… 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.