I just caught the tail end of the Lewis & Clark doc by Ken Burns on PBS.
We all know L&C explored the newly acquired Louisana Purchase. And we all know they went all the way to the Pacific. But something struck me while watching: they’re not the same thing.
The LP did not extend to the Pacific coast. So when L&C went tramping all over the Oregon Territory they were crossing land that the U.S. did not own. (I believe it was claimed by the Brits, and later by the Ruskies, but I could be mistaken.)
Did they – or Jefferson – or Congress – get permission from somebody to send an official U.S. expedition through their backyard. Or, if not permission, did they send some sort of offical diplomatic notification that they were going to do it?
(Yes, yes, yes I know that the whole magilla really belonged to the Indians, not any of the imperialist nations mentioned above. But for the sake of this question let’s ignore that fact. Thanks.)
The French owned all lands drained by the Missouri before the British claimed the Columbia basin. Therefore, if the Missouri somehow tied into the Columbia (a northwest passage) then the French would have owned it, and thus the US would, through the LP.
A Canadian, Alexander Mackenzie, made it all the way across what is now Canada in 1793, creating a claim on the west coast for Britain. An account of his journey was published in 1801.
From that point on Jefferson was obsessed. He didn’t want the British to have sole possession of the west; he thought that a water passage to the Pacific was possible and needed to be discovered; he wanted to expand US commerce; he desired to know everything about the physical setting and flora and fauna of the west.
There was a lot he didn’t know, including where the west was, whether it was possible to boat there, and who had claims to what. The best assumption he could make was that the territory belonged to Spain, and so he spoke to the Spanish Ambassador - Carlos Martinez de Yrujo - on Dec. 2, 1802, telling him that he wanted to send out a party of travelers with “no other view than the advancement of the geography.”
Somebody smart enough to be an ambassador, who in those days had to make a lot of independent decisions given the months of travel time of a letter, saw through this from the first moment. He refused Captain Lewis a passport.
Jefferson sent a request to Congress in any case, and in early 1803 it approved $2500 for an expedition.
Then something ridiculously fortunate and timely happened. Napoleon, who had taken the Louisiana territory from Spain for complicated reasons, decided to sell it to the U.S. The announcement was made, aptly, on July 4, 1803. Now Lewis could legally go way past the Mississippi as far as its tributaries flowed.
The legalities were somewhat flimsy, but infinitely sounder than they had been just a few months earlier. Most importantly, there was no one from Europe in place anywhere along the route that could stop them.
On such foundations come the modern U.S.
All of the above, including the quote, are my condensed version of Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage.
No permission was sought for Lewis and Clark to explore the country to the Pacific. I would guess that Jefferson simply chose to not recognize any European claims and told his guys to go get information without regard to land ownership.
Robert Gray of Boston discovered the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792. This was later used as a keystone of America’s priority claims in the PNW. It was typical for the first to discover a river to claim all the land drained by it. So Lewis and Clark’s Snake and Columbia segment was in a territory the US could claim as its already. Although some retro-claiming may have been involved.
The Burns’ documentary points out that the Spanish still claimed lands well north of Texas. They sent a couple groups out to arrest the intruders but missed them completely.
In the case of the Natives, L&C did seek out and secure permission to cross lands in most cases.
I just viewed the first half of that series, having taped it so I could watch the Cubs’ series. In the beginning, it was pointed out that the land they traveled through west of the La. Purchase (i.e., the Rockies) was claimed by England, along with the adjoing Canadian lands, as pointed out by Exapno Mapcase. Spain claimed the land south and was afraid that the US had aims on them, so they sent an expedition to kill our expedition, which failed the first time, having arrived at a junction too late. I’ll view the 2d half tomorrow for it’s getting late now.