The Expedition Of Lewis & Clark

1125 words - 5 pages

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806 provided the country with its first western heroes and revealed a land so bounteous and alluring that nature itself appeared to have smiled upon the American republic. In 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase, the United States was a strong, confident nation with a population of six million. Americans were building canals, bridges, factories, and highways and experimenting with steamboats and gas lamps. But there was another America, totally unknown to the people of the East. In 1800, tens of thousands of Native Americans living within the boundaries of the future United States had never seen a white person. The United States was bordered by a mystery.The existence of this unknown land fascinated and challenged President Thomas Jefferson. Although he was best known as a statesman, Jefferson was a deeply contemplative man and an accomplished astronomer, archaeologist, geologist, and naturalist. He was so fascinated that he encouraged expeditions westward on more than one occasion. As president, he delivered a message to Congress on January 18th, 1803, advocating a secret expedition to explore the West. Anticipating that his proposal would be accepted if he offered economic reasons, he suggested that contact would lead to "commercial intercourse." Impressed by his argument, Congress approved the proposal, and Jefferson began to make plans. The land Jefferson intended to explore was owned by France, and in 1802 Napoleon contemplated posting a large military force in the area. However, having a decimated army, and needing funds, Napoleon offered to sell all of Louisiana, then measuring about nine hundred thousand square miles, for 15 million dollars. The measure won congressional approval, and suddenly the expedition to a foreign land became the exploration of American territory.The spring and summer of 1803 were given over to preparations. Jefferson chose as leader a man named Meriwether Lewis, whom he described as "brave, prudent, habituated to the woods, and familiar with Indian manners and character." Lewis was born on a plantation in 1774 in Albemarle County, Virginia, in a wood-frame house near Jefferson's Monticello. Lewis soon became one of Jefferson's closest friends, often visiting him to talk about natural science and exploration. Jefferson, being an amateur scientist himself, was most definitely interested in going on the expedition himself, but that was impossible, as he was the president. He did, however, insist that Lewis take a "cram course" in natural history. He told Lewis that he should study their physical history and learn about Indian diseases, longevity, marriage, menstruation, breast-feeding, weaning, heartbeat, diet, medicine, and morals. He also stressed that Lewis learn about their religions. Clearly, Jefferson had a strong desire to learn as much as possible about the unknown land and its peoples.Lewis wanted good boatmen, hunters, and craftsmen, men who were strong and steady...

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