BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jon Kukla, author of "A Wilderness So Immense," where's that title come from?
JON KUKLA, AUTHOR, "A WILDERNESS SO IMMENSE:" Part of it's based on a quote, but we kind of adapted it from a quotation in which people talk about the immensity of the wilderness. It's actually a Federalist, who was -- who was appalled that the -- that the Democratic Republicans under Jefferson had bought the place. He didn't -- he was against it. So that was kind of a fun part of the -- the irony of using that in the -- in the quotation.
LAMB: Well, the place, I should say, is "The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America," which is the subtitle.
KUKLA: Yes, sir.
LAMB: When did we, as a country, buy Louisiana?
KUKLA: We bought it in -- by treaty in April of 1803.
LAMB: What was it?
KUKLA: It was western watershed of the Mississippi River and the -- and what they called then the Isle (ph) of Orleans, which is basically the city of New Orleans or now Orleans Parish, the city of New Orleans. And so it's basically something -- depending on how you count them up, 13 states and little parts of a couple of others.
LAMB: So from -- if you just drew a line from...
KUKLA: If you went from -- if you went from -- from New Orleans north to Minnesota and Canada, then west to the Rockies.
LAMB: Why did we buy it?
KUKLA: We bought it because -- because it was offered to us. It was really the -- that vast territory was really incidental to what the United States really wanted, which was simply the city of New Orleans, the port of New Orleans, because the port of New Orleans controls the navigation of the -- not only the Mississippi River but also the Ohio River. And at that point, of course, the United States was -- was all east of the Mississippi River, and the farmers and merchants in Kentucky and Tennessee were desperate to have the use of the Ohio River to export their crops.
LAMB: What did we pay for it?
KUKLA: We paid $15 million.
LAMB: Although you say in your book, by the time all the interest was paid, it was, what, $24 million...
KUKLA: It was about -- yes, they financed it for 20 years at 6 percent. So by the time it gets -- by the time all the notes are paid off in 1823, it's about $27 million. And that's where -- when you -- when you hear that it was 4 cents an acre, that's the -- that's the figure that they're using for that computation.
LAMB: How big a deal was it then?
KUKLA: It was an enormous deal. Jefferson was just flabbergasted when -- when the word came back at the -- at the extent of the piece of property that had been purchased. And he wrote a number of letters. He got word roughly around the 3rd of July, 1803, wrote a number of letters, and the responses from people that he wrote to are interesting because half a dozen of those -- of those folks make the comparison that the Louisiana Purchase is equal in importance to the Declaration of Independence and to the writing the Constitution.
KUKLA: Well, the -- what it did is it secured the -- it secured the western watershed of the -- of the Mississippi River and the use of the Mississippi River, and in that way, it put an end to the regional tensions that basically could have split the country at the peak of the Appalachian Mountains because the Westerners desperately needed to use the -- use the river. And there had been some separatist movements in the 1780s in the -- in Kentucky and Tennessee. So it secured -- it secured that -- the use of that -- of that river. And then, of course, it also -- it also meant that the -- the nation was going to be able to expand considerably across the continent to the Rockies without having a neighbor on that side of -- on the west.
LAMB: How many people lived inside the territory?
KUKLA: At the time, there were about 50,000, relatively small population.
LAMB: The entire Louisiana...
KUKLA: Now, that would be 50,000 Europeans, yes. Yes. Relatively small. In fact, part of the -- part of the pressure that the Spanish had being exerted on them in the -- in the decade before the Louisiana Purchase is one of population because there's an -- there's a significant movement of people over the mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee. So if you start immediately after the American Revolution -- let's say 1785 -- there's roughly 30,000 Americans who've gone over the mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee, and there's roughly 30,000 French and Spanish inhabitants of Louisiana. By 1800, the -- Louisiana has got about 50,000, but the numbers in Kentucky and Tennessee are roughly 326 million...
KUKLA: ... 326 thousand. I'm sorry. Yes. So you know, it's like -- the increase in population is, like, seven or eight-fold, at least.
LAMB: These sentences got my attention. On page 4, "Thomas Jefferson" -- and I'll take this slowly -- "never traveled west of the Shenandoah Valley. Robert Livingston never got beyond the Catskills. James Monroe never made it west of Erie, Pennsylvania. Napoleon Bonaparte never visited America, and his ministers knew only the Atlantic coast." And one of his ministers, Francois -- is it...
KUKLA: Barber-Barbois (ph).
LAMB: ... "once visited the Mohawk Valley from his diplomatic post in New York City during the last years of the American Revolution. And Charles Maurice Talleyrand (ph)"...
LAMB: ... "sat out the reign of terror in Philadelphia."
LAMB: Why did you put that in there? What point were you making?
KUKLA: The point that I was making is that -- is that the story of a -- of this diplomatic -- this diplomatic story is the story of elite, you know, white leaders making -- making decisions based on -- based on information that they have to glean from all kinds of sources but that they've never -- you know, they never -- they themselves never set foot in the -- in the territories that were being affected by their decision making.
LAMB: Why should anyone care about this on this 200th anniversary?
KUKLA: I think there's -- I think there's two reasons. The one that jumps to people's mind is the land transaction -- you know, the size of -- and clearly, that's -- that's phenomenally important in American history because it -- because it does reshape the continent of North America. When you think about it -- I was working with a -- with a documentary producer who was trying to reach -- reach out to younger children, and he wanted me to speculate, which is something historians don't like to do, but he wanted me to speculate on what North America would look like if there hadn't been a Louisiana Purchase.
And you begin to -- if you play that game -- and it's probably a legitimate game -- if you play that game, Canada's boundaries would probably have extended down from sort of Lake Erie to St. Louis. There'd be a Spanish or a French regime in charge of -- of New Orleans and what's now Louisiana, state of Louisiana, state of Arkansas, and so on. It's likely that if the -- if the government under the Constitution of the 13 original states -- if that government had not been able to secure the navigation of the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers for the Kentuckians and the Tennesseans, they probably would have split off. And there was a secessionist movement in New England that probably would have pulled it apart, too.
And so we would have had a -- you know, we would have had a Balkanized kind of map of North America, with all of the attendant irritants and abrasion that goes with that. So there's that -- there's that geographic response to the significance.
And the other significance is one that I think is -- is one that we can now understand, 200 years after the event, and that is the way in which -- to, indeed, engage in a broad caricature, the first 200 years of American history, from Jamestown in 1607 to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, created a while male agrarian Protestant civic world on the East Coast. And at New Orleans in 1803, that world confronted French, Spanish, free people of color, which was an extraordinary shock to the American understanding of race relations, and so on, in an urban setting.
And so I kind of see that as the beginning of an encounter with diversity about 200 years ago and that that -- that encounter with diversity through -- both through immigration and through expansions, has characterized the -- you know, the second 200 years of American history.
So I think for those -- both the geographical and the human dimensions, I think it -- those are -- those are the two ways in which I think it's -- it's worth, you know, pausing to contemplate the significance of this event.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
KUKLA: I've written a number of books that have been, you know, monographs for scholars. This is the -- this is the first time that I've written book length with -- with a desire to reach a general readership, rather than just a few -- you know, a few of my peers.
LAMB: Where'd you get the idea?
KUKLA: The idea came to me when I was in New Orleans. I'd spent almost -- almost 20 years in Virginia, studying Virginia history and working in Virginia. And I went and took a position in New Orleans, and I was completely bewildered as to how that really, you know, fascination, exotic and wonderful city -- how its history related to the -- to the world of 18th century America that I'd spent so much time trying to figure out. And eventually, I think, you know, the -- the book is my answer to that -- to that question that was puzzling me.
LAMB: But Arthur Schlesinger, the -- Jr., the historian, had something to do with this, you say in your...
KUKLA: Yes. Yes. What happened is I'd been -- in 1993, we played host -- I was -- I was then director of the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, and we played host to the celebrations of Jefferson's 250th birthday. And it got me to thinking about the fact that the -- 2003 was coming up and that -- that some advance planning might mean that there'd be civic and educational programs that could be put into place when the politicians realized that there was an anniversary within their term of office.
So I began -- I brought together some people from universities and museums in Louisiana to begin thinking about this, and I also began looking for a good book to read. And when I -- in 1998, I think it was, I was -- found myself on a -- on a program sitting next to Professor Schlesinger and -- and was picking his brain because I had not found the book that I wanted to read, and -- and I just thought it was -- I thought perhaps he might know of something that I'd missed. And when I said that I hadn't found it, he couldn't come up with any more titles, and I -- and I said, you know, I've been thinking of writing it, and he just -- he just focused in on me, just looked me right in the eye, said, That would be a good reason for you to write that book. So...
LAMB: So how'd you go about it?
KUKLA: I started -- by that time, I'd done a considerable amount of reading, and so -- so I simply began -- I -- as a writer, I've always had to -- I've always had to write -- if I'm writing an article, I got to get the first paragraph. If I'm writing a short piece, you know, I have to get the first sentence. I figured that, given the way I write, what I needed to do was nail down the first chapter. And so I -- so I wrote the first chapter about the same time that I was working up the book proposal that -- you know, for submission to publishers to get the contract.
LAMB: The one with the title "Piece by Piece"?
KUKLA: Yes. Yes. That was -- that was my initial draft, yes.
LAMB: You start...
KUKLA: It's been reworked, you know, over the -- over subsequent months of course.
LAMB: "The skies over Paris were cloudy on Wednesday, January 25th, 1786, and the early morning temperature was 42 degrees in the courtyard of the elegant new mansion" -- on and on. How long did it take you to start that? And why start it that way?
KUKLA: I wanted -- one of the things that I -- it took quite a while to figure out, although somehow, that -- the fact that Jefferson for 50 years of his life took the temperature twice a day -- and if you look at his Commonplace (ph) books, he did this -- I mean, I -- if I decided to do, you know, exercises or something like that for -- you know, I might go a week with some regularity. But for 50 years of his life, six days out of seven, he did get the temperature in the morning, and it's, like, five days out of seven that -- on average, that he got the temperature written down in the afternoon. And you know, he's just fascinated with weather, and of course, that was he was. And somehow, that just -- that just spoke to me about, I don't know, discipline. It was something that just was kind of quirky and fascinating about him.
And then the other thing that I wanted to do in that chapter was -- was try to -- try to have a starting place for the story. And it seemed to me that what -- what happens that particular -- what I focused on is two days in Jefferson's life when he's ambassador to Paris -- ambassador to France in Paris. And in one of those letters that he writes -- he writes a series of letters that day, and in one of the letters, he writes that he's basically surveying the state of affairs in Europe. So that was a perfect mechanism to kind of take stock of the situation of the world at the beginning of my story.
But the other one is a letter that he writes to a protege, really, in Virginia, in which he's kind of speculating about the future of the continent, and particularly about the fact that -- that many of these western territories are in hands of the Spanish. And he -- and he writes that he hopes that the Spanish can hold these territories long enough for us to pluck them from them piece by piece. So there it is, 17 years ahead of the event, if my math is right, and he's already -- he's already contemplating in his mind the inevitability of -- of American acquisition of what was then Spanish territory. So that seemed to be a good place to start.
LAMB: As you know, when we learn about the Louisiana Purchase, we always hear about Napoleon. We always hear about France owning it. But you spend a lot of time back and forth and back and forth, Spain to France and -- give us the quick history on who owned that land.
KUKLA: Sure. Louisiana was founded about 1699 by the French, and it was named for King Louis XIV. And then in the -- at the end of the Seven Years War, or in American history, the French and Indian War, the French gave it to the Spanish in order to keep from having to surrender it to Britain. They'd essentially lost in North America to Great Britain -- lost Canada, for example. So the Spanish took possession and administered Louisiana from the 1760s up until just weeks -- weeks before the Americans took possession of it in 1803. So that Spanish domination of Louisiana is -- is often -- is often missed. You know, it's the -- you go -- you go visit Louisiana, for the longest time -- you ride the streetcars down Saint Charles Avenue. For the longest time, when I first got to Louisiana, I figured that Saint Charles Avenue, that was probably named for Charlemagne. Well, in fact, it's named for Carlos III, who was the king of -- king of Spain right -- right on the eve of the Louisiana Purchase.
LAMB: Well, that takes me to Chapter two. You start by saying, in the beginning of the chapter, "Carlos III hunted nearly every afternoon from 1:00 o'clock until dusk"...
LAMB: ... "roaming the countryside in pursuit of wolves and foxes that preyed on his subjects' farms and livestock." Why the hunting thing? And I guess didn't his son -- is Carlos IV his son?
KUKLA: Yes, Carlos IV...
LAMB: He hunted, too.
KUKLA: He -- he -- Carlos IV was the kind of guy who liked to have -- have the keepers run the deer past the royal stand and blast at them, whereas Carlos III, the father, actually enjoyed going out and tracking and hunting down wolves. So he was -- I think he was a real hunter, rather than just, you know, somebody -- but the -- but to get back to your question, the -- Carlos III was an amazingly able monarch, and I...
LAMB: When did he reign?
KUKLA: He came to the throne in the 1750s...
KUKLA: ... of Spain, yes. And he died in 1788. So he -- he -- you know, he's there and in charge of Louisiana at the time when I'm starting the story.
LAMB: You call him the Catholic king.
KUKLA: Yes. That's the term that they used, his -- His Most Catholic Majesty was the kind of formal language that shows up in treaties, referring to the king of -- king of Spain.
LAMB: You say that his death, though, probably led to the sale eventually of the Louisiana Purchase.
KUKLA: I think -- well, what happens is -- I think, arguably, Carlos III, the father, is one of the most able monarchs in -- probably in all of Spanish -- Spanish history. And his son has, I think, an equally strong claim to be one of the most inept. And so it -- it makes a -- you know, it makes a big difference that you have a less able man facing the challenges of the French revolution and ultimately of Napoleon and such.
LAMB: When did Carlos III die?
KUKLA: Boy, you know, I don't remember the exact date. He was -- he was forced into exile in 1808, and I think he lived on into the 1820s, but I don't have the exact date in mind.
LAMB: When did his son take over, then?
KUKLA: The -- I'm sorry. Carlos III died in 1788, and then his son took over...
LAMB: That's what I mean...
KUKLA: ... in 17...
LAMB: ... Carlos III.
KUKLA: Yes. Yes. Yes. And then the son eventually gets -- you know, Napoleon kicks the Bourbons off the -- off the Spanish throne in 1808 and puts his brother on the Spanish throne and sends these guys into exile. That's stuff that isn't -- you know, I didn't -- I didn't -- I didn't follow that -- that digression.
LAMB: In the beginning of your book, you list a number of people that you thought were the principal characters in this whole exchange. One of them was Robert Livingston. Who was he?
KUKLA: Robert -- Robert Livingston was a New York politician who -- statesman, and he was Jefferson's minister to France. He'd been active in -- in the Revolution. He was known in New York history as Chancellor Livingston to separate -- to distinguish him from a whole bunch of Robert -- Robert was a really popular name in the Livingston family. In fact, this guy's name was Robert Robert Livingston. But he had been -- he'd been foreign minister for the Continental Congress in -- in the -- in the American Revolution and so was experienced in diplomacy and the like and was Jefferson's choice to -- to go represent the United States to -- to France when Jefferson came to the presidency.
LAMB: You -- I wrote this down. You say, "Robert Livingston made the deal and James Monroe saved it."
KUKLA: Livingston had worked on the idea of trying to get ahold of New Orleans. He'd been working on that for months. And then late in the -- late in the game, Monroe arrives with -- with special authority to negotiate for those purposes. Monroe I don't think ever realized how much work Livingston had done before his arrival and so kind of had an inflated notion of -- of what he had done because as far as what Monroe saw, he arrived, they went through three weeks of negotiation, they ended up with a treaty, and it looked like -- you know, it looked like that's when it all happened. But -- but as I -- as I think I pretty well document in the book, Livingston had worked long and hard in order to -- in order to create the situation in which the treaty came about.
The sentence that says that Monroe saved it -- what happened is after the treaty had been signed and sent back to the United States for ratification that summer, Napoleon began to have second thoughts. And it was at that point that Monroe, who had -- was even closer to Jefferson than Livingston and had been with him more recently, and so on, had the self-confidence to say, We've been authorized to spend $2 million. Let's give it to him. And Livingston was not sure that that was a good idea. You know, turn over $2 million to somebody who's about to back out of a deal? You know, what -- what happens?
Monroe insisted that this was the right thing to do, and -- and only Monroe could have done that because he was, you know, closer to -- you can -- you could argue about whether Monroe or Madison is closer to Jefferson, but you know, he was -- he was basically very, very close personally and politically to Jefferson, and so he had the -- the wherewithal to -- to say, Let's -- let's do it. And that did, in fact, I think -- it quelled those fears that Napoleon would try to back out of the treaty.
LAMB: Do me a favor before we lose you entirely. Your mike is about to fall off. Just slide it back up there, and it -- up a little higher, so we -- so we can hear you.
LAMB: Sometimes they fall -- sometimes they fall off in the middle of these things.
Another name was Talleyrand.
KUKLA: Yes. Talleyrand's a fascinating character in French history. He's -- he starts off as a bishop, and then he leaves the church on the eve of the French revolution. He's part of that first early kind of aristocratic and liberal rather than extreme period of the first years of the French revolution. He's a major figure in writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. In fact, it's interesting -- Mary Wollstonecraft (ph), when she writes about the vindication of the rights of women, dedicates it to Talleyrand because he puts women into the Declaration of Rights and Citizen -- and then -- and then he gets -- you know, he gets afoul of the more extreme elements in the -- in the revolution, when the "Reign of Terror" is about to start and is able to escape under a diplomatic mission to England and then ultimately comes and sits out the Reign of Terror in -- in Philadelphia, which he liked about as well as W.C. Fields did. He didn't care for Philadelphia at all.
But what happens then after -- after the Reign of Terror is that Talleyrand, whose real forte is foreign relations, comes back and gives two lectures, one at the French Institute, very well received and published. One of the lectures advocates religious liberty as a way of establishing a stable government, by simply trying to get the issue of religious dissension and contention out of politics. So he advocates religious liberty.
And the other is he advocates colonies as a way of rebuilding the French empire and also as a convenient place to send, you know, malcontents, and particularly what he's thinking about is -- you know, Napoleon's got all of these victorious soldiers who -- you know, what are you going to do with them when peace comes? Well, of course, as it turns out, Napoleon never -- never has to worry about peace. But Talleyrand's thinking about that, and so he -- so he reintroduces the idea of colonization. And then that leads, in turn, to -- he and Napoleon kind of get connected. He supports Napoleon in the coup that brings Napoleon into office, and Napoleon makes him his foreign minister.
And you know, Napoleon is one of his -- one of his goals is to try to reestablish the French domination of Haiti, which was then San Doming (ph), the sugar colony there, which had had such an enormous role in the French economy. And so what Napoleon wants to do is -- is send an expedition to conquer -- conquer San Doming, or modern Haiti, put down the revolt of the slaves there, reinstitute slavery and get that sugar economy working again. And Talleyrand -- Talleyrand's pretty much all for that.
And in fact, this is what causes Napoleon to be interested in Louisiana. He wants to use Louisiana as a place to supply food and firewood and all kinds of, you know, mundane commodities that aren't very profitable, that basically -- the idea is that you don't want to -- you don't want to waste slave labor and expensive land in this, you know, tropical plantation economy of Haiti, which can be put to use making -- you know, making sugar, particularly, but also coffee, indigo and chocolate. That stuff's profitable. So the idea is that you bring in -- bring in these other mundane supplies from Louisiana. So that's -- that's Napoleon's kind of imperial vision, and that's why he presses the Spanish to cede Louisiana back to him in 1800.
LAMB: Do I remember you saying that -- that sugar was, like, 20 percent of the gross national product of France?
KUKLA: Yes, it's something like that. And it had a phenomenal role in -- in French overseas trade. Basically, what -- what happened is that they would -- they would bring the sugar in from -- from San Doming, particularly, but also -- I think Martinique also had it. And the British were, frankly, doing the same thing in Barbados and Jamaica. But they would -- the French would bring it in and then process it and market it throughout Europe. So it represented something like 60 percent of the -- of the foreign shipping of the French shipping trade. It was a phenomenal -- phenomenally important part of the French economy.
LAMB: Let's go back to kind of the dates and try to lay the groundwork -- 1803 was when the...
KUKLA: We bought it.
LAMB: ... treaty was signed.
LAMB: When did it -- when did somebody start planning to want to get the Louisiana Territory in this country?
KUKLA: In this country? Well, Livingston was working on that -- that idea early on, but...
LAMB: What year, though?
KUKLA: This would be 1800. Livingston -- Livingston -- when Livingston went to -- Jefferson is elected in 1800, takes office in 1801. So when -- when Livingston goes to France in 1801, part of what he's interested in is trying to secure -- you know -- well, I should -- actually, I should say when the Americans learned that the -- that the Spanish are ceding Louisiana back to the French, it's at that point that Livingston and the Americans start working on the idea of, We've -- you know, We can't let this happen.
LAMB: So Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801.
LAMB: And how old was he then?
KUKLA: He was -- let's see. He was born in '43, so he's -- he was born in 1743, so he's, like, 59, 60.
LAMB: And he spent how many years in France when he was...
KUKLA: He had been there from '84 to '89, so he'd spent about five years, five-and-a-half years.
LAMB: OK, then, if you just step back a little bit, you have Great Britain at that time, in 1801. Who was running Great Britain then
KUKLA: George III.
LAMB: And how big -- how many people lived there?
KUKLA: Boy. I'm not sure. Maybe 30 million, 40 million?
LAMB: I have no idea.
KUKLA: I would -- I would guess.
LAMB: France was run by?
KUKLA: France at this -- in 1801, France was -- was being run by Napoleon. It had -- it had gone from -- from Louis XVI and -- who was beheaded at the beginning of the revolution. It had gone through a whole bunch of turmoils and different forms of government. And Napoleon was first consul in 1801, and then of course, in -- later on, I think, early in 1804, he crowns himself emperor.
LAMB: You say he had the constitution changed, and they phonied up the vote.
KUKLA: Yes, they did. Yes, apparently, that's one of the things his brothers did a great job of manufacturing these phenomenal victories at the -- at the ballot box that, in fact, were all frauds.
LAMB: You have any idea how many people lived in France in 1801?
KUKLA: No, I don't. No.
LAMB: Cuba was owned by what country?
KUKLA: Cuba was owned by Spain. In fact, Cuba was kind of the base of their administration of the -- of the Caribbean area.
KUKLA: Florida was owned by Spain.
KUKLA: Canada had been owned by France, but as a result of the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War, had been transferred to Great Britain.
LAMB: When do you bring in General Wilkinson (ph)?
KUKLA: Wilkinson shows up in the story in about 1785. He'd been involved in the -- in various things in the Revolution. He fought in the Revolution. He's originally from Maryland and had started -- he started off thinking he was going to be a physician, but he got interested and became a soldier. And he goes to -- and he goes out to Kentucky in 1785. And one of the things that he tries to agitate for is opening the river.
You know, the river is periodically being closed. It had been open because the Spanish were surreptitiously helping the Americans during the Revolution, and then once the Revolution was over, they closed it again. So Wilkinson -- Wilkinson gets -- gets all these Kentucky farmers to donate a whole -- several boatloads worth of stuff, and he -- and he floats it downstream with the idea that -- that he's going to open the -- open the Ohio, Mississippi River trade link.
And then when he gets down there, he starts negotiating with -- with the governor of Louisiana, with his -- his scheme -- he portrays himself as someone who can -- who is going to be able to bring Kentucky out of the union and -- and join it with -- with -- with the Spanish administration in New Orleans, and therefore make it, you know -- kind of a defensive measure. So he's sort of playing both sides against -- against the middle. And what he -- what he -- what it seems that he really wants is to -- is to develop a trade monopoly, where he would be the only one who -- who had the authority to bring Kentucky goods down the river, which would, of course, have been very, very lucrative. But he kind of plays both sides against the river. [SIC]
And the Spanish -- I don't think the Spanish really -- after a while, they don't believe that he's capable of bringing Kentucky out of the union. But his information is useful, so they keep him on the payroll, you know -- you know, past the time of the Louisiana Purchase, he's on the Spanish payroll.
His secret number was he was agent number 13, because that's the code that they used with Wilkinson (ph). So he's quite a character. Somebody really ought to write a good book about Wilkinson (ph). It's been 30 years, and the Spanish archives are now available in a way that they weren't under Franco, so...
LAMB: Have you thought about that yourself?
KUKLA: I can make it through Spanish documents with a dictionary and I can run them by friends who can make sure that the transcriptions are good, but I am not sure -- once you get into an archive and you have to deal with both the handwriting and the language, I'm not sure that I could master that one.
LAMB: The -- by the way, you have some Canada in your background.
KUKLA: Yes. I went to graduate school at the University of Toronto and did a minor in Canadian history, so I've kind of done -- in graduate school I did American, Canadian and British history.
LAMB: Where are you from?
KUKLA: Originally from Wisconsin.
LAMB: Where did you go to undergrad?
KUKLA: Carthage College in Kenosha. It's a small, Lutheran-related liberal arts school on Lake Michigan.
LAMB: And how did you get interested in history?
KUKLA: I had a good teacher.
KUKLA: Nelson Peter Ross, the late Nelson Peter Ross.
KUKLA: He was at Carthage. He was -- he just kind of turned me onto the discipline. And the other thing was I could never decide as an undergraduate, I couldn't decide what I wanted to major in. And so, I convinced myself that if I majored in history, since that would be everything under the sun from yesterday back, I could put off, you know, put off having to -- having to narrow my focus. In some ways that's been true. I've had a lot of fun looking into a lot of interesting things.
LAMB: What was the town that you grew up in Wisconsin?
KUKLA: My parents were teachers so we moved around a lot as dad went up through the ranks. But they were originally from Milwaukee and they are living now in Jefferson. I spent most of high school in a town called Thorpe, which is up near Eau Claire.
LAMB: There is some reference in here about you, I think, standing on the Mississippi.
KUKLA: Yes, yes.
LAMB: When was that?
KUKLA: When I was a child, my folks -- when I was 5, I guess, they were teaching in a little town called Verndale, Minnesota, north of Minneapolis. And one summer we went up north of Verndale to Lake Itaska (ph). I have no real honest memories of Lake Itaska (ph), which is the headwaters of the Mississippi river, but I remember seeing the photograph of myself and my sister at Lake Itaska (ph).
What I do have an actual memory of is up near Bemidji. They have these big statues at a park there of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. That I remember. That's an actual memory rather than one that's been helped along with a photograph.
LAMB: So, what did your career -- I mean, what have you done in your life since then?
KUKLA: After graduate school, I went to Virginia to work on Virginia history and ended up editing a magazine that was then published by the Library of Virginia called "Virginia Cavalcade," and became the director of research and publishing at the Library in Virginia, which I did from -- well, I started with the Library of Virginia in '73 and left in 1990 to take a position at the HistoricNew Orleans CollectionSo I spent, you know, 17 years doing Virginia history.
LAMB: And the Library of Virginia is where?
KUKLA: It's in Richmond. It's to the seat of the government the equivalent of the Library of Congress and the archives. It's both a library and archives for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
LAMB: And what are you doing now?
KUKLA: Right now I'm the director of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, which is at Patrick Henry's last home in his burial place about 100 miles south of Richmond, called Red Hill.
LAMB: What's that foundation do today?
KUKLA: We basically have taken it upon ourselves to be kind the major interpreter of Patrick Henry, in the same way that the -- Mt. Vernon, you know, claims Washington and both preserves site related to him, or Monticello does the same thing for Jefferson, both preserving a site that's related to that man and also trying to do educational programs and the like that simply, you know, are there to inform people of what he stood for and what role he played in history.
LAMB: What kind of money do you spend every year in a foundation like that?
KUKLA: Ours is very small in comparison with either Mt. Vernon or Monticello, is one of a gnat to a giant. We've got four fulltime people, and I think the budget is roughly about $250,000 a year.
LAMB: What kind of money do you have to raise or what kind of money does the foundation have, and who gives to the Patrick Henry Foundation today?
KUKLA: We've got a lot of people who support Patrick Henry for his involvement in the Bill of Rights, and we've got a lot of people who support Patrick Henry because they see him as a spokesperson for limited government, which, you know, both of those things being positions that he held not only in his arguments with the king and before the revolution, but also in the ratification debates over whether or not to ratify the Constitution.
So, I think those are the two things that -- you know, what kids remember him for, of course, is, "give me liberty or give me death." And Henry's an interesting character, because he was so prominent in American mind in the 19th century, at a time when the country still valued oratory not only as a part of political debate but also as entertainment. And because he was a man -- not a man of the pen, he's been kind of eclipsed by those people who left voluminous writings.
LAMB: By the way, the cover of your book, where is this painting from?
KUKLA: The painting I believe is in Cincinnati.
LAMB: Do you know who did it?
KUKLA: Asher Durand (ph), I think. But I must say that the folks at Knopf’s art department are the ones that located that particular painting.
LAMB: In the pursuit of this subject, the subtitle being the Louisiana Purchase and the destiny of America, where did you go, where did you travel, where did you study?
KUKLA: I hoped at one point, Brian, that I would have to go to Madrid, but I was spared that onerous trip by microfilm at Tulane and the resources here at the Library of Congress, University of Virginia Library in Charlottesville and Library of Virginia and others.
So, most of my -- most of my travels were actually east of the Mississippi into parts of the territory that I had not previously visited. I just -- the Kentucky and Tennessee and Mississippi, what's now the state of Mississippi, they figure prominently in a lot of the jostling that goes on in the background to it, and there were just parts of that territory that I was unfamiliar with.
And then there were archives there that I had not occasion to use. So in 1999 I took about a seven-week research trip, in which I just wandered. I had some destinations in mind, archives in mind and collections that I wanted to use, but I also would just, you know, whenever I saw those brown signs that mark local museums, I stopped at those sorts of things.
And what I was trying to do was to try to keep from making mistakes. I'm not sure that -- I mean, certainly I learned things, but for example, I remember stopping in Chattanooga, and I had never quite figured out how Chattanooga fit it -- because it's not part of the early history of Tennessee, doesn't get treated -- you know, and so I went into this local museum, and the first panels in there have to do with the Cherokee dominance of that part. It was like, oh, yes, until they were -- until Jackson kicked them out, that's where they were. No wonder it's not a place of extensive European settlement in, say, you know, 1800.
And so, it was -- I did a lot of that kind of traveling, drove -- at one time I thought that the Natchez trace would figure in the story. I'm not even sure that frankly it gets mentioned.
LAMB: What is that, by the way?
KUKLA: That's the road that runs from Nashville to Natchez, or I guess we should really say from Nashville to Natchez. It's the road that after the Louisiana purchase, it's the road that was used by a lot of the Tennessee and Kentucky farmers who would float their goods down to market, and then dismantle the boat and sell the lumber and then make their way up to Natchez and then go either by horse or by foot back to -- back up into the bluegrass country.
LAMB: This sentence, and I know you know -- talking about -- I mean, when you read these books, it's always fun to read these kinds of sentences -- "this remarkable document (which has never been published or consulted by American historians) confirms Monroe's suspicion, quote, 'not finding a better occasion' -- is it Gardoqui?
KUKLA: Gardoqui, yes.
LAMB: Who was?
KUKLA: He was the Spanish ambassador to the United States, and came in -- he arrived in 1785, so he's there right before writing of the Constitution.
LAMB: OK. Quoting again: "not finding a better occasion, Gardoqui wrote, 'I take advantage of the French mail to tell you that we are in a critical time. Never in Congress has there been a controversy more combated than that of our Mississippi.'"
LAMB: Where did you find this and why have historians not consulted it? Why hasn't it ever been published?
KUKLA: That's a great story, and thanks for asking. There's been a contention. The background here is that Monroe wrote letters to -- actually to Patrick Henry. He happened to be governor of Virginia at the time.
LAMB: Monroe was governor.
KUKLA: James Monroe was in Congress.
LAMB: In Congress.
KUKLA: James Monroe from Congress -- this is in 1785 and 1786. And he writes letters to Patrick Henry, reporting on -- for the congressional delegation as to what was going on. And he describes what seemed if his letters at face value, to be a movement on the part of a bunch of particularly Massachusetts but also a few Connecticut congressmen to work with John Jay in order to get a Spanish commercial treaty. They were willing to close the Mississippi river, give up the navigation of the Mississippi river for 25 or 30 years. The Virginians were adamantly opposed to this.
LAMB: Why were they willing to give it up?
KUKLA: From the point of view of Massachusetts, first of all, they didn't think it was important. Secondly, they were not eager to have the lands to the west become profitable, because it only meant that farmers from Massachusetts might leave, or that prospective factory workers might go out, or seamen and sailors might go out.
So, the idea of opening the west was not anything that folks in Massachusetts or particularly John Jay, wrote on a number of occasions, this was not something that he thought the country was ready for.
LAMB: And what was John Jay doing?
KUKLA: John Jay at this time was, he was the principal -- was it foreign minister -- foreign secretary -- he was the basic -- he was the equivalent for the congressional Congress before -- for Congress before the adoption of the present Constitution. He was basically the equivalent of secretary of state. And so, he was the one who was deputed to negotiate with the Spanish ambassador.
LAMB: And this document was again?
KUKLA: This document -- what happened, Brian, is that there's been this Henry letter, so people knew of it and most dismissed it as just being hyperbole, that Monroe was just exaggerating, because his contention, frankly, was that the New Englanders were trying to close the river and push the Southerners out of the union.
What I found in a -- there's a big -- the authoritative, big biography of James Monroe, there was a footnote to a dissertation done in 1948 about Gardoqui, the Spanish minister. So I got the dissertation on interlibrary loan and read through the thing. And at the bottom of one of the pages, there's a mention of this letter that had something to do with Gardoqui meeting with New Englanders. And then in turn, I was able -- from that I was able to find an inventory that had been published in the 1940s, and I faxed a request to the archives in Seville, and they sent me a photocopy of the two letters that I wanted, in which this Spanish ambassador is talking about his secret meetings with the junta from El Norte and that sort of thing.
And it was at that point that I, you know, enlisted the assistance of good friends who do Latin American history to make sure that we got the translation right, you know. But basically, what he was doing in his dispatches, the Spanish ambassador in his dispatches back to the authorities in Spain, was confirming the fact that he was consulting secretly with some of these New Englanders.
LAMB: As you know, this is a very complicated story.
KUKLA: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.
LAMB: How did you keep track?
KUKLA: How did I keep track?
LAMB: Of all these people, all these -- you know...
KUKLA: Well, you know, actually what started in that road trip that I mentioned is I would buy those kind of milk carton things that you use for files. Well, I bought two of those, they fit in my trunk, and actually by the end of the trip, I could fit sit three of them in my trunk. By the end of the book, I think I've got a dozen of them, and I've got them kind of arranged -- you know, there is a couple of them that have to do with France, and a couple of them that have to do with Jefferson, a couple of them -- so basically, I've got the files.
And essentially what I did, the way I did most of my research was by whenever possible photocopying things. So I had it to go back to.
LAMB: In the back of the book, you published an appendix, or appendices. One is a proposed amendment to the Constitution.
KUKLA: Constitution. That's right.
LAMB: It never happened, though. Why?
KUKLA: Yes, what happened is Jefferson had scruples about the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase, and the thing that most people jump to, of course, is that there wasn't the authority to buy this big piece of land. Jefferson wasn't terribly troubled about the land deal, and the language that he used to describe the situation is that this was beyond the Constitution. I mean, his basic feeling was that, you know, had the guys at Philadelphia thought that anything like this could have happened, they would have, of course, written it in and so on.
And he contemplated writing an amendment to the Constitution to kind of sanction what had been done. The trouble that he and others had was in bringing into the union all of these people who were not accustomed to the democratic ways of American society, who didn't speak English, who had been, you know, who were Catholics and so on. And that's -- you know, bringing those people into the union was what troubled Jefferson and the others.
LAMB: The people of New Orleans.
KUKLA: The people of Louisiana, the inhabitants of Louisiana. Exactly.
LAMB: You bring out that they had mixed marriages there.
KUKLA: Yes. In fact, they had a substantial proportion of the population of New Orleans who were free people of color, who were recognized as having a role in society.
LAMB: And married whites.
KUKLA: And married whites, and the like. Yes, very Caribbean kind of thing
LAMB: One of your set (ph) things here is that this was the beginning of diversity
KUKLA: Diversity. Yes, I think so. Yes.
LAMB: By buying the Louisiana Purchase.
KUKLA: Yes. It took this white, male, Protestant nation, and suddenly, you know, it had to deal with the reality of people in large numbers in one big event with people who were very different from what most Americans thought of as, you know, living there. They're certainly not -- they're not Boston former Puritans and they're not Jefferson's yeoman farmers. These are different folks.
LAMB: By the way, when did we get Florida? I know this is out of context.
KUKLA: Florida. We get Florida -- in the treaty negotiations of 1818 and 1819, which kind of tidy up all of the -- it takes that long to tidy up all the lines of the Louisiana purchase. At that point...
LAMB: So we didn't have to pay Spain anything for that.
KUKLA: I don't think so.
LAMB: All right. Now, another out of context question. I kept thinking of a hotel bathroom when you told this story of the bathrooms of the three Napoleons.
KUKLA: Yes. You know, it's possible that this is greatly exaggerated and maybe even apocryphal, because it shows up in one of Napoleon's brother's memoirs published, you know, after the fact. It's pretty clear that he embellished a little bit.
But the story is basically the British were trying to bribe Napoleon's brothers in order to keep him from buying Louisiana, because they figured that would get him involved in the Caribbean and it would tie him down, and so on. So...
LAMB: At what point are we?
KUKLA: We're in 1802, early 1803.
LAMB: And the Spanish control it right now.
KUKLA: The Spanish are still in control, but it's well-known that Napoleon has signed the treaty and is going to be taking possession. And so what happened supposedly after one of the performance -- at the opera, the two brothers descend on Napoleon, find him bathing in rose water, and begin to ...
LAMB: It's Joseph and Lucian?
KUKLA: Joseph and Lucian, yes. Joseph is the older brother; Lucian is the younger brother.
LAMB: And what are they doing? What's their...
KUKLA: Joseph -- both of them are involved in politics. Lucian is the National Assembly. And he's the one who had been fixing the elections. And Joseph, you know, Joseph is also involved in politics, although not quite as actively, I guess.
And the idea is that they're going to try to convince Napoleon not to sell Louisiana, and particularly they were fearful, and Lucian takes the lead here, they were just appalled that Bonaparte was going to do this on his own without consulting the legislature and -- part of this is self-interest. They're concerned that he's going to get himself in such trouble that, you know, that the whole Bonaparte family gets itself kicked out of France and so on.
And so, there's this argument that goes on. And eventually they're shouting at one another, and Bonaparte falls back into the tub and rose water is splashed everywhere, and one of the valets is supposed -- you know, he is supposed to have fainted.
And after this huge splash, Lucian quotes something out of some classical source having to do with calming the seas. That's the part that I think probably got dressed up afterwards when he was writing it in his memoirs. But it's a great story. And what it demonstrates is that at that point in the -- which is actually before Monroe arrives in Paris, that Bonaparte was absolutely committed to the idea of selling Louisiana.
LAMB: So when the dust settles on this story, who, in your opinion, made the biggest difference?
KUKLA: I think Jefferson's handling of this -- whatever you want to say about any other parts of Jefferson's career, and there are other brilliant parts and others that people argue about. But his handling of the diplomacy of the Louisiana purchase is absolutely brilliant. It's just absolutely brilliant. He decides that he wants to bring about a peaceful resolution of it. He uses -- he uses his representatives, both Livingston and Monroe, beautifully. He also uses Pierre Samuel Du Pont as a kind of back channel messenger to the people around Napoleon. He just -- he just plays this beautifully.
LAMB: But at this time there are no cell phones.
KUKLA: That's right.
LAMB: There are no telegrams.
KUKLA: That's right.
LAMB: There is no nothing. Mail takes how long?
KUKLA: It takes roughly four weeks for a message -- you can pretty much count on a message getting across the Atlantic in four weeks, sometimes longer. It takes three or four weeks for a message to get from New Orleans to Washington.
LAMB: There's no railroad.
KUKLA: There's no railroads, there's no cell phones. And Jefferson -- I think part of the key here, Brian, is that Jefferson had been an ambassador, and he had been in France trying to represent his nation for five years with the same limitations on communications.
So what he does when he appoints Livingston is he takes Livingston into his office and they spend several days together going over I guess we'd call them alternate scenarios, so that by the time Livingston goes to France, he knows Jefferson's mind, he knows how he would react to this, that, or the other thing.
When he gets a chance to send Monroe, he does the same thing, brings Monroe to his office, they spend a week. By the time these guys get over there, they know Jefferson's mind, they know what he wants, they know how he'd react, because they played all of these things out kind of in speculation. And they have got his full confidence and they do a magnificent job.
The other thing is he doesn't give them carefully detailed limiting written instructions. So, it's not like when the French say, we'd like to sell you the whole territory, they're able to say, OK.
LAMB: The month in 1803 that -- again that the treaty was signed?
KUKLA: The treaty was negotiated in April and it was dated April 30.
LAMB: And the Senate did what with it?
KUKLA: The Senate passed it in three readings. Because Napoleon was said to be having second thoughts, Jefferson wanted it to push through.
LAMB: What did the House do?
KUKLA: The House doesn't have to ratify treaties.
LAMB: I know but...
KUKLA: Subsequently what happened is when the legislation comes before Congress for the governance of Louisiana, then there are very extensive debates.
LAMB: When does Thomas Jefferson turn to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and say, I want you to go out there?
KUKLA: The work -- the work on -- the preliminary work with Meriwether Lewis had started prior to the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson had brought him to Washington as his personal secretary, among other things, and then was working on that. And in fact, as -- I do one of the chapters in the background is a story of an earlier precursor of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1793 when Jefferson wanted to engage a French botanist Andre Michaux in 1793, he wanted to send him from St. Louis up the Missouri river for a variety of reasons. That didn't come about.
But Jefferson used the same instructions, he recycled the instructions when he drafted the instructions for Lewis and Clark.
LAMB: All right, it's a little late in this story, but the George Rogers Clark-William Clark connection, and George Rogers Clark did what in all of this?
KUKLA: George Rogers Clark had been -- basically had conquered the west for the United States during the American Revolution. And so, he was known as kind of the hero of the west. He'd held the Illinois territory against the British during the American Revolution. And then basically retired from service. He was -- the state of Virginia never paid his bills, and the poor man was driven into the poorhouse and bankruptcy by the bean counters in Richmond.
But then he was being approached by the French revolutionaries in the 1790s to -- with the idea that they might lead an expedition down the Mississippi river and take New Orleans.
LAMB: William Clark is his brother?
KUKLA: William Clark is his younger brother.
LAMB: And what was their relationship? Did they get along?
KUKLA: Yes, they got along fine. There was a considerable age difference between the two of them, but they got along splendidly. And as a matter of fact, William used to help his brother out, when -- because of all these debts that had been incurred, George Rogers Clark couldn't even accept land when the government tried to give him land, because it would get taken up by the creditors. So William did a lot of that for him.
LAMB: France -- again out of context -- but France abolished slavery in 1794, you say.
LAMB: What impact did that have on all this?
KUKLA: Well, it had an enormous impact on the debates over, for example, Haiti and St. Domain (ph), and the ideals of the French revolution even before the actual abolition of slavery fueled the aspirations of the free people of color and the mulatto group within St. Domain (ph) or Haiti, and led to the beginnings of the civil war that then became a slave uprising.
And of course that whole history of St. Domain (ph) and Haiti is an important part of the story of the Louisiana Purchase, and it's a much more part of American history than people recognize.
LAMB: Out of time. Do you have another book?
KUKLA: I'm thinking about it. I'm kind of juggling two and haven't yet written the -- yes, I've got another book in the works, but I'm not sure which subject.
LAMB: Do you want to give us a hint?
KUKLA: I'm thinking about writing about Thomas Jefferson's relationship with women.
LAMB: "A Wilderness So Immense" is the title of this book. Jon Kukla is our guest. And we thank you very much.
KUKLA: Thanks, Brian.
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