Selling Alaska/Louisiana/Manhattan by the Pound December 4, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback
History could be usefully defined as one long territory grab: who has the desire to take these acres, and who has the will and the resources and enough young ready to die on the other side? You can almost see the archangels of history pouring blood and bullets into two sides of a balance. But occasionally states find other ways to resolve their differences and simply sell land to one another. A lack of dead young men is surely a good thing, but Beach can’t help but think that there is something ignoble about this. Still, for the record, five famous instances from history where ‘the breaking of nations’ was brought about by dollars. We do not include deals where money was given afterwards to sweeten conquest or where there were land swaps.
1) Manhattan Purchase: In 1626 a group of Dutch merchants under Peter Minuit gave about 50 guilders worth of goods in exchange for Manhattant Island: probably 1000 dollars today. As is often noted it is very unlikely that the partially nomadic Indians went away from the encounter believing they had sold the land. Probably they thought they were agreeing to occasional settlement or shared water rights.
2) Louisiana Purchase: In 1803 the French had tired of their games in North America and sensibly wanted out. The US made perhaps the single greatest land deal in history paying a mere fifty million francs for Louisiana and many, many other territories: today there are some city blocks in New Orleans that probably cost substantially more.
3) Alaskan Purchase: In 1867 the Russian Emperor allowed Alaska to be sold to the US in another remarkable deal, in part to boost his depleted treasury and in part to spite the British. He asked a mere 7.2 million dollars, about 2 cents an acre. A few years later, kids in American cities would be paying that much for an ice. Still it has to be admitted that many of those acres…
4) Selling the Virgin Islands: In 1916 Denmark made one of its great mistakes and some of the most beautiful real estate in the world, the Danish Virgin Islands (today the US Virgin Islands) were handed over to the US government. To be fair the US had been putting a lot of pressure on the Danish government, fearing that a German conquest of Denmark would lead to a German presence in the Caribbean. The islands went for a really rather cheap 25 million dollars.
And that is it… There must be many more examples, particularly in the age of exploration and colonial politics, of land being paid for rather than fought over: perhaps there are even ancient cases where cities were sold like lettuces; and there must have been other ‘misunderstandings’ between colonial types and native population: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com The predominance of the US in the list above is also striking, a combination of New World customs and the US’s easy dominance in the western hemisphere.