In one of my earlier blogs I covered Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana territory and the expedition that Meriwether Lewis took of the new land. The purchase of this land was arguably one of the most important aspects of Jefferson’s political career. The reasons this purchase is so important is because it expanded the territory of the United States’ and introduced many new plants, animals, and experiences to the men on the expedition as well as to the people of the United States.
Rocky Mountains: One of the western wonders
that Wulf describes in her book.
When Jefferson sent Lewis on the now famous expedition, he told Congress that he wished for this expedition to take place because of commerce. In reality, it was one for scientific collection and for Jefferson’s on curiosity (we know this because in Wulf’s book she writes that Jefferson later told the Spanish, British, and French ambassadors of his true intentions). Jefferson, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite historical figures, is known for his genius, but in this purchase his cunning is also seen. Jefferson had always longed for the United States to be an agrarian nation and he saw the Louisiana Purchase as the perfect moment to make his vision a reality. He hoped that by sending Lewis on this trip he would be able to convince the citizens of the United States to accept Western Expansion and to move towards a farming society. Many people were skeptical of the idea of the West, but as Lewis’ many plants, animals, and remarks began making their way to the citizens they began to see the West in a different light. People began to now see the West as an opportunity of a different way of life.
Findings of the Expedition
A mastodon. Jefferson was particularly interested in
discovering the remains of this creature.
One of the most beneficial activities to arise from the expedition dealt with the amazing plants and animals that Lewis documented, preserved, or sent back to Jefferson. One of the most interesting stories dealing with this aspect of the trip is the story of the capture of a never before seen animal. This animal was the black-tailed prairie dog. As Wulf tells in her book, it took the men a whole day to capture the animal and five barrels of water to flush it from its hiding place. This story shows how strongly Lewis felt about the expedition and the scientific research that was coming from it because he refused to give up until the creature was caught (plus imagining a group of grown men chasing a prairie dog around a field is a comical thought, I can only imagine what Sacagawea was thinking). Another interesting find is the grizzly bear.Once discovered, someone sent Jefferson two of the bears and he kept the two live grizzlies on the White House lawn. This earned the nickname of “President’s bear garden” for the White House grounds among many people. Along with these live animals that Lewis observed, and in some cases sent to Jefferson, many bones and hides were collected for study. Lewis failed to find mastodon bones, which was something Jefferson had particularly been hoping to find. He had hoped to find a mastodon because he wanted to use it as a way to show the other countries of the world how different and independent the United States was. There was also pride connected to the discovery of this animal because Jefferson hoped to prove that the United States’ animals were bigger and better than the ones found in Europe (his inner middle school child was coming out).
As with animals, plants and seeds were a huge part of the expedition’s findings. There was such a variety of plants found that Jefferson remarked, “Some of them are curious, some ornamental, some useful, and some may by culture be made acceptable on our table”. As soon as Lewis returned from his expedition, Jefferson obtained the seeds and kept them for himself or sent them to Bernard McMahon who quickly planted them. He kept Jefferson updated on the status of the plants and reported any findings he had. Jefferson saw this discovery of new plants as beneficial to the United States because it provided new crops for eating and new plants for growing in gardens. He also hoped to use these plants as a way to show the citizens the wonders of the West in hopes of persuading them to embrace expansion, which they eventually did (again you see Jefferson’s cunning by him trying to sway peoples’ views on the West by bringing the West to them). Of all the plants that Lewis brought back, Jefferson views the Arikara bean to be the most excellent. This bean had fed Lewis' expedition party during the winter they spent in North Dakota, which led Jefferson to view it as a very useful and beneficial find. Jefferson also enjoyed the Lewis’ snowberry, which was his favorite shrub. He loved the Lewis’ snowberry because he said the alabaster berry that grew on it during the winter was one of the most beautiful that he had ever seen. Jefferson was known for admiring agriculture for both its useful and beautiful attributes and this is shown by his love of the Arikara bean and Lewis' snowberry. He valued the bean for its useful benefits it provided while he valued the shrub for the beauty it provided.
Another important part to the Lewis expedition was his contact with the Native Americans. Having Native American relatives, I am always interested in learning more and this expedition was a different look on Native Americans and their interactions with Lewis. When Lewis set out for the expedition, Jefferson had given him orders to study their culture, language, and way of life. During the first winter that Lewis and his team encountered they were taken care of by a tribe called the Mandan tribe. This tribe helped to feed them by introducing them to the corn that the tribe cultivated. This corn was among the plants that Lewis sent back to Jefferson for him to plant and study. Lewis also sent back much of the information that the Native Americans provided them with about the plants as well as artifacts for Jefferson to see. When all of the cargo arrived, Jefferson kept many of the Native American artifacts so that he could put them in a hall, called the Indian Hall, which he was constructing at Monticello. Although Jefferson was willing to learn from the Native Americans, he also wanted to change them. Jefferson wanted to turn the Native Americans into a farming people and eventually take the lands away from them. Jefferson was concerned with the expansion and betterment of the United States and in order to do that he needed to be able to move onto land that belonged to the Native Americans. This would be the start of a way of thinking that would lead to tensions between Americans and the natives. Those tensions would eventually end with the Native Americans being forced from their lands and sent to live on reservations. Jefferson is usually viewed as an American hero and genius, but this gives a different view on Jefferson that is not commonly associated with him. This view shows him as the instigator to the eventual fighting and removal of the native people that would happen years later.
Support of Western Expansion and the Louisiana Purchase
Jefferson may be the founding father who is most connected with Western expansion, but he was not the only founding father who had a vision of expansion. Washington, Madison, and Adams all considered expansion necessary for the United States. Washington and Madison looked into large tracts of land in the west, but they never went forward with expansion plans to those areas. Adams had supported the Michaux expedition in earlier years in hopes of learning more about the west so that expansion to the area could be possible in the future. When the Louisiana Purchase happened, Adams supported the purchase because he felt it would unify the east and the west. Although he supported the purchase he did not support the expedition that Jefferson was sending Lewis on. Like most Federalists he felt that the expedition was unnecessary and would yield little useful results (some say he actually did not support the expedition because he was still upset over the 1800 election between him and Jefferson).
Jefferson wanted expansion in hopes of creating the United States into an agrarian nation. Washington also wished for expansion because he thought it necessary that the country follow an agrarian path. Both men wanted an agrarian nation because they both felt it would ensure the safety and prosperity of the new country. Washington hoped for the United States to become "a storehouse and granary For the world". Washington was hoping expansion would lead to the United States producing not only its own food, but food for all of the world. Jefferson also wanted expansion to lead to the United States producing food, but he also saw it as a way to protect the nation because it would not be dependent on other nations to provide it with necessities.
This shows us that expansion was not just a concept that came from Jefferson, but that came from many people.
Opposition of the Louisiana Purchase
Many people did not support the Louisiana Purchase or expansion. Many viewed the purchase of the Louisiana territory as unconstitutional. Jefferson himself even admitted that there were no provisions that admitted for the acquisition of territory in the Constitution. He went ahead with the purchase any way because he strongly believed that expansion was necessary for the growth of the new nation. Many people also opposed expansion because they felt it was not necessary and that the risk was too high. Many believed that the west was a wild land that was not fit to be settled. After Lewis’ expedition many people changed their view on the West and embraced its wild nature. It soon became a thing of pride and people began to slowly accept the idea of settling the west.
Jefferson's love for agriculture is not a common aspect that is associated with the former president, but it has proved to be an important one. Jefferson valued gardening as an essential aspect of life, whether it was for relaxation, scientific experiments, beauty, or for growing food. When he purchased the territory of Louisiana he used his love of agriculture to study the new land so that he could find its useful qualities and use them to better the United States. Jefferson's love for gardening impacted the new nation by providing crops to grow that could be used to stimulate the economy while also providing plants that were planted for their beauty. This impact is still seen today every time one walks through a national park, garden, or buys produce from their local super market.