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Lewis and Clark Expedition

Ever since the first colonists landed, Americans have been moving constantly westward. By the time the federal government was established in 1789, there was a pattern of exploration of unsettled land across the Appalachian Mountains. A scout or scouting party would range ahead to determine the country's desirability for settlement. Along with these "mountain men," who are recognized as the first pathfinders of the West, representatives of the national government made official expeditions into the western wilderness to explore and to map. The first and probably the best known of these expeditions was the trip Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made into the northwest portion of the land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. Similar expeditions into other areas by such men as Lt. Zebulon Pike and Maj. Stephen Long added to the general information about our country.

Just after the Louisiana territory was acquired, Thomas Jefferson sent Captains Lewis and Clark to explore the area. The expedition they headed was charged with investigating fur trade routes and finding, if possible, a transcontinental waterway. They were expected to inform both the fur traders and the Indians that they owed allegiance to a new power, the United States, and they were also to determine "whether from its extent and fertility that country is susceptable of a large population." Lewis and Clark set out in 1803 and finally reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805; they returned in 1806 to delight and astound the nation with tales of their trip.

With the publication of the report and map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1814, Americans learned of the immense width of the country and the magnitude of the effort required to cross it. Details of the varied character of the West's topography and the location of its major rivers and mountains were now available. The expedition's account of the plant and animal life found in the area, and the specimens collected and brought back, emphasized the richness and diversity of the new land.

From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 106.


Thomas Jefferson, Third President, 1801-1809

Thomas Jefferson was truly a Renaissance man. A brilliant scholar, inventor, naturalist, and architect, Jefferson played the violin, spoke six languages, conducted archeological investigations of Native American mounds, founded the University of Virginia, and assembled a 10,000-book library which became the foundation of the Library of Congress. His writing talent produced the historic Declaration of Independence, the document that boldly told King George that the colonies would no longer accept his rule. Jefferson's political savvy led him to hold a number of governmental positions before becoming president: he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses when he was only 25, served in the Continental Congress, became governor of Virginia, a diplomat in Europe where he helped negotiate the treaties that ended the Revolutionary War, secretary of state under Washington, and vice president under John Adams. During his presidency, Jefferson doubled the size of the country by purchasing the territory of Louisiana.


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