Thomas Jefferson was a visionary. He saw the future of the American republic in the West. In 1803 he doubled the size of the United States with a single stroke of his Presidential pen. It was the greatest land sale in human history.
Jefferson was also a collector of protégés. As President he hired his neighbor Meriwether Lewis to serve as his private correspondence secretary in the White House. They lived together for eighteen months, during which Jefferson gave his young friend a short course in the Enlightenment.
Meriwether Lewis was young enough to be Jefferson’s son. He was born within sight of Monticello in 1774. He served in the United States Army in the Ohio River country. In 1804—with his friend William Clark—he led the most successful exploration of American history—a Voyage of Discovery that made Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea (sah-cah-ga-we-ah) principle figures in American mythology.
Meriwether Lewis’s life ended prematurely—and in tragedy. He died in Tennessee in the early morning hours of October 11, 1809, almost certainly by his own hand.
“There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”