Menu
Image 1 of
Zoom In
Zoom Out
Fullscreen

“Captains Lewis and Clark Holding a Council with the Indians,” 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

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

Trade with American Indians

In 1803, while the United States was negotiating the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, President Thomas Jefferson sent a confidential message to Congress proposing exploration of the region. Mindful of Congress’s authority to regulate commerce, Jefferson emphasized the need for better knowledge about American Indians of the Northwest in order to develop trade. Congress authorized and funded an expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. An 1806 report to Congress with data gathered by Lewis and Clark confirmed the territory’s commercial potential.

In all your intercourse with the natives, . . . make them acquainted with the position, extent character, peaceable & commercial dispositions of the US . . . & of our dispositions to a commercial intercourse with them

Thomas Jefferson, Instructions to Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803