In 1800, the United States was composed of 16 states, all east of the Mississippi River. President Jefferson had long been curious to know exactly what lay west of the Mississippi. Why was he so curious? (Jefferson's longtime interest in the geography of the West grew even greater in 1803, when the Louisiana Territory was purchased from France, and Jefferson wanted information about the newly acquired land.)
Why was Jefferson certain that an expedition that mapped the territory would be worthwhile? (Jefferson believed there was a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, and the country that controlled that waterway would control trade across the continent.) Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis to lead the expedition, and gave specific instructions on the purpose of the journey. However, Congress was not entirely convinced of the value of the mission.
1) Read this version of Jefferson's instructions to Lewis, paraphrased here.
2)After reading the letter, you should answer these questions in your journal.
3) Get together in your small groups to discuss why you think the expedition would be valuable to the future of the country. Each group should list four or five reasons.
4) Do you think that President Jefferson is happy with the outcome of the expedition?
5) Next, discuss with your group the answers you wrote about Jefferson's letter to Lewis in your journal. Does the Corp accomplish their assigned task.