Thomas Jefferson, inspired by a love of Science, encouraged efforts to explore the vast region of the West. He saw the area as an untapped field of study for the expansion of human knowledge. While Jefferson was minister in France he inspired John Ledyard to embark on an amazing adventure. Beginning from Europe he was to head eastward through Siberia, then cross the Pacific to Alaska, and from there to the unknown parts of North America. Ledyard set out on the journey making it as far as Russia where he met with resistance and was forced to turn back.
Then in 1792, while Secretary of State, Tommy J. once again turned his attention to the exploration of the territory west of the Mississippi. He engaged Meriwether Lewis and a Frenchman named Andre to undertake the task, but for one reason or another that mission didn’t work out either.
Jefferson, however, wasn’t discouraged to the point of giving up. When he became President he appointed Meriwether Lewis as his private secretary and it wasn’t long before the two hatched a plan. It was on this day, January 18, 1803, that President Jefferson sent a secret message to Congress asking them to fund an exploration of the West.
President Jefferson’s “pitch” was that we needed to learn about the Missouri natives because they had a common interest in the Mississippi. He proposed that an intelligence officer, together with a handful of paid soldiers supplied with scientific instruments and cheap presents for the natives, should undertake the exploration.
President Jefferson was basically sending a detachment of the United States Army on a covert mission into the territory of a friendly state. Using tact, however, Jefferson doesn’t come right out and say that in his letter to Congress.
“The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars, ‘for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States,’ while understood and considered by the Executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice, and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals might otherwise previously prepare in its way.”
What he was saying is this: If Spain had sent an expedition to explore Illinois waters in the interest of her external commerce and the American Government found out about it, America would have obstructed the Spanish venture. So tact and covertness were required to make this happen.
“The Louisiana purchase came in the nick of time to save Jefferson from violating the code of international ethics. Whether the expedition was planned partly with a view to possible seizure of the country cannot be stated; the conjunction of dates is remarkable.”
I like to think the best about people, especially my buddy Tommy J. I prefer to think his actions were truly about trade and scientific advancement for the betterment of mankind. Just because the timing of incidents seems to be more than a mere coincidence doesn’t mean they aren’t mere coincidences. Love believeth all things and hopeth all things.
The Louisiana Purchase was ratified later that year and then Lewis and Clark set out on their famous expedition of the West. Now that’s an incredible story for another time.