Little Known Facts - 3

The historic Lewis and Clark Expedition was Thomas Jefferson’s brainchild. For more that twenty years before he became president in 1801, he had entertained the idea of sending an American exploratory mission into the largely unknown, and foreign controlled, wilderness west of the nation’s Mississippi River boundary.

His earliest efforts to put in motion this visionary endeavor either came to naught or foundered before reaching the trans-Mississippi area. One such disappointment was the “Michaux Expedition” of 1793 which had been funded and launched by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, of which Jefferson was an influential member.

The Society chose a reputable French botanist by the name of Andre Michaux, who was visiting the U.S. at the time, to head the expedition. However, Michaux became entangled in the international intrigues of the infamous “Citizen Genet Affair” and had to withdraw, thus ending a promising initiative.

Improbably, an 18-year old U. S. Army ensign by the name of Meriwether Lewis heard of the venture as it was being organized and volunteered to lead it! Passed over by the Society in favor of the more experienced French scientist, a decade later (by then a captain and President Jefferson’s personal secretary) Lewis was appointed by his mentor in 1803 to command what was eventually to become known as the “Lewis and Clark Expedition.”

Dr. H. Carl Camp


Roy E. Appleman, Lewis and Clark’s Transcontinental Expedition, 1804-1806 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1975), pp. 17-28.

Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 37; pp. 68-71.

Last updated: December 13, 2016

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