Thomas Jefferson was elected to the presidency in 1800, and decided to organize an official, government-sponsored expedition to explore the upper reaches of the Missouri River and travel overland to the Pacific Ocean. He chose Meriwether Lewis, his personal secretary, to lead the expedition. In January 1803 Lewis traveled to Philadelphia for intensive courses with the leading American scientists, learning the use of scientific instruments, the rudiments of surveying, medicine, natural history and ethnology. In June of 1803 Lewis asked William Clark, a friend from army service, to serve as co-leader of the expedition.
When President Thomas Jefferson considered a potential leader for an expedition across the continent to the Pacific Coast in 1803, he looked no farther than his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis. "It was impossible to find a character," wrote Jefferson, "who to a compleat science in botany, natural history, mineralogy & astronomy, joined the firmness of constitution & character, prudence, habits adapted to the woods, & a familiarity with the Indian manners & character, requisite for this undertaking. All the latter qualifications Capt. Lewis has." Who was Meriwether Lewis, what events led him to the point of enjoying the President's complete confidence, and what happened to him after the famous expedition which bears his name?
William Clark is most famous for his co-leadership of the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06. Less well-known are his contributions to American Indian diplomacy, which occupied a large portion of the remainder of his career. If not for the positive relations maintained by Clark with several tribes during the crucial early years of westward expansion, the map of the United States might look significantly different today. Blending fairness, honesty and strength with patience, respect and understanding, Clark recognized the personal dignity of American Indians, honoring their cultures and religious beliefs.
Last updated: April 10, 2015