Meriwether Lewis

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Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame was a southern gentleman who became a protegé of another Virginia landowner, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson knew Lewis from the time he was a young boy and took an interest in his career and education. When Jefferson became President, Lewis served as his private secretary. After Jefferson negotiated the coup of his presidency, the Louisiana Purchase, he found a new job for Lewis.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West
by Stephen Ambrose

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Though the young Army captain was a controversial choice in some quarters, he was Jefferson's man to lead the overland expedition which would explore the continent to the Pacific. Part naturalist, part soldier, part scientist, part diplomat, Lewis combined the qualities necessary to survive the arduous journey without being killed by Indians or defeated by the elements. It was a remarkable achievement.

He and his co-leader Clark went where no white men had gone before and Lewis' reports added greatly to the then existing scientific and geographic knowledge. He paved the way for the westward expansion of the young United States and was instrumental in early contacts with the western Indian tribes. He returned a hero and received a hero's reward.

Jefferson appointed him governor of the new Louisiana territory. He had difficulty remaining on good terms with the territory's secretary and fell out with other important government officials. He failed to report regularly and finally got into trouble over the territorial finances. He was on his way to Washington to justify his actions when he fell seriously ill and died a violent death. There is controversy surrounding his death. Some believe he was murdered, but those closest to him, Jefferson and his partner William Clark, had no doubt that it was suicide. His private demons, which he kept at bay during the desperate days of the expedition, seem to have gained the upper hand when life returned to normal.

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