Acting as official representatives of the United States government, Lewis and Clark explored and charted territories newly acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. Their expedition helped spur westward movement by U.S. citizens who would eventually establish homesteads, cities, and businesses, taking advantage of the country’s abundant natural resources and connecting the far-flung parts of the nation through a series of roads and railways.
In 1803, when President Thomas
For some time, Jefferson had been worried about efforts by the British and French to establish claims to lands west and northwest of the Mississippi River, thereby threatening the security of the fledgling United States. In Jefferson’s view, security along the western border of the country would be better secured through trade than through warfare. He realized that to bring about commercial exchanges, the U.S. government would need sound knowledge of the landscape and its inhabitants. Hence, although the Louisiana Purchase was not completed until December, 1803, Jefferson began laying out to Congress the rationale for cross-continental exploration nearly a year earlier.
Lewis and his co-commander William
Therefore, when Lewis began preparing for the expedition that eventually was launched in 1804, in addition to purchasing large quantities of weapons, ammunition, foodstuffs, medical supplies, and scientific equipment needed by his men, he spent about 30 percent of the funds allocated to him on sewing items, knives, and jewelry for the Native Americans the party would meet along the way. These goods were not specifically for trade, however; they were intended to show good faith toward the local tribes and to introduce them to materials Americans could provide in the future. Lewis and Clark also took along commemorative medals inscribed with a bust of Jefferson on one side and symbols of peace on the other to signal their intention of establishing friendly relationships with local tribes. The medals were also meant to make it clear that Lewis and Clark represented a government claiming sovereignty over the territory and wishing to engage in commerce with its new “citizens.”
During the two years in which Lewis and Clark traversed the continent westward to the Pacific Ocean and back again, they made it a point to meet peaceably with
The immediate result of the Corps of Discovery’s trek was an increase in activity by private traders operating out of St. Louis, which quickly became the hub for America’s dealings with Native American tribes west of the Mississippi. Only after the United States had obtained additional territory as a result of its war with Mexico in 1848 and gold was discovered in California was there wide-scale migration into the regions Lewis and Clark had traversed. Although their expedition had set the tenor for peaceful coexistence with Native Americans based on trade, subsequent actions by U.S. citizens and their government would instead be driven by a desire to remove indigenous peoples from locations that would be most beneficial to the white population for agriculture, mining, or manufacturing.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Detailed account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, focusing on the hardships faced by the participants and their determination to carry out the mission assigned to them by President Jefferson. Fritz, Harry William. The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Useful handbook outlining the course of the expedition; provides brief biographies of principal participants and information on scientific and ethnographic contributions made by the party. Hoxie, Frederick, and Jay Nelson, eds. Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Collection of essays examining the impact of the expedition on Native Americans living in areas explored by Lewis and Clark; includes commentaries on matters of trade and commerce and a section discussing changes that occurred as a result of future incursions into the area by U.S. citizens. Ronda, James. Jefferson’s West: A Journey with Lewis and Clark. Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2000. Brief account of Jefferson’s vision for the territories he sent Lewis and Clark to explore and of the realities the two leaders and their men discovered as they journeyed westward. Seefeldt, Douglas, et al., eds. Across the Continent: Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and the Making of America. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2005. Essays speculating on the impact of Lewis and Clark’s initial overtures to Native American tribes and commenting on the political and economic ramifications of the expedition for the development of the United States.
Fur trapping and trading
Native American trade
Pike’s western explorations