Question 4: Nature’s Value in Politics

Reading the journals and letters of the Expedition of Lewis and Clark enlightened me to the fact that nature was represented in the first few years of the 1800s as a means to show respect and gain personal and political connections.  Lewis and Clark were mapping out the unknown areas of the North American continent, and while much of what they discuss in their journals and letters is regarding the nature and surroundings of the areas they visited, many of the aspects are strongly inter-connected with political ideologies and the complex, and often volatile, relations between nations.

Within the readings, there were many instances that showed the way nature is used politically, but I will delve into two that stood out to me particularly. The first occurs in Lewis’ journal of the journey, in the submission dated July 18th, 1805. As Lewis describes a river the crew comes across, he states “this handsome bold and clear stream we named in honor of the Secretary of war calling it Dearborn’s river” (Lewis 159). This statement, although written in a personal journey, has as much to do with describing the river as it does complimenting a man of high authority within the United States government. By simultaneously describing Secretary Dearborn and the river as “handsome bold and clear” Lewis is able to get in good graces with those in power and effectively do the job he was set out to do (documenting the sights and people of the then-uncharted portions of the American continent). Clearly, in this use, Lewis had personal motives, and he used nature as a means to achieve what he needed.

The second instance in which nature is used politically and as a means for personal gain occurs in the instruction letter Jefferson writes to Lewis on June 20, 1803. In this letter, Jefferson describes the relations with countries of Europe, and how these countries are handling the Lewis and Clark expedition. He describes how Lewis and Clark should handle relations with British citizens on the American continent: “[protection] from the minister of England will entitle you to the friendly aid of any traders of that allegiance with whom you may happen to meet” (Jefferson 61). This statement provides very interesting insight into the relations between nations of the day; only 25 years prior England and what would soon become the United States were at war. By the early 1800s, though, England is putting their faith and contributions behind an American enterprise, largely for the knowledge of what the rest of the American continent consists of. By offering the British something of value, the United States is able to better themselves as well. This instance, coupled with the one described before, shows that nature can be used in a multitude of ways, for both political and personal gain.



Jackson, Donald, ed. “47. Jefferson’s Instructions to Lewis.” Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition /with Related Documents. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962. Print.

Lewis, Meriweather and William Clark. “Journal Entry July 18, 1805.” The Journals of Lewis and Clark.  Ed. Bernard De Voto. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953. Print.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by bharta1 on September 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Very astute observation about the political relationship of naming places of men in some political office. It brings to mind the modern conflict of objective scientific reporting, especially in the case of financing scientific projects (e.g. who’s research is funded by left/right wing orientation), as Louis and Clark’s mission was. I thought these guys were almost automaton like in their daily observances and only found two or three very sparse self-reflections that hardly revealed any inclination. These men were chosen well to serve the government’s mission. They are self-less, basic but skilled and extremely durable. But the naming recalls the fact that their purpose is to serve and they glean over the nature surrounding them, and then personify it with noble human qualities to flatter their superiors.

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