The Lewis and Clark expedition, one of the most remarkable journeys ever in the nation's history, took place about 200 years ago. At that time, much of the country had not yet been explored; much of the territory was west of the Missouri River. .
On March 4, 1801, Jefferson took the presidential oath of office. In his speech, he asked Americans "to unite with one heart and one mind."" He was not only referring to bringing the political parties together, but also to expand the nation westward. He believed that expanding the nation westward would make the country safer from foreign invasion, as well as secure trading along the Mississippi river for American settlers and give the nation room to grow for years and years to come.
At the time, the land west was claimed by other nations, however, including Spain, France, and Great Britain. France and Spain controlled the trading rights along the Mississippi River and the important part of New Orleans. South of the Great Lakes, Britain still had forts and trading posts and were considering a move farther down the coast.
Our interest in the west was sparked by people's beliefs that the west had plentiful natural resources such as animals for fur, gold, and silver. We also were interested in the rivers, which were the key to moving resources and goods across the country. For centuries, explorers had been searching for an all-water route across North America - a "northwest passage-. Jefferson believed there was such a passage from the Mississippi River to the Pacific. He made this belief of a northwest passage the main goal of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
For the exploration, Jefferson wanted someone who was well educated and knew about river travel, the wilderness, and Indian culture. He chose Meriwether Lewis, a young friend and his current secretary. Lewis was 26 and unmarried. He had served as a captain in the U.S. army on the frontier.