36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2003
What I learned about the Louisiana Purchase in school was pretty cut-and-dried: A bunch of very statesmanlike men wearing powdered wigs made an incredible real estate deal that more than doubled the size of the United States and enabled Manifest Destiny to happen, usually within the next five pages.
Jon Kukla did us all a service by sitting down and asking what the Louisiana Purchase actually meant to the North, the South, and the burgeoning Western Territories, both then, in the more distant future, and even now.
In 1803, New Orleans was a Caribbean port with a large population of free mulattoes, Creoles, French, and Spanish -- not to mention a sprinkling of American traders. It was like nothing that the original Thirteen Colonies ever saw, and it was but a foretaste of the rampant multiculturalism that has become a dominant feature of our lives.
Did you know that the first impulse to secession was not in the South, but in Massachusetts? The "Essex Junto," dating as far back as 1786, allowed itself to be influenced by Spain for purely regional benefits. As late as the Hartford Convention in 1815, the threat of secession was primarily a Yankee threat; only later did the South adopt it.
Jefferson, Livingston, and Monroe tread on new ground in cutting the deal: There was nothing in the new Constitution to allow them such powers, nor was there anything that expressly forbade it. And no sooner was the deal made than the United States began to face new problems, such as the expansion of slavery in the new territories. It was the Purchase that led in an almost direct line to the Missouri Compromise of 1820; and from there, to the Dred Scott Decision; and from there to the horrors of the War Between the States.
Kukla's book can be read on several levels. I read it as an exciting tale of diplomacy between the United States, Spain, and France spanning twenty years. As a work of scholarship, it contains extensive but unobtrusive endnotes, maps, and appendices containing the texts of the 1795 treaty with Spain, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty and Conventions, and some draft amendments to the Constitution proposed by Jefferson in 1803 to legitimize the Purchase.
I did not expect much from this book at first, but Kukla was so successful in working in threads and themes that continue to this day, that the book is highly relevant and thought provoking. It is odd to call a book about diplomacy gripping, but any tale that weaves together Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, Toussaint L'Ouverture (the Black Haitian revolutionary), Talleyrand, and Napoleon Bonaparte so well can be described in no other way.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2008
By the time twenty years passed after the American revolution, the young United States, already an immense country by European standards, had yet again doubled its land mass through Thomas Jefferson's Louisianan Purchase. Within the next 16 years, again due to this purchase, it would stretch across the entire North American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
The story of this land acquisition is intricate, filled with intrigue. It spans the globe including such diverse locations as Haiti, Madrid, Virginia, New York, Paris, London and New Orleans. It involved scheming, daring and negotiation between traditional contenders France, Great Britain, Spain and the United States and involved a cast of characters Hollywood could only hope for: Napoleon, Jefferson, Monroe, Livingston, Talleyrand, Jay, Wilkerson, Burr, and many, many more.
Jon Kukla does a masterful job of spinning the tale of the world's largest real estate transaction. He makes it clear that as the French Revolution, and Napoleon's empire building, rocked the Atlantic community, Spain's new world empire became increasingly vulnerable to its American and European rivals. Jefferson hoped to take Spain's territories piece by piece, while Napoleon schemed to reestablish French colonial empire in the Caribbean and North America.
Interweaving the stories of ordinary settlers and kings maneuvering on the world stage, the author depicts a world of revolutionary intrigue that transformed a small, faltering experiment in self government into a world power. And all without blood shed and for about 4 cents per acre. Exceedingly well written and with significant attention paid to key transitions and detail this is a most excellent work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
For anyone fascinated with the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, they will find this well written book an excellent precursor to that incredible exploration. The author provides fascinating detail, in easy to read style, on the major impact players involved in The acquisition of Louisiana. It all starts first with the possible separation of the New England states led by John Jay that was engineered literally under the table for an exchange of trade with Spain, sacrificing navigation and trade rights on the Mississippi. The possible road block or river tariffs enraged the Kentuckians that were ready to conquer New Orleans under the command of George Rogers Clark. Those in Kentucky were frustrated by a lack of action by the original colonial states to consider their own separation. Adding to this complication were the secret actions of General Wilkerson (U.S.) who was not only a secret agent of Spain's but entertained plans of secession first for Kentucky and later in Louisiana. In Europe, the death of the great Carlos III, King of Spain who was not only highly competent but enlisted the aid of excellent counsel, changed the entire situation. The death of his eldest son followed by the sudden death of Carlos III opened up the throne to the next in line, Carlos IV who only had hunting in common with his father> Carlos IV defers the control of Spain to his wife who has intrigues, sexual favors (some historians dispute, but the author says look at the children and you'll agree with him) and political favorites of her own. The capacity of those governing the Spanish control of Louisiana is run for the most part but enter another complication, France and Napoleon. As the author explains, Napoleon's expansion into Europe, conquering Spain opens up his access by treaty to acquiring Louisiana. France's ownership is complicated by Napleon's severe military setback in Haiti, lack of cash and the future war with England. Napoleon was also aware of the possibility of a large force of Americans were considering taking the river and ports by force. Fortunately, President Jefferson makes the famous offer of purchase made successful by his highly competent diplomat and the late arrival of James Monroe. The multiple intrigues and complications are amazingly neutralized to create a very unusual transfer over a short ceremony, Spain to France, France to the U.S. An amazing story and where diplomacy succeeded, Clark was ready to take it with a 5,000 man militia. An excellent telling of our greatest acquisition, without war. The digital version includes maps that are very good and expand to a full page.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2011
I purchased this book thinking it would include the experiences of Lewis and Clark. As I read further I was wondering when the author was going to get to Lewis and Clark but about a fourth of the way I realized it wasn't about them. However, I am pleased that I read this book. It is an excellent compilation of the events in the U.S., France, and Spain, along with some other matters in Europe and the Caribbean, that resulted in the U.S. purchasing the vast territory west of the Mississippi. I have read other books that touched on the French Revolution, thinking it was largely inspired by the earlier American Revolution. I learned in this book that a devastating hail storm in July followed by a drought and severe winter set conditions that brought the under current that turned into the French Revolution to fruition. Nor did I know that French efforts to rein in a slave revolt in what is now Haiti contributed to the Louisiana purchase. The author brings events to life and develops characters quite well, making the book enjoyable. If you have ever wondered what motivated Napoleon the make the sale, read this book and you will know.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I admit I decided to read this book because I thought it only fitting in this bicentennial year of the Louisiana Purchase to do so, and that I was struck by the felicitous title (on a par with other titles which stand out in my memory (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? [read 9 Apr 1952], Right Hand, Glove Uplifted [read Jun 30, 1983], I Came Out of the 18th Century [read 3 Feb 1979], I, Too, Have Lived in Arcadia [read 26 Feb 1987], Keep the Aspidistra Flying [read 2 Apr 2002], and What Me Befell [read 24 Feb 2001]). But it turned out to be a super-interesting book, especially when it got to the actual events leading up to the negotiations with Napolean. One stands in awe of the superlative job which Livingston did in conditioning Napoleon to be willing to sell and the suspense which attends the negotiations is surprising (since one know that it all turns out for the best, because here I am living in Iowa and an American citizen). The research is impeccable, and the footnotes ample, and one is even favored with the text of Pinckney's treaty of 1795 as well as of the Treaty to buy Louisiana. (In the next edition the statement on page 251 that Napoleon died on Elba should be corrected, as well as the statement on page 272 saying Livingston met Talleyrand on "January" 12 instead of April 12, 1803.) The book is full of interesting tidbits, such as telling what happened to Shays of Shays' Rebellion fame, and to Toussaint after the promise to him was broken and he was arrested. This is history which cannot fail to be appreciated when read.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2007
I read this book for my own personal research. If you want detail, this has it: Not only what people did, but what they ate and who they were sleeping with. The thing I did not like about the book was each chapter dealt with one thing, for example Pickney's treaty. This made each chapter have to go back and cover time frames in other chapters, so it got a bit confusing with all the overlaps. I would have rather he wrote it straight chronologically. Also, most the chapters had titles that did not give much of a hint as to what was in them, for example: "A Long Train of Intrique", "Banners of Blood", and "Selling a Ship". When I needed to go back and find something, it was very difficult to figure out which chapter it was in. You can't say, "Well, I know it happened before this" because lots of chapters before and after have things from "before this". There is an index, but there are lots of references to Napoleon, Charles IV and Jefferson, so you have to do a lot of extra looking up. Bottom line, very thourough, but difficult to sift through.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2012
The man can write! I looked on the back cover to see the photo of a middle-aged man who's apparently been doing something other than writing books for most of his career - a shame. Superb at character studies and evoking the atmosphere of the time, Kukla's book was a joy to read. I thought this book would be a light quick read - but instead it was dense with information - vividly protrayed. How interesting it was to read of all the British/French/Spanish entanglements in the southern US. Kukla did his work and presented it well.
on February 20, 2015
Informative and entertaining.
15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Jon Kukla certainly provides a vast account of events leading up the Louisiana Purchase, but seems to get lost in the Wilderness in the process. He offers interesting character sketches and numerous anecdotal references, but it takes him most of the book to get down to the nitty gritty of the purchase itself.
He tries to hook readers into his account by providing a very questionable view of Jefferson in Paris in the opening chapter. He assumes a pedophiliac relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. He plays this against an account of the building of the Richmond capitol to illustrate how Jefferson was not afraid to use subterfuge to get anything he wanted. Kukla also plays Jefferson off against Monroe, who he seems to have more admiration for.
Kukla also has an obsession for the early secessionist drives in the fledgling US, and how the Spanish played off these sectional differences, particularly in regard to the nefarious James Wilkinson. I think Kukla made too much of these secessionist drives. Mostly it was a battle between the Federalists and the Republicans, not deep-seated sectional differences. Of course these differences would ultimately lead to the Civil War, but at this point the Union was in its formative stages, and the new territories vied for statehood not independence.
I got the impression that Kukla was trying to build a picture of the early United States and its place in the world moreso than illuminate readers on the Louisiana Purchase. There is an awful lot of information on the Spanish-French-American connection, but so little on the strong tie between the US and Britain. He focuses heavily on the Virginians, and presents the Northeastern contingent as incidental characters with the exception of Robert Livingston, who set much of the groundwork for the Purchase.
Kukla spends an inordinate amount of time on the French Revolution, as a means of introducing us to Napoleon and Tallyrand. He also uses the revolution as the basis for the Haitian Independence drive which so greatly consternated Virginia planters. Kukla does provide a pretty good account of Citizen Genet and his attempt to form a militia to take New Orleans prior to the repossession of the territory by Napoleon.
It seems Kukla is trying to impress readers with his universal knowledge of events rather than focus on the more salient aspects of the Louisiana Purchase. All in all, it is an entertaining account of events but one that seems to lose its bearings in a wilderness so immense.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2013
Much has been written about the Louisiana Purchase but this gives the story leading up to it details and style that makes the book hard to put down.