The Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, was the first American land expedition to the Pacific coast and back.
An earlier European expedition to the Pacific coast
While the Lewis and Clark expedition was the first American land expedition to the Pacific coast, a decade before that there was a Canadian expedition led by explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie. completed the first recorded transcontinental voyage by a non-Native American across North America north of Mexico in July 1793.
The Louisiana Purchase and the Western Expedition
In 1804, the Louisiana Purchase ignited American interest in expanding the territory to the west coast. A few weeks after purchasing the aforementioned land, President Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of western expansion, asked the United States Congress for $2,500 for the expedition.
Thomas Jefferson had long thought of such an expedition but was concerned about the danger. While in France from 1785 to 1789, he heard a number of plans for how to better explore the Pacific Northwest. In 1785, Jefferson learned that King Louis XVI of France planned to send a mission there with what was reported to be a simply scientific expedition. Jefferson found that suspicious, and the evidence presented by John Paul Jones confirmed these suspicions. In one incident, the mission was damaged by bad weather after leaving Botany Bay in 1788. In 1786 John Ledyard, sailing with Captain James Cook to the Pacific Northwest, told Jefferson that he planned to walk across Siberia, sail a Russian fur trading ship across the ocean, and then walk all the way to the US capital. Since Ledyard was an American, Jefferson hoped that he would succeed. Ledyard had made the journey as far as Siberia when Queen Catherine II of Russia captured him and deported him to Poland.
The American expedition to the Pacific Northwest was intended to study the Native American tribes, flora, geology, western topography, and wildlife in this region, as well as quantify the disturbance potential interference by French-Canadian and British-Canadian hunters and trappers. These hunters and trappers had already established their activities quite well in this area.
Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis to lead an expedition that would come to be known as the Corps of Discovery. In a letter dated June 20, 1803, Jefferson wrote to Lewis the following:
Lewis chose William Clark as his companion. Because of U.S. Army bureaucratic delays, Clark only officially held the rank of second lieutenant at the time, but Lewis hid this fact from members of the expedition and shared leadership of the expedition with him. Clark and always referred to Clark by the rank of "Captain".