The Lewis and Clark Expedition
The purchase of the Louisiana territory in 1803 more than doubled the size of the United States. President Thomas Jefferson wanted to have this newly acquired land mapped and explored, since most of the territory was considered wilderness.
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It was unexplored, nobody knew what was out there. They knew Native Americans were there, but it hadn’t been mapped out, and no one had laid claim to it out past the Louisiana territory.
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It was unexplored, nobody knew what was out there. They knew Native Americans were there, but it hadn’t been mapped out, and no one had laid claim to it out past the Louisiana territory. Everything in the Louisiana territory had just been purchased from France, so the United States did own it, but they didn’t know what was out there. So, Thomas Jefferson wanted to have an expedition sent out there to explore it, map it out, let everyone know what was out there.
Jefferson wanted to ensure America’s claim on the land. He felt like if he didn’t get out there soon enough with Americans and start settling the land, laying a claim to it, proving that it was their land, other nations like Britain, or other European countries, would come in and say that they were staking claims on certain parts of the land. So, Jefferson wanted to get out there quickly.
He chose Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to head an expedition into the territory. The expedition included 33 people, and all but one of them made it back. The only one who didn’t make it back died of appendicitis. He did not die from anything on the expedition. They traveled from May 1804 to September 1806. So, you see they acquired the territory in 1803, and very quickly, in 1804, Jefferson was sending an expedition out to start mapping this territory. And you see it lasted a little over two years. It took them that long to travel across the Louisiana territory and come back to where there were known American settlements.
They were searching for a water route that would connect the Missouri River with the Pacific Ocean, and this was for commerce. If they could reach the Pacific Ocean, and they could reach potential new settlements along the river, then it would be easier to transport goods back and forth. So, Jefferson wanted to know if this was a possibility, so Lewis and Clark were looking for a continuous water route.
Though the expedition did make it all the way to the Pacific Ocean, they did not discover a continuous water route. So, they could go a lot of the way on rivers, but there were the Rocky Mountains in the way, and some other areas that cut off one water source from the next. So, they weren’t able to travel continually by water, but they did travel all the way from known American settlements, up the Missouri River and some other rivers, and then across land until they reached the Pacific Ocean. And they’ve gone further with mapping than any other Americans had gone.
The expedition did draw a variety of maps. They recorded their encounters in detailed journals, and the expedition provided knowledge about the land they have traversed, as well as the plants, animals, and people that resided there. So, while they didn’t discover that continuous water route they were looking for, they were able to bring back a lot from their two-year expedition. They brought maps, they brought detailed journals that were going to help future expeditions and travelers whenever they started heading out that way, and knowledge about plants, animals, and the people, the Natives Americans that lived there.
So, they drew about 140 maps during their two-year expedition. They noted over 70 native tribes that were along their route. And they recorded more than 200 new plant and animal species. So, while they didn’t do everything they set out to do with finding that continuous water route, they did accomplish a lot. They drew these maps, they noted over 70 native tribes, they discovered lots of new plants and animals that had not been found in America before. And the Lewis and Clark expedition made a clear claim for America in the West, in the Louisiana territory, and beyond opening it all up for future expedition, future exploration, and settlement. So, Jefferson did accomplish what he wanted to with putting a clear American claim on the land.
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