Skip to main content Skip to main content

A Biography of America

Westward Expansion

At the dawn of the 19th century, the size of the United States doubles with the Louisiana Purchase. The Appalachians are no longer the barrier to American migration west; the Mississippi River becomes the country's central artery; and Jefferson's vision of an Empire of Liberty begins to take shape. American historian Stephen Ambrose joins Professors Maier and Miller in examining the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase -- for the North, the South, and the history of the country.

View Transcript

Enhanced Transcript Page 1

Program 6: Westward Expansion/The Empire of Liberty

Donald L. Miller with Virginia Scharff, Douglas Brinkley, Stephen Ambrose and Pauline Maier


Miller: The land. The rugged surface on which the American story is written.

Scharff: What happens out there on the ground shapes the American character in some fundamental ways. It reflects larger American processes.

Brinkley: The whole history of the United States is that constant movement westward, that constant march from the Europeans to either progress, or to de-civilizing the civilizations that were already here. But, I think, movement.

Scharff: But that’s the land again. I mean, so many places in the United States for so much of its history have been the possibility of running away from where you are, of lining up for the territory. It’s such a big country.

Miller: Americans could only travel as fast as a running horse could take them in 1800. But as the 19th Century begins, America is on the move. And the North and the South are changing forever. Historians Pauline Maier…

Maier: So the canals made all the difference in the world.

Miller: …And Stephen Ambrose.

Ambrose: You can’t own another man, period.

Miller: Join us.

Miller: And they take advantage of what the frontier gives them.

Miller: Today, on A Biography of America, “Westward Expansion”.

Enhanced Transcript Page 2

The Louisiana Purchase

[Picture of Donald Miller]

Miller: When President-elect Thomas Jefferson walked through the muddy streets of Washington to take the oath of office in March of 1801, America was that rare and wonderful thing: a hopeful democracy that had just seen power peacefully transferred from one ruling party to another. It was a new country, aching to grow, aching to push the limits of the land and the talents of its people — optimistic, restless, invigorated by a vision Jefferson gave a name to: “an empire of liberty.”

America, however, had to contend with two great rival powers that dominated the world, France and Britain. Britain had lost her 13 colonies and maintained a presence only in what is today Canada. France was a different story. Under its brilliant and aggressive leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, France had plans for beating Britain at its imperial game. And those plans involved America–not for the first time.

[Picture of Marquette]

More than a century before, an adventurer, a priest, and five voyageurs set out in two lightly outfitted birch bark canoes from a Catholic mission on the Upper Great Lakes. Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette embarked with very different purposes. Father Marquette, a learned, passionate Jesuit, believed he was sent by his God to find the souls of pagan savages and convert them to Christianity. Joliet, only 27 years old, but a crack geographer and mapmaker, was sent by the French crown to find and claim the Mississippi. No one, least of all the French, acknowledged that the Spaniard De Soto had found that river 150 years earlier.

Marquette and Joliet made their way from the far northeastern edge of Lake Michigan through present-day Wisconsin, and down the Mississippi River, to what is today St. Louis. They recorded what they saw with great enthusiasm and interest. They described monstrous wildcats and fish and wild cattle, huge herds of bison that blackened the prairie.

Downriver, they saw cliff paintings so beautiful that Marquette said, “The good painters in France would find it difficult to paint so well.” They slept in the cabin of the chief of the Illinois Indians, who feasted with them. The next day, 600 of his people escorted them to their canoes.

Further downriver, the torrents of the swollen Missouri River almost overturned their canoes. And on their arduous return north, they paddled upriver through an inland sea of grass, the breathtaking tall grass prairie that fills the middle of America.

Amazingly, they paddled more than 2,500 miles in four months. And in doing so, they etched what would become the northeastern boundary of the Louisiana Territory, a huge tract of land, which Napoleon would secretly buy from the Spanish in 1800. With this piece of land, France could control the Mississippi River from Canada all the way to New Orleans.

[Picture of Thomas Jefferson]

Thomas Jefferson

In 1800 that land meant everything to President Thomas Jefferson with his vision of “an empire of liberty.” Jefferson had long planned an expedition — soon to be the Lewis and Clark expedition — to explore the country’s vast and wild northwest interior. So it was with genuine horror that he received the news of Napoleon’s incredible real estate deal. He knew that whoever controlled the Mississippi would control his country’s destiny.

However, in three years, Napoleon’s colossal ambitions for a presence in North America came to an end. Jefferson was able to buy what he and other Americans wanted–for a mere $15 million dollars. With the stroke of the pen, the America of 1803 doubled in size.

The Louisiana Purchase opened the gateway West.

Enhanced Transcript Page 3


[Picture of academic discussion group]

Miller: 1800 was an exciting year for the country. We’d established our independence; we have a new president, Thomas Jefferson; and we have an unexplored, largely, and unknown frontier, on the west of the Appalachians. America had been an ever-expanding nation, but we were still largely a seacoast nation hugging the coast. What was out there, Steven, beyond those mountains?

Ambrose: As you say, the roads were hugging the coastline. And there was almost no settlement out west of the Appalachian Mountains. So it was unknown territory, and completely wide open. And who did it belong to was up for some kind of grabs. I mean, we had signed a peace treaty with Great Britain that made it a part of the United States, but the Brits kept keeping their forts down there on the part of the land that was supposed to belong to the United States, but it wasn’t quite clear yet whose it was. And the Spanish are still on the other side of the Mississippi River, very much so, in Texas and California and elsewhere out West.

Miller: How was the Louisiana Purchase, 1803, how was that received by the country?

Ambrose: With deliriums of joy. Everybody was–it was such a bargain. And to get it without having to go to war. What people were afraid of was we were going to have to fight Napoleon to get control of New Orleans, and you had to have control of New Orleans if you were going to make anything out of Kentucky and Tennessee and Illinois and all of the Northwest territory.

Miller: Steve, everybody knows the Lewis and Clark expedition. What’s the real importance of that expedition?

[Picture of Lewis ]


Ambrose: Well, Thomas Jefferson, who purchased Louisiana and sent Lewis and Clark out, had an idea that had never occurred to anyone else before, and had never been done anywhere before. And that was that we’re going to establish an ’empire of liberty’ that’s going to stretch from sea to shining sea. And when we start bringing in Kentucky and Tennessee and Illinois and Ohio into the Union, they’re going to come in as equal states. They’re going to have all the same rights and privileges as New Hampshire, or Virginia, or New York, or the original 13 colonies. And, we’re going to go across the Mississippi with that, and, we’re going to go all the way to the West Coast with it. And when he sent Lewis and Clark out, it wasn’t just that they explored up the Missouri River and brought back the first description of what’s out there in that Louisiana Purchase. They crossed the mountains, and they went into the great northwestern empire of Oregon and Washington and Idaho. And they brought that area into the United States at a time when Jefferson had this idea — we’re going to have this ’empire of liberty,’ it’s going to go the whole way.

[Picture of Clark ]

Miller: Now, did Jefferson, or Lewis and Clark, or the three of them together, have discussions about how this untracked wilderness was going to be peopled? Here we are, before the steamboat…

Ambrose: Jefferson thought it would take 100 generations.

Miller: Yeah, exactly.

Ambrose: That’s right. It’s before steamboats. The steamboat, when Lewis and Clark came back, nothing moved any faster than it had when they left. And George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or Andrew Jackson couldn’t move any place any faster than Napoleon could or Caesar.

Miller: No telegraph, nothing.

Ambrose: You couldn’t move ideas, you couldn’t move mail. As fast as a horse could run–that’s the fastest that anything could move.

Maier: But did anybody have any idea how much there was west of those mountains? Did anybody have any idea the size of the continent? I mean they…

Ambrose: Well yes, they did, because the mouth of the Columbia had been discovered, and so they knew how far everything stretched. They didn’t know what was there. They didn’t know what the Rocky Mountains were like. They thought they were going to be like the Appalachian mountains. Well, the Rocky Mountains are a little bit bigger than that–it’s like 160 miles of Rocky Mountains out there, and way, way bigger than anything in the eastern part of the United States. But they knew that there was a lot of wealth out there on that Columbia River, there were a lot of Indians living out there, there was a lot of furs out there, there was a big country out there, that, and this gets us back to this ’empire of liberty’…

Miller: Isn’t it interesting, though, how many times the country was discovered? I mean, De Soto so-called “discovers” the Mississippi River. Marquette and Joliet discover the Mississippi River. LaSalle goes to the mouth of the Mississippi. Now here are the French, in the late 17th Century. They have a vision of empire almost like the Louisiana Purchase–it’s going to run north to south, from Quebec and Montreal, all the way down to the Gulf. What was the real importance of New Orleans?

Ambrose: It was the only outlet to the world’s markets.

Miller: On the Mississippi.

Ambrose: You couldn’t move the corn or the wheat or other products, you couldn’t move them over the mountains. You could put them on a boat and bring them down the Mississippi River. But as long as the Spanish controlled New Orleans, and then the French immediately after — they got it from the Spanish — you don’t have an outlet. And Jefferson had originally thought he was going to just be buying New Orleans. But Napoleon said to hell with it, the whole thing. “I mean, we can’t hold it anyway. What are we going to do with Missouri, what are we going to do with the Dakotas, what are we going to do with Montana, what are we going to do with Arkansas?” There wasn’t anything the French could do with it. Sell the whole damn thing. And he did.

Miller: Yeah. But at the same time, there are people beginning to pour into the Ohio valley, right Pauline?

[Picture of Professor Maier]

Maier: Right. And the one exception to the unoccupied character, the Trans-Appalachian west — a rather big exception very important to the story — Kentucky and Tennessee. People start pouring in there in the 1780s. And it’s amazing, actually, when you think of the size of the migration. There may be 10,000 people in Kentucky in 1780, and they go up to 110,000 a decade later. I mean, it’s more than the whole migration of the 17th Century. It’s a massive movement of population.

Miller: This is largely a migration pattern out of Pennsylvania, through West Virginia, Virginia, down into the Carolinas, across the line, into the mountains.

Maier: Exactly. And, to some extent from–well, the Davis family comes from Georgia.

Miller: Jefferson Davis.

Maier: Jefferson Davis, right.

Miller: And the Lincoln family’s a Kentucky family.

Maier: Absolutely.

Miller: And there’s Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, born within a year of each other, in the same state, Kentucky. One family, Lincoln’s father opposed to slavery, migrates out to Indiana. And the other family, a small slaveholding family, migrates out to Mississippi, near Vicksburg.

Ambrose: And they were born, as you say, within a year of each other, at a time when there were steamboats. Fulton had invented the steamboat–well, when they were kids, Fulton had invented the steamboat and you could go upriver for the first time without having to paddle your way upriver. No railroads.

Miller: Without railroads, how was the west settled? What are the primary technologies that allow this settlement to take place, given the absolutely abysmal road systems?

Maier: It’s onto the Mississippi. And it’s — the world was made up of bodies of water interrupted by land, and that continued to be true. It had been true historically.

[Picture of a Conestoga Wagon]

Miller: That’s a wonderful way of putting it. I mean, that whole west — people have this image of everybody just pouring out of there in Conestoga wagons or on foot, and don’t appreciate, I think, the magnificent waterway systems that we had, and how many settlers went west in these waterways.

Ambrose: And went west on the waterways, and shipped their produce to market on the waterways, and the waterways were the key to everything. The Ohio comes down, the Missouri comes down, all these…

Miller: Right smack in the middle of the continent.

Ambrose: …The Cumberland, and the Tennessee, and the Illinois, and they all come together in the Mississippi and flow down to New Orleans. And the whole of the continent is one transportation system.

Miller: Right. Right. Canals… we…

[Picture of the Erie Canal ]

Maier: Canals, absolutely critical. I was thinking, how important was the southern market to the west, to the upper reaches of the river, to the Northwest Territory? Which is, of course, where, after the 1780s and 1790s, a good many immigrants were going, from New England particularly. We know that the only way they could sell their products was down the river, and a great amount was shipped to New Orleans. But it wasn’t consumed in the South. Some of it was, but the greater part of it was re-exported out of New Orleans, to Europe and to the Northeast. So you had to go all the way down and then all the way up again. So the canals made all the difference in the world. And I think, ultimately, they had some political significance. You didn’t see the effect right away. 1825, the Erie Canal is completed. It really took another two decades, until all these ancillary canals are built in Ohio. And then you saw a massive change of the direction of western trade, not south but east and north, and the railroads just consolidated that. And it’s the Northeast that is a real customer, because they’re moving increasingly toward industrialization, to a more specialized economy, and they have a food deficit. So the West feeds the Northeast.

Miller: There had always been the theory that it was the railroads that first connected the two, but it’s actually the southern driving canals actually turn the other way and went out there like that.

Maier: Yeah. But it’s a relatively short period, really, the canal era. It might have done the trick. But perfectly in keeping with this idea that water is how you travel.

Miller: Water’s the key. Look at Fulton. I mean the steamboat, obviously, had an enormous impact on the southern development, didn’t it?

[Picture of a steamboat]

Ambrose: Sure, very much so. The ability to be able to go upstream. Before the steamboat, if you made ten miles a day going upstream, that was a hell of a good day.

Maier: It was what, with poles?

Miller: Six-mile current, six mile-per-hour current, that Mississippi River.

Ambrose: Right. Go out and try it today in a canoe, and you’ll find out in a hurry what it meant to go upstream, and only muscle power to do it with. Or you could get horses on land to draw the things along, but the turns in the river and other things made that very, very difficult. It was a lot easier on the canal to use horses to pull barges along the canal, because they were straight.

Miller: They’d send sailboats ahead of some of these keelboats. The sailboat would wrap a rope around a tree, and then they’ll pull themselves upriver, like this!

Maier: Yeah. No, this was not a viable system!

Miller: To see a boat going upriver.

Ambrose: Oh boy. A whole new world. And it was.

Enhanced Transcript Page 4

Maier: And how amazing it is, however, that that southern frontier developed in such a different way than the northern frontier did. They’re both agricultural…

[Picture of a pioneer farm]

Miller: That’s one of the most interesting things, I think, about the country, that you have pioneers–similar pioneers–going in, at the same time going into two regions of the country.

Maier: But creating very different economies, and very different societies.

Miller: Tremendously different political cultures, yeah.

Maier: I mean, you didn’t get any cities, except New Orleans, developing like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, Louisville. These were manufacturing centers. They were retail centers. You just didn’t get that in the Cotton South.

Miller: What explains that?

[Picture of Eli Whitney]

Eli Whitney

Ambrose: Eli Whitney.

Miller: Eli Whitney. Yeah.

Ambrose: Explains a lot of it.

Maier: Well, that explains why you had the growth of cotton into that area. But…

Ambrose: And the ability to grow cotton, and the fertility of the soil, and the heat in the South, and all of these combined, meaning you could grow the hell out of cotton there. And because of Eli Whitney, you could make that cotton available on the market, and then you could ship it off to England, and they couldn’t get enough of it in England.

Miller: But the problem was, of course, that…

[Picture of a cotton gin]

A cotton gin

Ambrose: Getting the seed out.

Miller: Getting the seed out. When Whitney invents his gin, a slave could do that work in a half a day, whereas before it took 33 days to do. And that invention, of course, is what, 1793. And he does it on a Savannah plantation, and everybody steals it.

Ambrose: It had an effect that cannot be fully measured. It made that land more valuable. It made the slave system much more valuable. It meant that someone like Thomas Jefferson, for example, could make his living not by–Virginia soil was pretty well worn out by this time.

Maier: Peat moss, not too good.

[Picture of a cotton plantation]

A cotton plantation

Ambrose: But you could sell those excess slaves, because they had to have those slaves in Alabama, they had to have them in Mississippi, they had to have them in Louisiana. And the value of slaves went like this. And you had excess slaves, all the time, on these Virginia plantations. And so slavery became the key to Virginia’s economy, not because of what the slaves could grow, so much as what you could sell the slaves for.

Miller: Slave breeding.

Ambrose: Sell them down the river.

Miller: New Orleans and Natchez were the two big slave markets down there. So you didn’t have to bring your slaves with you when you settled out there. The slave traders were there. And as soon as you had any capital–I mean, that was the key. The land was so cheap. There were land grants in both areas: in the Northwest as well as in the Southeast, and Southwest. And you got there…

Maier: But think of the difference. If your family, to use Jefferson’s term, included a large contingent of slaves, those slaves, even as adults, aren’t going to be part of a market economy. They’re not going to be going to the local store to buy something. So you don’t need retailing centers in the same way you did need them in the Ohio territory, where the income went to families in a more nuclear sense. So that you had retailing centers, you had processing centers. You clearly need a different kind of a population than the mass of those who are in the Cotton South. You need people who are educated. And people in the West are investing much more heavily in schools, in libraries. You have very different cultures, very different economies.

Miller: Yeah, the capital’s all tied up in land and slaves in the south.

Maier: And it’s not a bad investment, we know. The return on it wasn’t bad. But the long-term prognosis wasn’t very promising.

Miller: Where you’re saying, in the North it’s a more mixed system.

Maier: You get a more mixed economy than you’re getting in the South.

[Picture of Professor Miller]

Miller: But here’s a question, though. In this period there’s kind of a transition. From about 1800 to 1820 slavery is just getting established in the South — most of the southerners are yeomen farmers. But by the 1830s, you start to get a so-called ‘Solid South.’

Ambrose: I think that’s absolutely right. And the original arguments against slavery come from Thomas Jefferson and other southerners, who looked around them and saw this is an evil system and we’ve got to get rid of it. But by the time you get to the 1830s and cotton has become king, all of a sudden it’s a very profitable system, or so it appears to them, and the Jefferson arguments lose their way.

Miller: And there’s land hunger, hunger for more slaves, pressure to reopen the slave trade, and all of a sudden, at the same time, the abolitionist movement arises, and you’ve got two separate sections. The South really is so much part of America in 1800, and then just kind of pulls away. It just pulls away.

Maier: Well, it also becomes more economically isolated, if you think about it; that the West is trading primarily with the Northeast; the South is selling abroad. It is, in some ways, the most independent economy within the regional economies of the United States.

Miller: The only place they really had ties to, ironically, were in New York, and they thought those were exploitative ties, because those New York manufacturers and merchants came in and took over, and made sure that cotton went through New York. And there was a kind of triangular trade, New York to Liverpool, back to New York, back to Charleston, places like that. And there’s talk of secession already in the 30s.

Maier: Hey, and you got a little bit of it in Thomas Jefferson, at the time of the Alien and Sedition Acts, his nullification. And of course, at the time of the Missouri Crisis, even more, he really thinks that the crisis over slavery is going to lead to a dismemberment of the union.

But the anticipations of secession or that the Union would fall apart, those weren’t the kind of things you memorialize. The idea that resistance and revolution was a continuing resort for people who were disaffected within the Union, or for states.

Miller: But here’s a question I’ve never been able to answer for myself satisfactorily. A lot of northerners went south. Steven Duncan is a planter in Mississippi, who’s probably the largest plantation owner, the richest man in Mississippi. He’s from Pennsylvania. He supports slavery but he also supports the Union, and he leaves the South at the outbreak of the Civil War. Was there any difference, moral difference, between the people who settled in the Ohio Valley and out toward Illinois, and people who settled in Mississippi and Alabama?

Maier: That’s an interesting question.

Miller: See what I mean? Is it slavery that turns them in this way? I mean, we often think that the Civil War is this Manichaean struggle between good and evil, obviously, those who held slaves and those who were opposed to slaves.

Maier: Well, we’d like to think there was a moral difference, but racism was a national institution.

Miller: That’s what — these guys were all frontier, and they take advantage of what the frontier gives them, I mean in terms of what soil’s there.

[Picture of Stephen Ambrose]

Ambrose: I would insist that there is a fundamental difference. And that is, in Illinois, even in southern Illinois, in Wisconsin, in Iowa, going out further west, or–you can’t own another man. Period. You cannot own another man. Now, you can discriminate against him, you can use him, you can be racist in many of them–you can’t own them, you can’t sell them. And there were a lot of people in the South that felt that way, to be sure. A lot of small farmers in the South who didn’t own their own slaves and who thought, we’re on the wrong track here, or who could not make it work economically for them. But the people that controlled the society in the South came up with a justification for slavery, in it’s the best of all possible systems, and the blacks are way better off under slavery than they would be if they were under wage slavery up north, and so on. We all know the arguments of the pro-slavery people. And it was accepted. And it became a part of the fiber of the being of a very large number of white southerners. And that was not the case up North. And that is a difference.

Miller: What causes the difference? We know there’s a difference.

Ambrose: The economic basis of society, and the way in which you become…

Miller: The way you can make money.

Ambrose: That’s right, the way you make money. And that you can be a white man in the South. And it used to be — it’s not the case anymore, but it used to be — when I first started going south, segregation was still in place. It was wonderful to be a white man in the South in those days. You never had to think about what you were doing to the other half of the population; you just did it, and you benefited from it. And it gnawed its way into your soul. There isn’t any way around it. You can’t deny it.

Miller: That’s what I’m finding with these historical characters. I’m coming across in my own research how quickly northerners become southerners, adopting the ways of the South, accepting slavery, and defending slavery.

Ambrose: You read the Civil War letters, and…

Miller: The metamorphosis is quick.

Ambrose: An awful lot of the Union troops, who were campaigning in Mississippi, in the Vicksburg campaign, and they get to be the most violent anti-Negro people, and cursing them, and bringing them into camp and using them as their own slaves, their own personal slaves. Listen, it’s wonderful to be on top, it’s wonderful to be the master. Or so it seems. In the end, people up north and eventually in the whole country realize no, it’s not wonderful; it really is terrible, and it ruins not only the people that you’re subjecting to your whims and your wishes, it ruins you. It has this effect that, in the end, is going to destroy you. But boy, it takes a long time to come to that view.

Image as History: Re-Mapping History

Maps of the routes of the Lewis and Clark expeditions have tended to represent the West as empty country, there for the exploring and taking. This map, made for a biography of Sacagawea, is a little different.

Whose journey is represented here?

Title: Map of a Section of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. “The Sources of the Missouri River and the Meeting Place of the Whitemen with the Shoshone Indians” Artist: Laura Tolman Scott Date: 1932

  1. The country Lewis and Clark traversed was inhabited by a diverse array of indigenous people. This map legend turns exploration into an encounter, referring to the famous explorers as a group (“whitemen”) and turning discovery into a “meeting” with another group of those people — the Shoshones (and in particular, the Lemhi band), who were especially helpful to the travelers.

  2. The Lewis and Clark party had traveled, chiefly by boat, westward along the Missouri River and its tributaries. They knew, from maps done previously by trappers and traders, and from Indian maps drawn on hides or in the dirt, that they were coming to a place where they would run out of water and would need to travel over the Rockies on horseback.
  3. Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who joined the expedition at the Hidatsa and Mandan villages on the lower Missouri, where the party had spent the winter. On this journey, as translator, forager, symbol of peace, and sometime-guide, Sacagawea was crossing terrain that she had already covered years before as a captive child. At this place, she was reunited with another explorer who had anticipated Lewis and Clark, a Shoshone woman who was captured with Sacagawea, who had managed, as a child, to escape her captors and make her way the hundreds of miles back to her people.
  4. Lewis and Clark bought horses and crossed the Continental Divide assisted by the Shoshones. “I felt perfectly satisfyed,” wrote Lewis, “that if the Indians could pass these mountains with their women and Children, that we could also pass them; and that if the nations on this river below the mountains were as numerous as they were stated to be that they must have some means of subsistence which it would be equally in our power to procure in the same country.”
  5. In 1932, when Laura Scott made this map, Lewis and Clark were long gone, but the Shoshone were still very much in residence in the West. Along with the Arapaho, they then occupied, and still claim, sovereign land in western Wyoming, on the Wind River Reservation.


Maps have historically been tools of empire. Maps of the routes of the Lewis and Clark expedition have tended to represent the West as empty country, there for the exploring and taking. This sketch map of a portion of the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition, made by historian Laura Tolman Scott for a 1932 biography of Sacagawea, is a little different.

Sacagawea has been an enduring symbol of American womanhood, of peace, and of the American nation.  She has been portrayed not only in historical work, but also in novels, paintings, sculpture, and even musical theater, and most recently, on the new golden dollar coin, carrying her baby on her back.  She continues to embody the complicated choices indigenous people made as they encountered the ambitions and expansions of the United States.

Questions to Ponder

Maps of the routes of the Lewis and Clark expedition have tended to represent the West as empty country, there for the exploring and taking. This map, made for a biography of Sacagawea, is a little different.

1. How does the cartographer get across the point that the landscape Lewis and Clark “discovered” was already someone’s home at the time, and would later be named and settled in new ways?

2. Does it make a difference to imagine Indians as “explorers?”

3. Are women’s journeys different from men’s? If so, how?

4. Can you imagine re-mapping another historical event in a way that would change your understanding of the event?

5. Does it make a difference to imagine this territory as already well explored by the time Lewis and Clark arrived?


  • Lewis & Clark
    • Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail home page
      The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Home Page. Provides links to a brief history of the expedition, portraits of Lewis and Clark and a page of related links.
    • Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery
      Biographical and historical information about the Lewis & Clark expedition. Includes historians’ ideas about the meaning of the expedition and its relevance to 21st century America.
    • Lewis and Clark in Montana
      An introduction to Lewis and Clark’s travels in Montana with links to a map, events, and information on the different Indian tribes of the area.
    • Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
      The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation site. Link to an illustrated history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
    • Today in History: August 18
      An illustrated history of Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis and Clark expedition with related links.
    • Discovering Lewis and Clark
      A comprehensive overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition illustrated with selections from the journals of the expedition, photographs, maps, moving pictures, and sound files.
    • Exploring the West from Monticello: Chapter 4
      Provides information on historical maps of the West up to those of Lewis and Clark.


  • Sacagawea
    • People in THE WEST – Sacagawea
      A history of Sacagawea and her involvement with the Lewis and Clark expedition. Includes related links.
    • Sacagawea: Guide to the West?
      A biography of Sacagawea. Includes her involvement in the Lewis and Clark expedition, the debate over the spelling of her name and her place on the one dollar coin, as well as providing related links.
    • PBS Online – Lewis and Clerk – Inside the Corps.
      A biography of Sacagawea.




  • Abraham Lincoln
    • Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHS Home Page
      Includes a brief background on the birth of Abraham Lincoln with information about the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site.
    • Lincoln Home NHS Homepage
      The Lincoln Home NHS Homepage. Provides links to a Lincoln chronology, information on Lincoln’s family and individual biographies, information on Lincoln’s homes, essays on Lincoln’s life, etc.



  • Erie Canal
    • The Erie Canal
      An illustrated history of the Erie Canal with related links.
    • No. 36: The Erie Canal
      The story of the Erie Canal with illustrations.
    • 1825 – The Erie Canal
      A painting of the opening of the Erie Canal.



Hebard, Grace Raymond. Sacajawea. Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1933.

Jackson, Donald. Thomas Jefferson and the Stony Mountains: Exploring the West from Monticello. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981.

Moulton, Gary, ed. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-present.

Ronda, James P. Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Series Directory

A Biography of America


Produced by WGBH Boston in cooperation with the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, and with the assistance of Instructional Resources Corporation. 2000.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-202-7