Tag Archives: Corps of Discovery
… The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it’s course & communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.
Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri …
Instructions for Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders provide detailed instructions when oversight isn’t possible.
This 2,400 word document outlined the goals for Meriwether Lewis’ mission west the following year. The heart of that mission was described above: Find a water route across the continent for the purpose of commerce. Everyone knew that route, the fabled Northwest Passage, existed, but no one had found it. Lewis’ main job was to find it. That passage would allow travel by water between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
As he went, this was to be a scientific mission as well. They were also to:
– Document all animal and plant life, paying particular attention to those species unknown in the U.S.
– Learn as much as possible about the native people and remain on the best possible terms with them.
– Document the land itself, its geography, geology, topography, resources and rivers.
When the Corps of Discovery returned in May 1806, the men had written about 1.5 million words in their journals, fulfilling most of President Jefferson’s instructions.
“Clearly the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director of Education, Indiana Historical Society
Let Thomas Jefferson (or Clark or Daniel Boone) set a new standard for your conference.
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
the river Missouri, & the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desireable by their connection with the Missisipi, & consequently with us … an intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men … might explore the whole line, even to the Western ocean, have conferences with the natives on the subject of commercial intercourse, get admission among them for our traders as others are admitted, agree on convenient deposits for an interchange of articles, and return with the information acquired in the course of two summers … The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars ‘for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the US,’ [is needed] …
To the Senate and House of Representatives, January 18, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know huge accomplishments have humble beginnings.
Tucked in near the end of a long letter to the Congress on improving relations with the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River was this innocent-sounding suggestion: We should know more about the Missouri River and the people who live along it. He proposed a dozen men led by a single officer to explore the whole length of the Missouri and perhaps all the way to the Pacific Ocean at a cost of $2,500. He stated four goals:
1. Confer with the Indians about commercial opportunities
2. Arrange for American traders to come among them
3. Scout locations for trading posts
4. Gather information about the land along the river.
What the President had in mind, of course, was what he would call the Corps of Discovery, known to us as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. His message to Congress was confidential, and he wanted it kept that way for the time being.
The Louisiana Purchase, not even imagined by the visionary Jefferson when this letter was written, would change the entire scope of this exploration. Instead of a small company quietly exploring Spanish territory, it would become a military venture of some four dozen men, led by five officers, establishing their claim to American soil. (The $2,500 Jefferson requested here would be dwarfed by the cost of the much larger mission, about $38,000.)