Tag Archives: Lewis and Clark

About your brother, Meriwether …

I inclose you a letter directed to your brother which came to me under cover a few days ago. I have the pleasure also to inform you that we have lately recieved thro a channel meriting entire confidence, advice that on the 4th. of Aug. he was at the mouth of the river Plate, 600 miles up the Missouri, where he had met a great council of the Missouris, Panis, & Ottos, at their invitation … he will be through his whole course as safe as at home. believing that this information would be acceptable to yourself, his mother & friends, I communicate it with pleasure …
To Reuben Lewis, November 6, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders keep family members in the loop.
The President forwarded a letter he had received for Meriwether Lewis to the latter’s younger brother and wrote of the latest account he’d had about his intrepid explorer. That report came days before, originating with someone who must have been coming downstream when Lewis was headed the opposite direction. The report was that Lewis and Clark were 600 miles upstream, at the mouth of the Platte River, just south of present day Omaha, NE. (Lewis’s journal records that date as July 21, 1804, two months after they departed St. Louis.)

The report also relayed a successful meeting with Indian chiefs, the desertion of two men, plans for some of the men to return the following spring and the rest to head on up the Missouri. There were numerous factual errors in the account, but it may have been the first word Jefferson had on their progress. Buoyed by his successful meeting with the chiefs, Lewis felt no danger lay ahead of them. Jefferson knew Lewis’ mother and brother would appreciate the reassurance.

There was plenty of danger ahead, but Lewis and Clark led their men successfully through it all and returned to St. Louis almost two years later.

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You cannot come in until he is gone.

I have delayed writing to you, because my great regard for Capt Lewis made me unwilling to shew a haste to fill his place before he was gone, & to counteract also a malignant & unfounded report that I was parting with him from dissatisfaction, a thing impossible either from his conduct or my dispositions towards him. I shall probably recieve a letter from him on his arrival at Philadelphia, informing me when he expects to be back here, and will have the pleasure of communicating to you the earliest conjecture I can form myself for your government. it cannot now be many days.
To Lewis Harvie, April 22, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Loyal leaders treat trusted subordinates with respect and sensitivity.
Jefferson had previously invited Harvie to become his personal secretary once Meriwether Lewis left for the West. Lewis held that position but was away from Washington City and had been delayed in his preparations for the journey. The President expected to receive a letter from Lewis soon, with an update on his planned departure.

Jefferson’s respect for Lewis was profound. It would be improper to appoint Lewis’ successor until his departure had occurred. There was another reason for the delay. A false report appeared in several newspapers the month before that Lewis was staging a political journey to the Southwest. Delaying Harvie’s appointment would reinforce Jefferson’s confidence in Lewis and lay those false claims to rest.

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Serve not at my command but only as you see fit.

If I can at any time be of any Service to you, I hope you will command me, and permit me to assure you, it will give me unmixed pleasure to Serve you at any time
William Clark, Louisville, to Thomas Jefferson, June 8, 1808

… the world has, of right, no further claims on yourself & Govr Lewis, but such as you may voluntarily render according to your convenience or as they may make it your interest.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Extraordinary leadership earns one the right to say no.
In 1803, President Jefferson commissioned his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition of discovery though Louisiana and on to the western sea. Lewis wanted a co-commander, and he chose a close friend from army days, William Clark of Kentucky. Together, the two men successfully completed Jefferson’s assignment, leading a company of about 30 in a danger-filled 2 1/2 year journey through the wilderness to the Pacific Ocean and back.

After their return, the President named Clark Brigadier General of the militia and principal Indian agent for northern Louisiana. In his 1808 letter, Clark told the President he was about to leave for St. Louis to take up his new duties. He offered, with “unmixed pleasure,” to be at Jefferson’s command for any future service.

Clark’s letter was delayed 13 months in its delivery, and it was three more months before the retired President could respond. He turned aside Clark’s offer to serve wherever commanded. The service he had already given his country earned Clark the unqualified right to say no, unless it was convenient or personally desirable for him to say yes.

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Does a family compromise your value to society?

You mention in your letter that you are proceeding with your family to Fort Massac. this informs me that you have a family, & I sincerely congratulate you on it. while some may think it will render you less active in the service of the world, those who take a sincere interest in your personal happiness, and who know that by a law of our nature we cannot be happy without the endearing connections of a family, will rejoice for your sake as I do.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders with strong family connections make for happy leaders.
Clark wrote Jefferson in June, 1808, but the letter took 13 months to reach its destination. That letter mentioned the skin of a Rocky mountain sheep and a blanket manufactured by the Indians that he had already sent to Jefferson and three boxes of bones yet to come. The latter he would deliver to Fort Massac, Illinois country, on the Ohio River, for shipment through New Orleans and on to Virginia, when he moved his family from Louisville to St. Louis. Two months later, the former President wrote his thanks for the sheep skin and blanket he had received and the bones that had not yet arrived. (See “Enclosure” for a description of the bones.)

The last Jefferson knew, William Clark was single. Now he learned that Clark would be traveling with his family to St. Louis to take up his new duties there. Jefferson was delighted to learn that his accomplished explorer was now a family man! (The 37 year-old Clark had married 17 year-old Julia Hancock in January, 1808. A year later, they named their firstborn son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.)

Jefferson disagreed with those who claimed family responsibilities made one less capable of public service. Citing his desire for Clark’s “personal happiness” coupled with “a law of our nature” that family connections were essential to that happiness, he congratulated the new husband and father. Those connections would make him a happier … and better … leader.

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