Study Guide

Louisiana Purchase and Lewis & Clark People

  • Thomas Jefferson

    Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America for the central role he played in drafting the Declaration of Independence

    During the American Revolution, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia and, after the war, he was appointed minister to France. He also served as the nation's first Secretary of State, its second vice president, and its third president.

    In 1803, Jefferson approved the Louisiana Purchase, in which the U.S. bought a vast expanse of territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains from France. Though the purchase violated Jefferson's own constitutional principles, he felt it was an opportunity too significant to pass up. The next year, Jefferson dispatched the Lewis & Clark expedition to explore the new lands en route to the Pacific.

  • Meriwether Lewis

    Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) was a young army officer appointed by Thomas Jefferson to lead the Corps of Discovery on its 1804 to 1806 round-trip journey across the unknown continent to the Pacific. 

    Upon his return, Lewis was rewarded with a post as governor of Louisiana Territory, but soon became depressed and committed suicide in 1809.

    Lewis, whose skills ranged from navigation to diplomacy to botany to geology, chose to share leadership responsibilities with Captain William Clark. The two men jointly led one of the most successful military expeditions in American history.

  • William Clark

    William Clark (1770–1838), a lifelong military man, was asked by his friend Meriwether Lewis to serve as co-leader of the Corps of Discovery on its 1804 to 1806 round-trip journey across the continent of the Pacific.

    Clark lacked formal education but nevertheless became the expedition's primary mapmaker and journal-keeper. Clark, a steady character, provided a perfect balance for Lewis' brilliant but more erratic—and possibly bipolar—personality.

  • Robert Livingston

    Robert Livingston (1746–1813) was a New York political leader of the Revolutionary era. 

    He may be best known for serving on the five-man committee—alongside Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman—designated by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

    When Jefferson became president in 1801, he chose Livingston to serve as his ambassador to France. In that capacity, Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Authorized only to make an offer to buy the port of New Orleans, Livingston instead purchased the entire vast Louisiana Territory.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte

    Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) was a French military officer who rose through the chaos of the French Revolution to become Emperor of France. 

    In the first two decades of the 19th century, Napoleon was the most powerful and fearsome individual in Europe, leading French armies to conquer much of the continent.

    In the early years of his rule, Napoleon sent a large army to quell a slave revolt in the French Caribbean sugar colony of Saint-Domingue, which he hoped to rebuild into the centerpiece of a North American French empire. When the slaves defeated the French army, Napoleon abandoned his plans for American empire and sold his mainland territory—Louisiana—to the United States.

  • Toussaint Louverture

    Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803) was a plantation slave in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue. 

    After slaves on the island launched an uprising in 1791, Toussaint liberated himself, then rose to become a powerful military and political leader of freed slaves. By 1797, he was the most powerful man on the island, ending slavery while ruling as a virtual dictator.

    Though Toussaint was captured by Napoleon's soldiers and died in a French dungeon in 1803, the revolutionary process he had helped to lead could not be stopped. Saint-Domingue became the independent Black Republic of Haiti in 1804. Toussaint's victories helped the young United States by making the Louisiana Purchase possible.

  • Sacagawea

    Sacagawea (1787–1812) was a young Shoshone Indian woman who, while pregnant with her first child, accompanied the Lewis & Clark expedition on their journey to the Pacific. 

    Traveling alongside her husband, an interpreter named Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea was the only Native American member of the Corps of Discovery and its only woman.

    Sacagawea proved instrumental to the journey's success. At the expedition's darkest hour—stranded high in the Rocky Mountains without guides or horses—Lewis and Clark encountered a band of Shoshone Indians led by Cameahwait, who surprisingly turned out to be Sacagawea's long-lost brother. (Sacagawea had been kidnapped as a child and taken far away from her people.) With Cameahwait's help, the Corps of Discovery survived the mountain crossing and progressed to the Pacific.