A More Perfect Union

For more than two hundred years, the Capitol has been the place where representatives of the American people have debated how best to achieve the nation’s ideals. This exhibit displays some of our most important documents to illustrate the role of Congress in defining and helping to realize national goals and aspirations.

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The Congress shall have Power To ... promote the Progress of Science

American exploration has been inspired by individual curiosity and boldness. It has also epended upon government encouragement and financial support. These documents highlight the role Congress has played in promoting scientific investigation and charting the unknown, from the early explorations across the continent to the latest voyages into space.

Exploring the Continent - 3

Throughout the 19th century Congress promoted exploration of the American West. President Thomas Jefferson proposed, and Congress funded the first expedition: a “Corps of Discovery,” led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1803. Their mission was to chart the Louisiana Territory, find a water route to the Pacific Ocean, and establish trade with Indian nations. Traveling the Missouri and Columbia Rivers and partially overland to the Pacific, they acquired a wealth of information about the geography, geology, flora, fauna, and peoples of the Northwest.

The Space Race

As an outgrowth of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union began the "space race" in the 1950s. By competing to make important advances in space exploration, both nations sought to advance not only scientific but also political and security objectives. The Soviets launched the first satellite in 1957 and put the first astronaut into orbit in 1961. In response, the House and Senate established science committees and President John F. Kennedy made space exploration a national priority. He recommended to Congress that the U.S. be first to land a man on the moon, an inspiring goal that was achieved in 1969.

Exploration from Past Exhibitions
  • Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, printed treaty with handwritten notations, March 10, 1848

    After considerable debate, the U.S. Senate approved for ratification the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on March 10, 1848, by a vote of 38–14. This annotated Senate copy indicates controversial points in Article V, which designated an 1847 map by J. Disturnell as the basis for the U.S.-Mexico boundary. The Senate rejected a clause limiting changes to that boundary.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Boundary between the United States and Mexico, map by William H. Emory, 1855

    Between 1849 and 1857, the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers marked and mapped the U.S.-Mexico boundary and published a report on natural features of the borderland. The vast new western territories immediately became a focus of congressional dispute regarding slavery in new states. This map shows the border between New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • Amendment to H.R. 336 authorizing the Secretary of War to organize a survey for a railroad route to the Pacific Ocean, February 24, 1853

     

    Congress authorized Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to commission the Army Corps of Engineers for the transcontinental railroad survey. Davis, who represented Mississippi in the House and the Senate, favored the southernmost route. He continued to advocate for a southern railroad after secession, as President of the Confederate States of America.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    That the Secretary of War be…authorized…to employ…the corps of topographical engineers...to make such explorations and surveys as he may deem advisable, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Pacific ocean….

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Bill to Establish the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, June 16, 1958

    The Soviet Union’s launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, spurred Congress to establish committees with jurisdiction over space exploration. Committees in both houses crafted legislation that created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on July 29, 1958.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    President Jefferson’s Confidential Message to Congress, January 18, 1803

    On January 18, 1803, President Jefferson sent to Congress a request for an appropriation to finance an expedition to the West, which would seek to establish trade with the Indian tribes and to search for a route to the Western (Pacific) Ocean. The Constitution granted Congress the power to regulate commerce.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • List of Supplies and Indian Presents for Lewis and Clark Expedition, ca. June 1803

    Meriwether Lewis, after close consultation with President Jefferson, requisitioned the supplies needed for the expedition from the War Department. Along with food, clothing, arms, ammunition, medicine and other equipment, Lewis requested gifts for the Indian nations the explorers would encounter. Jefferson hoped these gifts, given in friendship ceremonies, would help establish peaceful relations and stimulate trade.

    Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives and Records Administration

    President John F. Kennedy’s Message to Congress, May 25, 1961

    A few weeks after Commander Alan Shepard, Jr., became the first American to travel into space, President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress, requesting its commitment to the space program and additional funds to develop rockets and weather and communication satellites.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

    Hawaiian Bible (New Testament), Ke kauoha hou a ko kakou Haku e ola'I, a Iesu Kristo, 1835, 1st edition

    Missionaries translated this Bible and had it bound in goatskin by Hawaiians before the U.S. Exploring Expedition arrived. Used for a sermon aboard the Vincennes while the ship was anchored in Hawaii, it was among the items brought back to Washington, D.C., from expedition travels.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Chart of the World Shewing the Tracks of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842

    The U.S. Exploring Expedition surveyed the Pacific Ocean, mapping nearly 300 islands, including the Marianas and Fijis. It explored the coast of Australia, determined that Antarctica was a continent, and charted the northwest coast of North America. The voyage helped establish U.S. claims to the Oregon Territory, Antarctica, and Wake Island in the Pacific.

    Records of the Hydrographic Office, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Map, Exploration of a Railroad Route, 1854-1857, compiled by G.K. Warren et al., 1858

    With appropriations from Congress, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis commissioned the Army Corps of Engineers to explore four routes from the Mississippi River to the PacificCoast. This map, issued with their published report, combines information from many previous expeditions and indicates the locations of American Indian nations and military posts.

     

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • Pamphlet, Highway to the Pacific…Speech of Mr. [Thomas Hart] Benton…Delivered in the Senate of the United States, Dec. 16, 1850

    In this speech of December 1850, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri argued for a central route with its eastern terminus in his home city of St. Louis. Though Congress ultimately chose a central route, its eastern point was not in St. Louis, but in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Map, Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean …, compiled by G.K. Warren et al.,1858

    With appropriations from Congress, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis commissioned the Army Corps of Engineers to explore four routes from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. This map, published with their report, incorporated information from many previous expeditions. To aid Congress in selecting a route, it indicated locations of settlements, American Indian nations, and military posts.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • Notes on Surveying for Officers of U.S. Exploring Expedition, notebook of Captain Charles Wilkes, ca. 1838-1842

    Largely self-taught in surveying and navigation, Charles Wilkes gained additional experience in the Navy before he led the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Charged with mapping uncharted Pacific shores, Wilkes wrote this handbook for his officers, including a diagram of how to survey an island. The detailed nautical charts they created served navigators for over a century.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • “Shuttle Explodes,” Concord Monitor, New Hampshire, January 28, 1986

    NASA chose high school teacher Christa McAuliffe of Concord, New Hampshire, from more than 11,000 applicants for its new Teacher in Space Program. Her selection drew national attention to the shuttle program, and students nationwide were excited at the prospect of science lessons from space. McAuliffe’s death made the tragedy particularly poignant.

    Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

  • Sketch from the Office of the Mexican Boundary Survey, n.d.

    This area south of the Rio Gila, sketched by U.S. Boundary Commissioner William H. Emory, is now part of Arizona. The red line shows the U.S.-Mexico border before the United States purchased the adjacent land from Mexico in 1853. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis gave Army engineers this map to explore a southern railroad route to the Pacific.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Oenothera primiveris, Evening Primrose Family, Herbarium specimen from Mexican Boundary Survey

    While marking the U.S.-Mexico boundary, Army surveyors also studied the flora and fauna of the borderland. They published a three-volume illustrated report and collected plant and animal specimens—among them, this desert evening primrose. This flower is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico and well adapted to the arid climate.

    Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

  • Notebook of Civil Engineer J. F. Minter, July 18-Oct. 17, 1853

    Army engineer George McClellan was a scout for the Northwest survey of the 47th and 49th parallels. He is sketched here in the Cascades. McClellan proved to be a controversial General-in-Chief of the Union Armies in 1861-62, and in 1864 he unsuccessfully challenged Abraham Lincoln for the presidency.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    President John F. Kennedy’s Message to Congress, May 25, 1961

    A few weeks after Commander Alan Shepard, Jr., became the first American to travel into space, President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress, requesting its commitment to the space program and additional funds to develop rockets and weather and communication satellites.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • General Map of the Kingdom of New Spain, from 16° to 38° North Latitude, by Alexander Von Humboldt, 1804

    Geographer Alexander von Humboldt drew this map using new information he gathered from Spanish archives in Mexico. His sharing of this map with President Jefferson on an 1804 visit to Washington helped the United States better understand what lay west of the Mississippi River, especially the territory controlled by Spain.

    Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Letter from Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, July 8, 1803

    To obtain weapons and other equipment for the expedition, Meriwether Lewis went to the federal arsenal and industrial town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. One of his purchases was an air gun, meant to impress any indigenous peoples of the West they might meet. Lewis kept President Jefferson informed of all his preparations for the journey.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • USAF Lunar Reference Mosaic LEM-1, 3rd Edition, July 1966

    To prepare for landing a manned spacecraft on the moon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explored the lunar surface remotely. This map of the moon’s earthside hemisphere, created by NASA and the Department of Defense, is a composite of photos taken by three observatories.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

    Botanical specimen, Argyroxiphium Sandwicense DC (Silversword)

    Silversword, now considered rare and endangered, is one of thousands of plant species collected by the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Native Hawaiians called it "`ahinahina," meaning gray or shining, and used the tough fibers to make ropes. The plant flowers after 40-50 years and then dies.

    .S. National Herbarium, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

    Silversword in bloom
    Photograph by Warren L. Wagner

  • List of "Presents for Natives," July 16, 1841

    One of the objectives of the U.S. Exploring Expedition was to collect ethnographic information about the peoples of the South Pacific. The expedition carried "presents for natives" as gifts to promote diplomacy and trade for artifacts. These "presents" included beads, musical instruments, textiles, tools, and armaments, as enumerated on this list.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    19 Small Axes, 13 Accordians, 16 Bunches Blue Beads

    Office of Naval Records Library, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Lithograph, “Nez Perces (Meeting in Woods),” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    Army engineers gathered information for Congress on the peoples, flora, fauna, and geology of the regions they surveyed, often relying on the knowledge of American Indians. This lithograph of Nez Perce inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest illustrated a report of the survey of the 47th and 49th parallels, the northernmost route.

    Art by John Mix Stanley, lithography by Sarony, Major & Knapp

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Thomas Hart Benton, by Mathew Brady studio, ca. 1845-1850

    Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, raised on the frontier, was a champion of westward expansion and an early proponent of a transcontinental railway.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Color lithograph, “Manzanita,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    As part of the survey, Army engineers gathered information for Congress on the peoples, flora, fauna, and geology of the regions they covered. Such information expanded public knowledge of those regions and served Congress in narrowing options for the route defined by the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Map of Part of the Island of Hawaii, 1841

    The expedition spent about six months in the Hawaiian Islands (then known as the Sandwich Islands), surveying the uncharted islands and studying geology, particularly volcanoes. This map shows several volcanoes, including Mauna Loa, in the area that is today Volcano National Park, an international biosphere reserve and world heritage site.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • “City, NASA Look For Answers,” Concord Monitor, New Hampshire, January 29, 1986

    The House Committee on Science and Technology, which had investigated earlier incidents in NASA’s Apollo program, held hearings on the Challenger disaster. The committee report made more than a hundred recommendations for changes in the space program. NASA agreed to all of them and space shuttle operations resumed.

    Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

    Report on the U.S. and Mexican Boundary Survey, 1857-59, directed by William H. Emory, Vol. 1, Vol. 2: Parts 1 and 2, 1859

    Members of Congress relied on the U.S. Boundary Commission report as they proposed legislation for the new territory. Richly illustrated, the multivolume report included contributions by scientists along with maps of the new U.S.-Mexico boundary. These pages describe the Pecos River, depict an Apache warrior, and record the coyote skull seen in the adjacent case.

    Law Library of Congress

  • Oenothera primiveris, photograph by Warren L. Wagner

    Oenothera primiveris, the desert evening primrose, is an annual herb that grows in winter. Its four-petaled yellow flowers open at night, then fade to orange.

    Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

  • Field Note Journal of George McClellan, May 20-December 15, 1853

    George McClellan’s field journal contains information collected from American Indians his party encountered while traveling along the Columbia River and through the mountains of the Northwest. His notes reveal the survey party’s daily progress and record conversations with Native Americans from whom he sought advice about land conditions and travel routes.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Representative Teague’s Letter to President Kennedy, September 23, 1963

    Representative Olin Teague wrote directly to the President arguing that the United States must get to the moon first. He also argued against cooperating with the Soviet Union. Teague chaired both the Committee on Science and Astronautics and its subcommittee on Manned Space Flight during the 93rd Congress.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1812; Copy by Samuel Lewis of William Clark’s Original Map

    This map documents the expedition’s trek across North America from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. It notes the location of Indian tribes by name and number of “souls,” rivers mapped and named, and the expedition’s winter camps.

    Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, National Archives and Records Administration

    History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, Volumes 1 and 2, 1814

    The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean, “. . . the object of all our labours, the reward of all our anxieties . . .” at the mouth of the Columbia River in November 1805. After Meriwether Lewis’s death in 1809, William Clark and others completed the official report, based on the expedition journals. Published in 1814, this report to Congress made public a vast body of information about the Northwest.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Apollo 11 Mission Commentary, Transcript, July 20, 1969

    The July 1969 landing of the Eagle, the manned module of NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar mission, marked the fulfillment of President Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon within a decade. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. made the landing; Michael Collins piloted the command module that returned the three safely to Earth.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Journal No. 2, "Morai restored" by Titian Peale, ca. 1839

    In this journal, naturalist Titian Ramsay Peale described the generosity of islanders in Tahiti who provided the visiting explorers with food and shelter. Later he sketched an ancient temple, or "Morai," built of coral bricks in the shape of a pyramid that he passed while hiking to the home of a district governor.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Letter to “Captain Wilkes” from children of a Hawaiian High School, ca. 1840

    Among the materials the U.S. Exploring Expedition collected were items received as gifts or tributes from the indigenous people they visited. In Wailuku, Hawaii, students at a missionary high school presented Wilkes with a sample of their work, emphasizing that they gave it "freely on account of our love."

    Office of Naval Records Library, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Chromolithograph, "Fort Union and Distribution of Goods to the Assinniboines [Assiniboines]," U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    The Pacific Railroad Expedition surveys provided Congress and the public a wealth of information about the West, including images and descriptions of many American Indian nations, such as the Assiniboines. American Indians were helpful to the surveyors, but the completion of the transcontinental railroad proved devastating to Native Americans’ former ways of life.

    Art by John Mix Stanley, lithography by Sarony, Major & Knapp

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Amendment to H.R. 336 Authorizing a Survey for a Railroad Route to the Pacific Ocean, February 24, 1853

    Congress authorized Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to commission the Army Corps of Engineers for the transcontinental railroad survey. Davis, who had represented Mississippi in the House and the Senate, favored the southernmost route. He continued to advocate for a southern railroad after secession, as President of the Confederate States of America.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Color lithograph, “Dalles,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    The Pacific Railroad Expedition surveys included information about many American Indian nations. The Dalles, a narrows on Oregon’s Columbia River, was an important fishing and trading site. American Indians were helpful to the surveyors, but the impact of the transcontinental railroad often proved devastating to Native Americans’ traditional ways of life.

    Art by John Mix Stanley; lithography by Sarony, Major & Knapp

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • List of Islands surveyed for the first time, ca. 1842

    The U.S. Exploring Expedition surveyed the Pacific Ocean, mapping nearly 300 islands, including the Hawaiian Islands, the Marianas and the Fijis. For many of the Pacific islands, including the ones listed on this page, the surveys and charts were the first ever made.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    President Ronald Reagan's State of the Union message to Congress, February 4, 1986

    President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union message to Congress originally was scheduled for January 28, the evening of the Challenger explosion. After postponing the event for a week, the president paid tribute to “the brave seven” and affirmed the nation’s commitment to the space program.

    We paused together to mourn and honor the valor of our seven Challenger heroes. And I hope we are now ready to do what they would want us to do—go forward America, reach for the stars.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Canis latrans texensis, coyote skull specimen, Texas, Frontera, from the Mexican Boundary Survey

    The survey party collected animal specimens to study the locations and relationships of various species. The published report noted that the Texas coyote rarely appeared during the day, but at night "there are no bounds to its impudence, not only coming into camp, but stealing your provisions literally from under your nose."

    Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

  • Field Note Journal of George McClellan, 1853

    George McClellan’s expedition notes include a glossary of words from American Indian languages. This Comanche vocabulary reflects a need for practical knowledge and includes words such as “pah” (water) and “ho-no” (river). Communications with American Indians helped the survey parties on their way and provided knowledge of the environs that could be reported to Congress.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Men on the Moon, July 20, 1969

    On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin walked on the moon. Along with a capsule and an American flag, they left a plaque inscribed, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon...We came in peace for all mankind.” The astronauts spoke to a joint session of Congress on September 16, 1969

    Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Men on the Moon, July 20, 1969

    On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. walked on the moon. They planted an American flag and left a plaque inscribed, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon . . . We came in peace for all mankind.” The astronauts addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress on September 16, 1969.

    Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Ornithology plate printer's proof of parrots, by Titian Peale, hand-colored engraving by T. House, Boston

    Titian Ramsay Peale was an accomplished artist who collected specimens and made detailed drawings of Pacific Island flora and fauna. His splendid depiction of Fiji Island parrots—now threatened by habitat loss and illegal trade—is one of the hand-colored engravings that illustrate the U.S. Exploring Expedition’s multivolume report, published 1844–1874 by authority of Congress.

     

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

    Letter from Henry Eld to Henry Eld, Sr., Islands of Hawaii, Mauna Loa, December 31, 1840

    While in Hawaii, Lieutenant Wilkes led expedition members and porters on an arduous ascent of the volcano Mauna Loa for scientific research. Resting near the tremendous crater's edge on New Year's Eve, Midshipman Henry Eld wrote his father that the explorers are "all similarly employed writing to our friends," while "shivering with the cold."

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    I am this moment Elevated 13 thousand feet above the level of the Sea on the Summit of…Mauna Loa (Long Mountain) and within 50 feet of a Crater…

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Color lithograph, “A Conical Hill 500 Feet High,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    The Army Corps of Engineers’ surveys included scientific studies of phenomena such as this unusual geological formation near Laguna, Colorado, on the 35th parallel. The expeditions reported their findings through data and written descriptions, and also with numerous detailed engravings, woodcuts, and lithographs.

    Art by Heinrich B. Mollhausen, lithography by Thomas S. Sinclair

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Field Note Journal of George McClellan, May 20–December 15, 1853

    Captain George B. McClellan––a West Point graduate and engineer who later led the Union Armies in the Civil War––headed a survey party on the 49th parallel. His field notes included useful American Indian vocabularies, such as this Comanche glossary. Communications with Native Americans provided knowledge of the environs that could be reported to Congress.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Color lithograph, “Herd of bison, near Lake Jessie [North Dakota],” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    The survey report’s depictions of terrain and wildlife gave Congress and the public a better understanding of the West, where vast herds of bison were a life-sustaining resource for Plains Indians. Completion of the transcontinental railroad opened a national market and brought other advantages, but also contributed to the near-extinction of North American bison by 1885.

    Art by John Mix Stanley; lithography by Sarony, Major & Knapp

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Space Shuttle Challenger Wreckage, NASA, ca. April 18, 1986

    This photograph of a fragment of the Challenger’s right wing was part of the evidence gathered by the House Committee on Science and Technology for its investigation of the crash. Investigators determined that the cause of the accident was the effect of cold weather on the “O-ring” pressure seal of the right solid rocket booster.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Reports of Explorations and Surveys (13 volumes), 1855–1861

    Congress authorized the Pacific Railroad Expedition’s 13-volume report, edited by Smithsonian Institution Secretary Joseph Henry and Assistant Secretary Spencer Baird. The report went beyond the Expedition’s main purpose of identifying a railroad route: it constituted the most comprehensive information source on the American West in the mid-19th century. Twelve volumes are shown here.

    Law Library, Library of Congress

  • VINCENNES in Disappointment Bay, 1844 engraving by C.A. Jewett, sketch by Charles Wilkes

    Wilkes made this sketch of the U.S. Exploring Expedition's flagship, the Vincennes. The Peacock, another of the expedition's six vessels, shipwrecked near the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • U.S. War Department, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    Congress authorized publication of the U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition’s 13-volume report between 1855 and 1861. The volumes included thousands of illustrations of landscapes and natural specimens.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Reports of Explorations and Surveys (13 volumes), 1855–1861

    Congress authorized the Pacific Railroad Expedition’s 13-volume report, edited by Smithsonian Institution Secretary Joseph Henry and Assistant Secretary Spencer Baird. The report went beyond the Expedition’s main purpose of identifying a railroad route: it constituted the most comprehensive information source on the American West in the mid-19th century. Twelve volumes are shown here.

    Law Library, Library of Congress

  • U.S. War Department, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

    Congress authorized publication of the U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition’s 13-volume report between 1855 and 1861. The volumes included thousands of illustrations of landscapes and natural specimens.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Painting of Challenger Crew, Brumidi Corridors, U.S. Capitol, by Charles Schmidt, 1987

    Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis, Pilot Michael Smith; Mission Specialist Judith Resnik, Teacher Christa McAuliffe, Mission Specialist Ronald McNair; Commander Dick Scobee.

    U.S. Senate Collection

  • Proposed routes and selected route for the U.S. Pacific Railroad

    Congress considered the merits of the four U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition surveys–along the 32nd, 35th, 37th—39th, and 47th—49th parallels–and finally selected a different, middle route.

  • Tracing of Western North America, engraved map by Nicholas King, ca. 1803, with annotations by Meriwether Lewis, ca. 1804

    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark likely used this map for at least the initial part of their voyage. Nicolas King, a War Department cartographer, created it in 1803 from the best topographical information then available. After the expedition reached Mandan-Hidatsa villages on the upper Missouri late in 1804, Lewis added a few notes in ink.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress
    (facsimile)

    Meriwether Lewis, History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark... , vols. 2 and 3, 1814

    The Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific Ocean in November 1805, and in 1806 President Thomas Jefferson presented the expedition report to Congress. After Meriwether Lewis died in 1809, William Clark and others completed preparation of Lewis’s and Clark’s journals for publication. Issued in 1814, the official history conveyed a wealth of information about the Northwest.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • “Captains Lewis and Clark Holding a Council with the Indians” (detail), etching by Patrick Gass, Journals of the . . . Corps of Discovery, 1810

    The expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered nearly 50 American Indian tribes during a two-year journey to the Pacific Coast and back. Lewis and Clark sought to establish good relations as a basis for trade.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

    President Thomas Jefferson’s confidential message to Congress on western exploration, January 18, 1803

    On January 18, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson requested congressional appropriations for an expedition to extend “the external commerce of the U.S.” Noting that another country had a flourishing fur trade with Native Americans to the north, he stressed the need to find a route to the Pacific and establish trade relationships with western tribes. [54 words]

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • List of supplies for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ca. June 1803

    With $2,500 appropriated by Congress, expedition leader Meriwether Lewis purchased supplies for the journey. His list of items requisitioned from the War Department included food, clothing, munitions, tools, and medicine. Lewis reserved a large portion of the budget for gifts to be given to American Indians to establish peaceful relations and stimulate trade.

    Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives and Records Administration

    President Thomas Jefferson’s instructions to Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803

    President Thomas Jefferson gave Meriwether Lewis detailed instructions for the expedition. While its primary mission was to explore waterways for a route to the Pacific Ocean, commerce with inhabitants of the region was a major goal. Jefferson specified the kinds of information Lewis should obtain about any American Indian nations he might encounter.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Estimate of the Eastern Indians, chart by William Clark, 1805

    In the winter of 1805, William Clark compiled information gathered through interpreters about the populations and commerce of 72 American Indian tribes residing east of the Rocky Mountains. Submitted to Congress by President Thomas Jefferson in 1806, the statistics were later published. [42 words]

    American Philosophical Society

    Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains . . . , and to Oregon and North California . . . , by John C. Frémont et al., 1845

    To expand its knowledge of the West, the U.S. Senate commissioned a report on John C. Frémont’s expeditions. The publication aided Congress and became a handbook for western settlers. Its popularity was partly due to the literary contributions of Frémont’s wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Map of an Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains . . . and to Oregon and North California . . . , hand-colored map by Brevet Capt. J.C. Frémont, 1845

    John C. Frémont led five scientific expeditions into the West between 1842 and 1854; three of them were for the Army Corps of Engineers. This map, based on two expeditions, accompanied a report to the U.S. Senate. It accurately depicted large areas of the West, including locations of American Indian nations, but left blank the places unexplored by Frémont’s expeditions.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • Certificate of Election for John C. Frémont, December 22, 1849

    When Congress admitted California to the Union in 1850, the state legislature chose Frémont as its first U.S. senator. He served only six months, losing reelection because of his opposition to slavery. During his brief tenure in Congress, he contributed his knowledge of the West to legislation on land grants, mines, and a transcontinental wagon road.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Scutellaria antirrhinoides var. californica Gray, botanical specimen collected in California on the Frémont Expedition, ca. 1845

    Frémont’s third expedition collected this botanical specimen in California on a survey extending from the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Nevada. The plant is a perennial flowering herb native to rocky areas of northern California and Oregon. Frémont’s expeditions gathered information for Congress on flora, fauna, geology, geography, and inhabitants of the West.

    National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

    John C. Frémont's document box, n.d.

    Dispatch boxes like this one, carried by mules over difficult terrain, conveyed reports and correspondence composed during Frémont’s expeditions. Though some material was lost to accidents and bad weather, most of the information was published in Frémont’s report to the U.S. Senate. To meet popular demand, the publisher issued more than 24 editions by 1860.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Col. Frémont planting the American Standard on the Rocky Mountains, wood engraving by Baker & Godwin, ca. 1856

    When former Senator John C. Frémont of California ran as the Republican Party’s first presidential candidate in 1856, his campaign poster celebrated his western explorations.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress