The Lewis and Clark Exploration
Lewis and Clark are two names forever linked. These two names, the last names of
Meriwether and William respectively, are that of two of the greatest explorers in the
history of the United States. With the help of Indians and a group of brave men, the vast
area west of the Mississippi River was the object of their exploration.
Lewis was born to a Virginia planter family in 1774. His father, who had been an officer
in the American Revolution, died when Lewis was five years old, and for a brief time he
lived in Georgia when his mother moved there with her second husband.
After assuming the management of his family's Virginia plantation, Lewis joined the
state militia in 1794 to help put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. He
continued his military career as an officer in the regular army, serving on the frontier in
Ohio and Tennessee, and rising to the rank of captain by 1801, when he accepted an
invitation from President Thomas Jefferson, an old family friend, to serve as his private
Even before the Louisiana Territory was purchased from France, Jefferson was ready to
send an expedition into the frontier. In January of 1803 Congress approved a plan for an
expedition. Jefferson had many reasons for employing the explorers. A boundless
curiosity for botany, zoology, and geography was one of Jefferson's main reasons. Also
Jefferson wanted to establish communication and some interaction with the Indians.
The purchase of the Louisiana Territory was an entirely unexpected outcome. Robert
Livingston, an ambassador to France, was told to discuss the purchase of the port of New
Orleans from France. After weeks of fruitless efforts to buy the port, Livingston got
lucky. The French, in need of money to wage wars in Europe, offered him the entire
Louisiana Territory. A surprised Livingston purchased the entire territory for fifteen
The Louisiana Purchase affected the expedition greatly. First, the party would be
exploring their own country, a benefit that greatly pleased Lewis. The party was going to
be limited to no more than fifteen men so that it would remain secret from Spain, who
owned the land at the time the expedition was originally planned. Now the party could
be expanded. With a much larger party, a second officer was needed. Lewis chose
William Clark to be that officer.
Clark was born into a Virginia plantation family in 1770, the youngest of six sons and
the youngest brother of George Rogers Clark, the hero of the American Revolution in the
West. When he was fourteen, Clark's family moved to a new plantation in Kentucky, and
he would spend the rest of his life on America's shifting frontier.
Beginning in 1789, Clark served as a militiaman in campaigns against the Indians of the
Ohio Valley. He became an officer in the regular army in 1792, and in 1794 fought in the
battle of Fallen Timbers. Two...