Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark Expedition
Until the 19th Century, the largest part of the Western Pacific of America remained unexplored. It is in the 19th Century that different governments decided to send expeditions to explore the area for trading purposes or to claim part of the land as their own. Different governments such as the British, the Spanish, the US and even Russian wanted to get a part of the western Pacific. The then president of the US Thomas Jefferson sent his expedition to explore the western part of America. The main objective of the expedition was to establish a practical water route to the Pacific, explore and map the newly discovered territory, and claim the right for it before other powers, such as Britain, declared the claim on the land. The secondary objectives of the expedition were to study the existing flora and fauna and to establish trading ties with the Native Americans. The Lewis and Clark Expedition did not fulfill their primary objective but did much in fulfilling their secondary objectives. This paper aims to discuss to which extent the Lewis and Clark Expedition fulfilled the secondary objectives but did less to fulfill the primary goal.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also referred to as the Corps of Discovery Expedition is basically the first American expedition to traverse the western part of the United States. The expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson after America purchased Louisiana in 1803 (Bursell 6). The expedition took place between May 1804 and September 1806. It comprised of different volunteers from the US Army, under the leadership of Captain Meriwether Lewis and the Second Lieutenant William Clark (Bursell 10). The expedition started in the present-day St. Charles. The traveling party traveled for more than 8000 miles at a total cost of $40000 and only lost one member of the crew throughout the whole period. It became one of the most important discoveries that were made at the time regarding the exploration of the western part of the US.
As aforementioned, the primary goal of the expedition was to find a practical water route to the Pacific Coast to set up trading ways and connections. Unfortunately, the Corps of Discovery Expedition did not satisfy the primary objective of this enterprise. President Jefferson thought that by controlling a river that traversed the continent he would ensure the wealth of the nation since they would control trade and transportation across the water passage. After the commissioning of the Expedition, Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River and other rivers that they came across until they reached the continental divide where they came face to face with a huge mountain range. However, they did not find other rivers to connect to the Pacific Ocean directly. However, they did reach it and created maps that became handy to the American people for many years ahead. It is, therefore, evident that, despite being a great contribution to the future discovery of the region, the main objective was not met.
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Away from the primary objective, the Lewis and Clark expedition was also busy with identifying the ecosystem of the west. President Jefferson had tasked the group to write down growth and vegetable productions, minerals of any kind, and even different dates that specific plants flowered or lost their flowers, or even leaves (Woodger and Toropov 150). The President also wanted the expedition to note down the specific times that different insects, birds, or reptiles appeared and their basic behavioral patterns. During their journey to the Pacific, the expedition recorded different types of plants and their specific use, such as those that were edible and the ones that had medicinal value. The report that returned to Washington suggested that America could sustain their trade on fur since they saw many animals on the way and the rivers documented could be used as the pathways of transport. The discovery of the plants and animals that were in the West could be of use for the Americans since they would know what to expect when they traveled West.
Besides, another secondary but paramount objective of the expedition was to establish the relationships with the Native Americans (Library of Congress n. pag.). Setting up the relationships was important in two ways: first, it enabled peaceful relations between the Native Americans and any Americans who moved west, and second, it developed trading relationships between the two groups, which were naturally more beneficial to the white. The expedition recorded cultures, traditions, and the relationships that the different Native Americans had with other tribes. The first significant contact made was with Sacagawea, who was a Shoshone Indian woman who served as an interpreter of the expedition and helped in communication with the rest of the Native Americans they met along the way. Additionally, to some Natives, the sight of a woman with her child was reassuring, and hence she played an important role in developing relations between the Natives and the Lewis and Clark expedition (Fritz 19). Therefore, this expedition was critical in creating relationships between the Native Americans and the Americans.
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In conclusion, the Lewis and Clark expedition has been recorded in the annals of history as the first and the most important contemporary expedition in the exploration of the American West. Although the Lewis and Clark venture did not meet its primary objectives, it did meet the secondary goals that became essential for the US, especially in its expansion to the west and gaining knowledge about the natural world of that part of the continent. Maps brought back by the members of the expedition helped the Americans who were traveling west to know what to expect in those areas. It also improved the relationships with the Natives. The relationships were important for trade and to ensure that the Americans who traveled west would not be met with hostility by the native population. During the journey, the expedition also came across different flora and fauna that they documented, as well as their peculiarities and specific behavior.
- Transcript: Jefferson's Instructions for Meriwether Lewis - Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America | Exhibitions (Library of Congress)