Lewis and Clark Expedition

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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the first United States expedition (1804–1806) to the Pacific Coast. "The object of your mission," Jefferson wrote, "is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it's course ... may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce."[1] Another goal was to gain an accurate sense of the resources being exchanged in the Louisiana Purchase. In July 1803, as the expedition was still in its preparation phase, the United States purchased from France the Louisiana Territory.[2]

The expedition also collected scientific data, and hoped to find a Northwest Passage. Lewis and Clark's mission was one of the great scientific accomplishments of the Age of Enlightenment.[3] Following detailed instructions from Thomas Jefferson himself, Lewis and Clark became ethnographers, botanists, zoologists, astronomers, carthographers, diplomats, and reporters.[4] Another of Jefferson's goals for the expedition was to establish U.S. sovereignty over the tribes along the Missouri River and claim the rights of "discovery" to the Pacific Northwest and Oregon territory before the British.[5][6][7][8]

References to Lewis and Clark "scarcely appeared" in history books even during the United States centennial in 1876 and the expedition was largely forgotten despite having had a significant impact on increasing American owned land.[9][10]



Some Europeans crossed North America before Lewis and Clark. In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca led the Narváez expedition to Culiacán, close to the Pacific Ocean.[11][12] In 1793, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, a Canadian made the trip by land to the Pacific Ocean; Jefferson read his book about the trip in 1802, and this influenced his decision to send an expedition.[13][14][15]

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