… one thing however we are decided in: that you must not undertake the winter excursion which you propose in yours of Oct. 3. such an excursion will be more dangerous than the main expedition up the Missouri, & would, by an accident to you, hazard our main object, which, since the acquisition of Louisiana, interests every body in the highest degree. The object of your mission is single, the direct water communication from sea to sea
To Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders derail risky tangents.
Lewis’ last letter to the President on October 3 had been from near Cincinnati on the Ohio River. By November 16, Lewis would have been in the St. Louis area, on the Illinois side, and considering his winter plans before leading the Expedition the following spring. Lewis told Jefferson he was planning on a solo horseback trip west, something of a personal scouting effort prior to the main event. Lewis was also recommending his co-leader William Clark take a separate solo trip for additional reconnoitering.
Jefferson was horrified at his protégé’s suggestion but handled it diplomatically. He began with news about the Louisiana acquisition, plans for a government in New Orleans, and the need to avoid offending Spain until the new territory was officially in American possession. There were several matters he left to Lewis’ discretion, affirming his confidence in the man’s judgment. Then he dropped the hammer.
Under no circumstances was Lewis to risk his life or health, or Clark’s, with these unnecessary explorations! There was a single goal before them, finding a water route to the Pacific, and nothing must be allowed that would unnecessarily jeopardize that endeavor.