On January 18, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent this message to Congress. Jefferson focused on the expansion of commercial interests to the West, providing a detailed account of the state of commerce with Native Americans. In addition, Jefferson proposed a small expedition that might range “even to the Western Ocean.” In his message, Jefferson asked for a $2,500 appropriation to fund “an intelligent officer, with ten or twelve chosen men” on the journey.
Congress approved the requested funds on February 22, 1803, “for extending the external commerce of the United States.” With this funding and congressional approval, Jefferson’s proposed idea became the Lewis and Clark expedition. On their journey west, through the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase and beyond the borders of the United States into what was then known as the “Oregon Country,” Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled 8,000 miles to and from the Pacific coast. They drew maps of the terrain, identified unknown plants and animals, conferred with Native American inhabitants, and returned with valuable discoveries about the continent.