Origins of the Expedition
Long before he became the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson had dreamed of sending explorers across North America. When Jefferson took office in 1801, most of the United States population lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Knowledge of the western part of the continent was limited to what had been learned from French traders and fur trappers and Spanish and British explorers.
On January 18, 1803, President Jefferson sent a confidential letter to Congress asking for $2,500 to fund an expedition to the Pacific Ocean. He hoped to establish trade with the Native American people of the West and find a water route to the Pacific. Jefferson also was fascinated by the prospect of what could be learned about the geography of the West, the lives and languages of the Native Americans, the plants and animals, the soil, the rocks, the weather, and how they differed from those in the East.
- The Long Look West explores Jefferson's long-time interest in exploration.
- Pre-1803 Chronology lists important events that led up to Jefferson's promoting the Expedition, including his support of previous attempts to explore the West.
- The American Philosophical Society and Western Exploration shows how Jefferson's membership in the premier American intellectual society influenced the Expedition.
- A Library of America highlights books on the geography of North American in Jefferson's personal library.
- Thomas Jefferson and American Indians provides a background on Jefferson's relationship with American Indians apart from Lewis and Clark.
- A Confidential Letter is a transcription of Jefferson's secret request to the United States Congress for funds for the Expedition