Tag Archives: Missouri River
… the idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave …
To Meriwether Lewis, April 27, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do all leaders hedge the truth occasionally?
Meriwether Lewis left Washington for Philadelphia where some of the nation’s preeminent scientists would tutor him further in mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine. It was common knowledge that Lewis was mounting some type of exploration, but very few knew that he was heading west, up the Missouri River. The President dribbled out some misdirection, that Lewis was going north, up the Mississippi.
Diplomatic overtures to Spain and France over New Orleans and shipping on the lower Mississippi had not been resolved. It was common knowledge that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France, and that had serious repercussions for America. (France had not yet offered to sell Louisiana, and that possibility had never been considered on this side of the Atlantic.) Jefferson wanted to avoid offending other nations unnecessarily with the idea of sending American explorers through foreign lands without permission.
Lewis was the President’s personal secretary. With all of his travel, it was obvious Lewis was up to something. Thus, Jefferson deliberately promoted something less than the truth … a lie? … to protect his diplomatic maneuvering, provide cover for Lewis, and satisfy “public curiosity.”
“I am writing to offer a solid and enthusiastic recommendation of Mr. Patrick Lee
… for his first person portrayal of President Thomas Jefferson.”
Executive Director, Missouri Humanities Council
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak.
Congress having passed the two million bill, you will recieve by this mail your last dispatches. others will follow you about the 2d. week of April … Congress has [also] given authority for exploring the Missisipi, which however is ordered to be secret. this will employ about 10. persons two years.
To James Monroe, February 25, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders know that diplomacy sometimes requires a lot of money.
Uncharacteristic for him, Jefferson had commanded Monroe to go to France to help negotiate America’s right to freely use the port of New Orleans. That was the easy part. The diplomats needed money to go where their mouths were, so he asked Congress for $2,000,000, and they approved it. The money was to buy New Orleans along with East and West Florida (our present state of Florida, the southern parts of Alabama and Mississippi, and southeastern Louisiana). This was several months before France’s bombshell offer to sell all of Louisiana.
He also informed Monroe of Congress’ authorization of a small company for “exploring the Missisipi” and $2,500 to pay for it. Both actions were being kept from public knowledge.
Jefferson may have been withholding information from Monroe, too, or protecting his mission should the letter become public. The $2,500 was not for exploring the Mississippi River but the Missouri. That river was still owned by Spain, which had already rebuffed Jefferson’s request to explore it.