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Primary Documents in American History

Jefferson's Secret Message Regarding the Lewis & Clark Expedition

A Journal of the Voyages and Travels Under the Command of Capt. Lewis
Patrick Gass.
"Captains Lewis & Clark holding a council with the Indians"
A Journal of the Voyages and Travels
of a Corps of Discovery...
Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1812.
Engravings.
Rare Book and Special Collections Division
(174)

On January 18, 1803, Thomas Jefferson sent a secret message to Congress asking for “the appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars, for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States.” This money was used to fund the Lewis & Clark expedition. Jefferson made the request in a secret message in order to hide his intentions from his political enemies in the Federalist Party.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

The Senate Executive Journal contains another copy of Jefferson's secret message.

Search this collection to find additional Congressional documents on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. For example, after the successful completion of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Thomas Jefferson signed into law “An Act Making Compensation to Messrs. Lewis and Clarke, and their companions” on March 3, 1807.

The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820

Contains the full-text of Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, which were originally published in 1814.

Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase

This collection focuses on the various documents—from maps to newspapers to cultural artifacts—that help to describe the region of North America that stretched from as far east as Alabama into what is now the state of Montana. The 119 items presented here come from the various special and general collections of the Library of Congress. Includes the essay Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase.

Maps

In March 1803, War Department cartographer Nicholas King compiled a map of North America west of the Mississippi in order to summarize all available topographic information about the region. It is believed that Lewis and Clark carried this map on their journey at least as far as the Mandan-Hidatsa villages on the Missouri River, where Lewis annotated in brown ink additional information obtained from fur traders. Search this collection using the phrase "Lewis and Clark" to view additional maps produced during and after the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress

On September 23, 1806, Meriwether Lewis wrote a letter to Jefferson about the expedition's return to St. Louis. In this letter, Lewis writes that "in obedience to your orders we have penitrated the Continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, and sufficiently explored the interior of the country..."

Search this collection using the phrase "Meriwether Lewis" to locate over fifty documents related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

America's Library

Jump Back in Time: Senate Ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, October 20, 1803.

Meet Amazing Americans: Meriwether Lewis & William Clark

Exhibitions

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Lewis and Clark Expedition

Includes maps and documents from the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Library of Congress Exhibition: Thomas Jefferson

This exhibition focuses on the legacy of Thomas Jefferson. A section on the West examines Jefferson’s role in the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Rivers, Edens, Empire - Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America

This exhibition contains maps, images and documents related to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, including another copy of Jefferson's secret message to Congress.

Global Gateways

Meeting of Frontiers

A bilingual, multimedia English-Russian digital library that tells the story of the American exploration and settlement of the West, the parallel exploration and settlement of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and the meeting of the Russian-American frontier in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The section Exploration of the American West contains digital items related to the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Journeys and Crossings

Jefferson's Letter to Meriwether Lewis

Gerard Gawalt (American History Specialist, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress) discusses the draft of a letter that Thomas Jefferson sent to Meriwether Lewis to initiate the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Today in History

August 18, 1774

Explorer Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774 near Charlottesville, Virginia.

October 20, 1803

The Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase treaty on October 20, 1803.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

Teaching With Documents: The Lewis and Clark Expedition, National Archives and Records Administration

Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, PBS

The Lewis & Clark Journey of Discovery, National Park Service

Monticello - Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark Expedition,The Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Our Documents, Jefferson's Secret Message to Congress Regarding the Lewis & Clark Expedition, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. [Catalog Record]

Cutright, Paul Russell. Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Duncan, Dayton. Lewis & Clark: An Illustrated History. New York: Knopf, 1997. [Catalog Record]

Moulton, Gary E., ed. The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery: The Abridgment of the Definitive Nebraska Edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Ronda, James P. Finding the West: Explorations with Lewis and Clark. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Slaughter, Thomas P. Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness. New York: Knopf, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Bergen, Lara Rice. The Travels of Lewis & Clark. Austin, Tex.: Steadwell Books, 2000. [Catalog Record]

Blumberg, Rhoda. The Incredible Journey of Lewis and Clark. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1987. [Catalog Record]

Cavan, Seamus. Lewis and Clark and the Route to the Pacific. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991. [Catalog Record]

Edwards, Judith. The Great Expedition of Lewis and Clark: By Private Reubin Field, Member of the Corps of Discovery. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Erdrich, Liselotte. Sacagawea. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Faber, Harold. Lewis and Clark: From Ocean to Ocean. New York: Benchmark Books/Marshall Cavendish, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Morley, Jacqueline. Across America: The Story of Lewis & Clark. New York: Franklin Watts, 1998. [Catalog Record]

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  September 24, 2014
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