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Chapter 1 Living with Lewis & Clark The American Philosophical Society’s Continuing Relationship with the Corps of Discovery from the Michaux Expedition to the Present Edward C. Carter II 21 Both Benjamin Franklin’s 1743 proposal for the creation of the American Philosophical Society and its 1780 charter charged the organization with fostering discovery and exploration through surveys, charting, and mapping of the unknown expanses of North America and its “Sea-coasts, or Inland Countries; Course and Junctions of Rivers and Great Roads, Situations of Lakes and Mountains,” and describing “the variety of its climate, the fertility of its soil,” all of which offered to “these United States . . . the richest subjects of cultivation, ever presented to any people upon the earth.” Over the years, the society has taken its responsibility seriously, occasionally mounting its own expeditions, subsidizing others, actively promoting exploration of the American West and the polar regions with federal agencies and the general public, regularly publishing the reports of expeditions and individual explorers, and amassing a vast array of rare manuscripts, printed works, and graphic collections of North American and oceanic exploration in its library. Admirable and valuable as these activities may be, in the eyes of the general public and the scholarly community, they are no match for the American Philosophical Society’s role in helping plan and execute the Lewis and Clark expedition, preserving its records and fostering publication of those accounts for more than 185 years. Thomas Jefferson was president of the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to 1814. During the first four years of his presidency, he was a “hands-on” leader and attended and chaired many meetings of the society, setting policy and initiating programs. After his removal from Philadelphia to Washington upon becoming the third president of the United States, he carried out his leadership through correspondence and surrogates. For the next decade Jefferson (APS 1780) was mostly concerned with the organization , training, and execution of the Lewis and Clark expedition between 1803 and 1806, the allocation of the Corps of Discovery’s booty, the flawed effort at publication of the journals, and the final donation of those invaluable documents to the society. Until his death on 4 July 1826, Jefferson gave books and manuscripts to the American Philosophical Society and successfully urged others to do likewise. Thomas Jefferson’s principles, interests, generosity, and example have helped shape the American Philosophical Society ’s history and mission right up to the present time.1 Knowing that the American Philosophical Society constituted the single greatest concentration of scientific talent and resources in the United States, he promoted its cause not only at home but also during his residence in Europe. Thus while the American Philosophical Society and its Philadelphia members provided Jefferson with intellectual stimulation and allimportant friendship, it primarily served him as a source of inspiration by defining the level of scientific and technological competence Americans might achieve. The society also served as an instrument for advancing and diffusing American science and technology and, when constitutionally appropriate , assisting in or even executing federal projects. For his part, Jefferson not only materially enriched the society through donations of books, manuscripts, apparatus, and natural history items; provided active, interested leadership; but also added his great prestige to the society’s name for nearly half a century. Specifically, Jefferson’s agenda for the society can be discovered in his great Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), probably the most important scienti fic book written by an American before 1790. First, Jefferson was eager to push western exploration and American claims beyond the Mississippi to the southwest and seek a water passage to the northwestern coast at the mouth of the Columbia. Second, he wanted to learn as much as possible about the Native inhabitants of all of North America—their languages, social and political organization, their means of livelihood, and ultimately their actual origins. Third, in response to the comte de Buffon’s negative judgments on the degeneracy of American species, Jefferson was determined to identify American animal and plant species, measure them accurately , and compare them to supposedly superior European ones. He was also confident that the American environment that fostered such superior examples as larger and more numerous quadrupeds would extend its beneficent influence to his countrymen’s physical, intellectual, and social well-being, as well as their political character and behavior.2 The American Philosophical Society proved to be a valuable asset in Jefferson’s “Westerning...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520937147
Related ISBN
9780520238220
MARC Record
OCLC
55749588
Pages
298
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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