Thomas Jefferson And The American West

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Even as a young boy in the Virginia frontier, exploration and the pursuit of knowledge captivated the imagination of Thomas Jefferson. His father, an experienced cartographer and explorer, is often cited as the inspiration for Jefferson’s fixation on the West. As he grew older, Jefferson realized that the American West was not an empty wilderness, but a land crowded by conflicting nations and claims of sovereignty that only a few fur traders had experienced. Once Jefferson acquired the Louisiana territory from Napoleon in 1803, he sent an expedition led by two of his colleagues, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with the mission of quenching his thirst for knowledge. The official goal of the expedition was to explore the newly purchased territory, but Jefferson had other goals as well. He asked Lewis and Clark to take careful observations of the natural resources and geography of the West to see what economic possibilities existed in the area. Jefferson realized that the Natives Americans in the area needed to be informed about the purchase and that the United States would be a larger presence than before. He sent the expedition to establish good relations with the various tribes. They had a planned speech for each tribe and gave medals to all of the chiefs to signal the goodwill of the Americans. An added bonus to the new friendships between Americans and Indian tribes is less trade for the French and British, who, up until now dominated the trade in the Great Plains.
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