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


Letter from Levi Lincoln to Thomas Jefferson

Levi Lincoln to Thomas Jefferson, April 17, 1803
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress
Levi Lincoln offers suggestions for the Corps of Discovery's trip and warns Thomas Jefferson of strong objections from the opposition.

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Washington April 17 1803

The President of the United States
Dear Sir

From the perusal, & reperusal of your Instructions for Capt. Lewis nothing of importance has suggested itself to my mind which has not been particularly attended to.

I consider the enterprise of national consequence, and, to a degree, personally hazardous, to the projectors & individual adventurers. In the perverse, hostile, and malig[n]ant state of the opposition, with their facility, of imposing on the public mind, & producing excitements, every measure originating with the executive will be attacked, with a virulence in proportion, to the patriotism of the motive, the wisdom of the means, & the probable utility of its execution. The greatest success, will but stop that mouth of clamor, which must be met with the merits of the projection, in case of its fa[i]lure, or serious disaster. In this view of the subject may not some new aspects be use-fully given to the

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undertaking, and others made more prominent? Would it not be well to those particulars which have a principal reference to oppening & promoting, a knowledge of the country, friendship & trade with its inhabi tants, and their improvements in the arts of husbandry, to add more explicitly those articles which have for their object the improvement of the mind, & the preservation of the body—Such as the ideas the various tribes or nations possess of a supreme being, their worships, their religion, the agency it has in their respective govts. in war, & in peace, its influence on their manners —their actions which are crimes against their society, & the punishments—their ideas of property, & the tenures by which they claim it also the probability of impressing their minds with a sense of an improved religion & morality & the means by which it could be effected. Besides religion & morality making a very important article in the history of all countries as an object of attention, If the enter prise appears to be, an attempt to advance them,

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it will by many people, on that account, be justified, however calamitous the issue.

Would it not be well also to mention the diseases incident to various climates, situations, and seasons, the age most liable to them, the method of treating them, the medicinal articles applied, the age which is considered as old, & the manner of life most condusive to it &c? If any plants or roots of uncommon virtues as medicine should be found, would it not be an object to procure the seed?

As Capt. Lewis may have in his company, some who have not had the small pox, would it not be best to carry some of the matter for the kine pox with him?

From my ideas of Capt. Lewis he will be much more likely, in case of difficulty, to push too far, than to recede too soon. Would it not be well to change the term, 'certain destruction' into probable destruction & to add—that these dangers are never to be encountered, which vigilance precaution & attention can secure against, at a reasonable expense.

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The foregoing ideas, indigested, and unimportant in themselves as most of them are, I communicate them for your inspection, without reserve.

I have always understood, that Story's deficiency was not so much from the want of strength of intellect, as the want of discretion, & correctness of morals.

I am Sir most respectfully your most obt. Servt.
Levi Lincoln