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


Letter from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson

George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, August 27, 1790
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress
George Washington asks for Thomas Jefferson's opinions on a variety of security concerns on the United States' western borders, particularly given the threat of British/Spanish hostilities. Jefferson answered on August 28, 1790.

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Dear Sir

Enclosed is the Report (I mentioned to you on our Passage to Rhode Island) of the Officer who was directed to explore the Navigation of Big Beaver &c When you have read & taken such extracts from it as you may be inclined to do, please to return the paper to me, as they will have a place with some other Papers I mean to take with me to Virginia.

The short and rough Extracts also enclosed, were taken at the time of reading another Report of the Owabash Maps: River Navig.

Yr. &c G W

Friday Morning 27th July August 1790

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United States August 27th 1790

Provided the dispute between Great Britain and Spain should come to the decision of Arms, from a variety of circumstances /individually unimportant and inconclusive, but very much the reverse when compared and combined / there is no doubt in my mind, that New Orleans Maps: and the Spanish Posts above it on the Mississippi Maps: will be among the first attempts of the former, and that the reduction of them will be undertaken by a combined operation from Detroit.

The Consequences of having so formidable and enterprising a people as the British on both our flanks and rear, with their navy in front, as they respect our Western Settlements which may be secured thereby, as they regard the Security of the Union and its commerce with the West Indies, are too obvious to need enumeration.

What then should be the answer of the Executive of the United States to Lord Dorchester, in case he should apply for permission to march Troops through the Territory of the said States from Detroit to the Mississippi Maps: ?

What notice ought to be taken of the measure, if it should be undertaken without leave, which is the most probable proceeding of the two?

The opinion of the Secretary of State is requested in writing upon the above statement.

G. Washington
The Secretary of State