The Lewis and Clark Expedition

The United States is on a continent that was discovered by chance at a time when explorers were taking their chances in traveling the world and becoming pioneers. Those who settled in the New World could only limit their activities to territories that had already explored to avoid wandering into the unknown and most likely encountering fierce Native American tribes. The Louisiana Territory had been under French rule but the revolution in modern day Haiti was beginning to shift Napoleon Bonaparte’s attitude towards holding on to it. He had intended to use it as a source of supplies and food for the island colony of Saint- Domingue (Haiti) but had a change of heart when the former slaves defeated his expeditionary army in 1802.  Bonaparte, therefore, did not see any use in holding on to the Louisiana Territory and subsequently put it up for sale. President Thomas Jefferson would complete this transaction in 1803 at the cost of $15 million and substantially increase the size of the union (Ronda 23).  Shortly after, he would commission an excursion to map out the region and ensure that their effective occupation of the area was evident to other European powers. Popularly referred to as the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06), its goal was to explore the newly acquired western territory under Second Lieutenant William Clark and Captain Meriwether Lewis. They would spend two years meeting Native American tribes, mapping the region’s geography, flora and fauna. In this essay, I will discuss the Lewis and Clark Expedition and its significance to the big picture of American history.

The Corps of Discovery expedition was essential to the United States as it solidified its grip over the territory. The territory was located in an area that was surrounded by the British in North and the Spaniards in the south. Even though in writing the region was in American hands President Thomas Jefferson was well aware of the political intrigues that were all too common on the continent (Jackson and Allen 34). He was informed that these European powers would stop at nothing to ensure that they had this swathe of land in their possession and the primary reason why he had to act quickly to ensure that it was secure. Mere claims would not help them politically in having this land under American control. Sending military volunteers to explore the region was the first sign that the United States was asserting its power over the area while making it a sphere of its influence.  Moreover, it was this expedition to the Pacific that allowed the United States also to consolidate the Oregon Territory into the Union (Jeffry Uecker 12). For the first time, the Federal Government had a chance to expand its territory and increase its revenue through the land and economic activities that would take place here. The purchase of this region from the French was by far the best decision that the Federal Government had ever made. It was now able to create living space for thousands of immigrants who were filling the streets of urban cities, offering them an opportunity to see land in the Mid West where they would now farm.

Another reason why the expedition is quite significant to America is the assortment of individuals that made the long trek to the East. It represents the pioneering American spirit where individuals from different backgrounds would all make the best out of this new territory and all the perks that came with it. Unlike in the past when a white army conquered the territories in the New World, the expedition remains the embodiment of the American diversity that exists today.  The group consisted of persons from an assortment of ethnicities, cultures and social backgrounds which was rarely seen during that period in history. In reality, it represented the America that these individuals would build decades later where diversity would be the hallmark of identity (Paladin and Spence 4). For instance, William Clark brought his slave to be part of the expedition. York, as he was known, was a black man who played an instrumental role in ensuring that the party did not lose its way through the Great Plains and did all he could to ensure that his masters were okay. In essence, a black man also participated in the grand expedition and in making discoveries that were bound to change the history of the United States for good. Pierre Cruzette was an Omaha Indian credited with providing the party with entertainment during their journey. He was part French and had earlier on learned to play the fiddle which would regularly be played throughout the expedition. Moreover, the party also had Private John Potts who was of German descent and was known for his milling prowess. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was a Frenchman participating in the expedition and took pride in the fact that he was contributing to American history through making explorations in the west

The journey was a great success due to the scientific and geographical discoveries that were made by the team. Most of these developments were made during the Age of Enlightenment and would go a long way in contributing positively to disciplines such as zoology and botany.  These goals were spelled out by President Thomas Jefferson who wanted to ensure that he had an understanding of the territory under his jurisdiction and all its geographical features. The explorers made sure that all the maps were drawn in great detail while recording all the geographic features that they came across. Additionally, another issue of concern was building relationships with the Native Americans found on this territory. The goal was to ensure that there were no clashes with these individuals which would allow them to carry out ethnological and linguistic studies. The idea was to create sound diplomatic relations with and wanted to inform the Indian tribes that they were now under the rule of the United States government (Sadosky 10). Under the Lousiana Purchase, the Indian tribes were allowed to live on the land while shifting trade from the Spanish, British and French. Sadly, the Federal Government would later become the source of Native American woes when they pushed them out of their lands and into reservations to create room for settlers.

In conclusion, the Lewis and Clark Expedition is still an essential point in the history of the United States through the discoveries that were made. The United States was able to stamp its authority in the new territory that would allow the Native American tribes to trade directly with them. It is a tale that still resonates with the contemporary American society because individuals from different walks of life came together to ensure that they achieved President Thomas Jefferson’s objectives of spreading liberty.

 

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