Envisaging the West: Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark


The materials in this archive demonstrate of the multiplicity of Thomas Jefferson’s interests in the West, from the scientific and geographic to the political. In gathering this material, representative objects from Jefferson’s youth through the planning of the Corps of Discovery’s expedition are brought together to illustrate the development and reach of Jefferson’s conception of the West and the region’s role in the political and cultural evolution of North America. The journals, reports, maps, treaties, and statutes in the archive offer important intellectual and geopolitical contexts for Jefferson’s correspondence and the policies he shaped while active in commonwealth and national politics. By integrating documents that are commonly linked to Jefferson’s sense of Western possibilities–such as his 1803 instructions to Meriwether Lewis–with seemingly disparate items as Thomas Walker’s 1750 journal and the 1768 Treaty of Stanwix, one may explore the many influences on Jefferson’s conception of westward expansion and the development of their expression in his own philosophies.