska was a matter discussed within the royal family, although no documents have yet been found in the archives.

Liechtenstein, located between Austria and Switzerland, is the sixth smallest country in the world, with just 37,000 inhabitants, without an airport or motorways. Governed by the princes since 1719 as a constitutional monarchy, it is so small that on the day of the national holiday they invite all the inhabitants to an aperitif in the garden of the Vaduz castle, the official princely residence.

Vaduz Castle, seat of the Prince of Liechtenstein / photo Michael Gredenberg on Wikimedia Commons

What reason could the Prince of Liechtenstein have for rejecting an offer as tempting as Alaska? It seems that at that time the territory did not seem to him to have any value, except for the furs in which the Russians traded. But the distance would probably also have an influence, the impossibility of defending a territory at that distance with the few means available in the principality, and the inevitable dependence on third countries with access to the sea for contact and transport.

According to a letter sent by Prince Hans-Adam II to the country’s press, his family later regretted not having accepted the purchase offer, in view of the gold deposits found shortly after the acquisition by the United States. As he writes he, some members of the royal family they were of the opinion that the development of Alaska would have been very difficult in view of the great distance and the harsh climate.

Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein / photo GuentherZ on Wikimedia Commons

Regarding the offer itself, he indicates that, at that time, Prince Francis (of Liechtenstein) had very good relations with the Tsar, was extremely wealthy and spoke Russian, which made him the ideal candidate for the sale of Alaska.

As for the fact that no documents have been found in this regard, Hans-Adam II believes that it is because the offer was made only orally, and was not officially registered anywhere.

Or because the documents, if they existed, were lost when part of the family archive was sent to Moscow by Soviet troops after World War II.


Welt am Sonntag / Liechtensteiner Vaterland / Liechtensteiner Volksblatt.

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