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


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Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Pendleton, August 26, 1776 Thomas Jefferson writes to Pendleton of his hopes for the new nation and practical plans for the election of the Senate and the establishment of boundaries. Thomas Jefferson also writes of battles in the early days of the American Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, December 4, 1783 Thomas Jefferson expresses concern over supposed British plans to explore North America from the Mississippi River to California and asks Clark if he would be willing to undertake such an exploration on behalf of the United States. Jefferson also addresses the ongoing Congressional debate over the location of the new capitol, believing a site on the Potomac River would be amenable to western states as they form.

Thomas Hutchins to Thomas Jefferson, February 11, 1784 Thomas Hutchins responds to Thomas Jefferson's January 24, 1784 note questioning calculations made in one of Hutchins' pamphlets, "A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, Comprehending the Rivers Ohio, Kenhawa, Sioto, Cherokee, Wabash, Illinois, Mississippi, &c...With a Plan of the Rapids of the Ohio, A Plan of the Several Villages in the Illinois Country, a Table of the Distances Between Fort Pitt and the Mouth of the Ohio."

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, March 12, 1791 Tension along the Mississippi River worries Thomas Jefferson, who asks William Carmichael to clarify the position of the Spanish regarding navigation of the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio River.

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, April 2, 1791 Thomas Jefferson summarizes for George Washington the diplomatic maneuvering of Spain and the United States on the subject of Florida and western settlements.

Thomas Jefferson to Henry Knox, August 10, 1791 The validity of private contracts with Native American groups in the face of Federal and state authority is addressed in this letter concerning the South Yazoo Company.

Thomas Jefferson to David Campbell March 27, 1792 Thomas Jefferson replies to David Campbell, in response to Campbell's letter of February 25, 1792, thanking him for his commentary on Western law. Jefferson also expresses concern over the seizure of Native American lands, concerned that an Indian War would be expensive.

Thomas Jefferson to Andre Michaux, January 23, 1793 Thomas Jefferson's instructions for Andre Michaux's proposed western expedition.

Thomas Jefferson to David Rittenhouse, April 11, 1793 Thomas Jefferson responds to David Rittenhouse's April 10 inquiry about planning Michaux's expedition and desires that the Philosophical Society meet.

Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael and William Short, June 30, 1793 Thomas Jefferson writes to William Carmichael and William Short, the United States' commissioners in Spain, addressing ongoing tensions with Spain. Spanish authorities viewed American settlements in the West with great suspicion and accused the United States of encouraging Native groups to violence. Jefferson addresses both the accusations and the United States' policies towards the Chickasaw and Creek Nations.

Thomas Jefferson to John Breckinridge, January 29, 1800 Thomas Jefferson advocates the creation of a separate Western judiciary in the newly laid-out regions. The tumult in France causes him to worry over the fate of the American Republic.

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Smith Barton, February 27, 1803 Thomas Jefferson informs Benjamin Smith Barton of Meriwether Lewis' upcoming journey, excited at the prospect of the scientific advances that will result.

Robert Patterson to Thomas Jefferson, March 15, 1803 Robert Patterson explains the mathematical formulas he will show Meriwether Lewis in preparing him for his journey. Please note, the complex nature of the formulas and examples makes it more feasible to leave them off of the transcribed document than include them; see the images for a complete rendition of Patterson's work.