Early Russian-American Relations
Russia and America: "Two Great Nations"
Tocquevilles commentary, repeated a century and a half later, helped to remind us that Russia and America were not always bitter rivals. The animosity of the Cold War and the hostility between the United States and Russia that had grown since the Bolshevik Revolution had erased from the memories of most Americans and Russians the harmonious relations that had existed between them for the previous 150 years.
The New American Republic And Its Ties
With Tsarist Russia
When former Senator Adams returned to the United States to pursue his political career, which later included terms as Secretary of State and President, his replacement as American Minister was William Pinkney, an experienced diplomat from Maryland. Shortly after his arrival in St. Petersburg in 1817, Pinkney met with Alexander I and found him to be very cordial. Pinkney noted: "The Emperor conversed with me for half an hour and expressed himself from time to time in the strongest terms of regard for our country and frequently declared his desire to cultivate with us the most friendly relations." The Tsar pointed out to Pinkney that there was "a striking analogy" between their two countries and this became a common theme throughout the 19th century. Pinkney also articulated another thought which became a common theme of many other American visitors to Russia in the 1800s -- a deep admiration for the person of the tsar. Several decades later, Americans visiting Russia who met with the autocratic Tsar Nicholas I often favorably compared him with their own "democratic" Andrew Jackson.
Growing Russian-American Affinity
John Lloyd Stephens, one of the first American writers to publish accounts of his travels in Russia, concurred. While traveling through Tsarist Russia in 1835, Stephens wrote that "to an American Russia is an interesting country. True it is not classic ground; but as for me, who had now traveled over the faded and worn-out kingdoms of the Old World, I was quite ready for something new. Like our own Russia is a new country, and in many respects resembles ours."
These two observations, together with Tocquevilles often-quoted commentary, became the standard American perception of Russia in the early 1800s.
What is also fascinating is that Russian visitors to the United States shared the same view. Platon Chikhachev described his impression of the New Republic to Russian audiences in the 1830s with these words: "During my stay in North America I often thought of my country. The wealth of resources with which each of these two states has been endowed by providence, the stability of the basic principles upon which their prosperity is built, and finally, the youth of their population, keen-witted and full of life, often led me to compare them to each other. . . . one may affirm that Russia and the United States are two states before whom there is opening up a most promising future. . . . Having emerged only recently into the light of history, they have already secured for themselves a place in the future, moving with a firm and stately tread towards their goal."
NOTE: These "Reflections" were based on Norman E. Sauls book Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763-1867 (University of Kansas Press, 1991).
Dr. John A. Bernbaum