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


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Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, July 11, 1790 Thomas Jefferson writes to James Monroe about paying the public debt and Congress' willingness to do so. Jefferson believes establishing the nation's credit is critical to showing its ability to go to war should England and Spain do so. Jefferson hopes to avoid conflict: "Our object is to feed & theirs to fight." Jefferson worries that English and Spanish designs on North America would leave the United States surrounded by potential aggressors.

Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael, August 2, 1790 The importance of the Mississippi River to American growth and economic success is uppermost in Jefferson's mind as Spain and England seem on the brink of war.

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, August 28, 1790 Thomas Jefferson responds to George Washington's concerns, expressed in his August 27, 1790 report to Jefferson, over British expansion in the West. Jefferson is particularly concerned with the United States' position in the event of a conflict between England and Spain.

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, March 18, 1792 A detailed examination of the current and future prospect for western expansion and the legal and political ramifications of such movement.

Thomas Jefferson to Aaron Burr, June 17, 1797 Thomas Jefferson contemplates the actions of the newly seated Congress in the light of foreign pressure and partisan politics. Jefferson's worries about the changing character of American politics are focused on expansion and the possibility of serious French colonization in Louisiana.

Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, May 26, 1801 Thomas Jefferson writes to James Monroe of business dealings and then mentions his fear that Spain would cede Louisiana and the Floridas to the French.

William Dunbar to the American Philosophical Society, via Thomas Jefferson, read December 18, 1801. This report, with several other missives and reports written by Dunbar, were forwarded by Jefferson to the American Philosphical Society, where they were read before the Society and later published in theTransactions of the Philosophical Society of Americain 1804. Dunbar's detailed descriptions of the weather and growing conditions in Lousiana were sure to interest Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson to Robert Livingston, April 18, 1802 Thomas Jefferson sends a cipher to Robert Livingston, as well as his musings on the cession of Louisiana.

Albert Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, April 13, 1803 Albert Gallatin responds to Jefferson's planned instructions to Lewis by stressing the importance of evaluating the suitability of the parts of the trans-Missouri region not included in the Louisiana Purchase. He wonders if British appropriation of the region is a possibility.

Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, July 17, 1803 Thomas Jefferson writes to William Dunbar of the acquisition of Louisiana Territory, asking for information and statistics to place before the Congress.

Thomas Jefferson to John Dickinson, August 9, 1803 Thomas Jefferson expresses his pleasure at the Louisiana Purchase, and explains the importance of the territory as a buffer against Spanish expansion.

Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, September 21, 1803 Thomas Jefferson questions William Dunbar about Spanish borders in the Louisiana Territory.

William Dunbar to Thomas Jefferson, October 21, 1803 William Dunbar responds to Thomas Jefferson's September 21 letter regarding the Spanish presence in Florida and the Gulf Coast and the surveys conducted by the Spanish in that region. He also praises Daniel Clark's summation of the population of the Lousiana Territory and suggests a representative from that region appear before Congress, but notes that the Spanish government is unlikely to allow such a measure to take place as long as the territory is in their hands.

Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803 Thomas Jefferson updates Meriwether Lewis on political activity around the event of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson includes notes from the explorer Truteau that detail population and activities of some native groups living west of the Mississippi.

William Dunbar to Thomas Jefferson, January 28, 1804 William Dunbar sends notes to Jefferson concerning the Mississippi River Valley; he believes the notes could be read before the Philosphical Society; see the "Reports" section of this archive for several of Dunbar's dispatches on the Mississippi River region. Dunbar continues with a discussion of the development of Natchez and the establishment of a college there.

Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, March 13, 1804 Thomas Jefferson thanks William Dunbar for his letter of January 28, promising to forward his paper on the Mississippi River to the American Philosophical Society. Jefferson then writes a detailed discussion of the science of water in a river like the Mississippi. Jefferson also relates his plans for directing surveying parties to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, in addition to explorations of the Red and other more southern waterways. Jefferson concludes with speculations on the future of the Lousiana Territory.

William Dunbar to the American Philosophical Society, via Thomas Jefferson, read April 6, 1804. The Mississippi River, its delta, and the surrounding region receive detailed attention from William Dunbar in this report forwarded to the APS by Thomas Jefferson.

William Dunbar to Thomas Jefferson, May 13, 1804 William Dunbar thanks Thomas Jefferson for his comments about Dunbar's notes on the Mississippi River. Spain's land sales in Western Florida draw the author's attention and Dunbar offers approval of continuing explorations on America's western rivers, while bemoaning Congress' reluctance to adequately fund such expeditions.