Lewis and Clark Expedition and Its Consequences Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer


Historians have argued over the short-term and long-term impacts of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 19th century, especially in economic, social, and political aspects. While it is clear that the political and economic achievements were made both on long-term and short-term basis, the social impact of the European American entry into the native west is largely arguable, especially due to the reduction of the native population after the introduction of new diseases and the disruption of their social and cultural systems. From a historical perspective, this analysis will show that the expedition did make positive political and economic impacts on the side of the US, but the social and cultural impacts on the natives were largely negative.

The Expedition started shortly after the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803 (Bassman 12). After the successful purchase, the huge country to the west of Louisiana was largely unknown to the Americans and Europeans as well. To consolidate the American presence in the new world, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Mariwether Lewis, the presidential private secretary, on a fact-finding mission. In his own words, Jefferson told Lewis to map out the land “for commercial purposes”, indicating that the intention was to ensure that the US wanted to gain a trade route to the western coast and exploit the minerals that would be found on the vast land west of Louisiana (Bassman 17). For his part, Lewis, a career military man, invited William Clark, a former colleague and one of Lewis’ most trusted and dedicated individuals in the army.

Although the American interest in preparing for the expedition was to map out the land for commercial and scientific purposes, it is clear that international politics were the central focus of the US government. In particular, the United States wanted to claim the huge piece of the continent and its resources before any European power could do so.

Consequences of the expedition

It is true that Lewis and Clark established a trade route between the United States and the western coast through the newly purchased Louisiana. However, the commercial significance of this trade route was not achieved until several years later. Therefore, one cannot argue that the commercial purposes proposed by Jefferson were the only short-term results, although significant commercial achievements were made. However, other short-term consequences of the expedition emerged (Bassman 34). First, the United States government and several other interested American companies and individuals considered entering the new land for commercial and agricultural purposes. The number of Americans entering the western region increased significantly, with traders in wool and fur, a popular trade that was popular between 1805 and 1812 (Bassman 38). Manuel Lisa and John Colter established short-term trade routes between Montana and several regions of South Dakota (Bassman 56).

Although the commercial route was short-lived, it was renewed after the 1812 War, especially when the Mountain Man period was at its peak. To solidify the trade routes, the Americans established several posts in the region. Fort Union was the most important and largest post. It was owned and controlled by the American Fur Company, a private corporation from St. Louis (Bassman 36). These developments attracted other industries and individuals within a short time. For instance, American artists such as Paul Kane, Karl Bodmer, George Catlin, and Charles Memin followed the expeditions, took photographs and maps of the images of the land, especially the Northern Plains. This popularized the nature of the western side of the continent, which attracted huge immigration. Overall, these efforts increased the population of American companies and the population of European Americans.

In addition, the American, military made a number of successive expeditions after the Lewis-Clark route, establishing several posts and mapping out the land. Consequently, the American military had a relatively heavy presence in the area. With an increased American population, most European powers, especially Britain, Spain, the Dutch, and France, we’re unable to claim the area, which gave America the opportunity to claim it (Gilman 96).

On the other hand, the social and cultural impact on the new areas was largely negative, especially for the native people. When trying to establish links between the US and the west, the Americans increasingly interacted with the natives. They forced or coerced native chiefs and tribal leaders to agree to the American terms, especially to ensure that the natives rejected proposals to sign agreements with other European powers. They were forced or coerced to enter into agreements with American companies and governments.

Secondly, the population of European-Americans increased rapidly between 1805 and 1820. The natives increasingly lost their lands and natural resources to the invading white Americans (Burns 158). Moreover, the invading Americans came with a substantial number of black slaves, which increased the population of foreigners at the expense of the natives.

Historians agree that the worst impact of the expedition was the introduction of foreign diseases and disease-causing microorganisms in the area after the expedition. For instance, the smallpox disaster of 1837 struck the Mandan natives, destroying thousands of lives (Gilman 77). In fact, the massive deaths weakened the once strong and united tribal group. However, the disaster made the natives realize the dangers caused by the American invasion, forcing some groups such as the Mandan, the Arikara, and the Hidatsa joined forces and involve in trading, hunting and farming (Burns 131).

Socially, the interaction between the natives and the European Americans caused the forced loss of culture among the natives. For instance, the reservation system was instituted, which resulted in the loss of massive tracts of land (Gilman 89). To avoid rebellion, the Americans forced the natives to change their way of life, convert to Christianity and denounce the traditional belief systems. Moreover, the native children were forcefully taken to American boarding schools thousands of miles away in the Eastern states, which disrupted the social and cultural systems among the natives (Bassman 69). The trans-Mississippi pass became a popular method of interfering with the social, economic and cultural systems of the native societies.

By mid-19th century, the American military, companies and workers were involved in massive construction of infrastructure, especially railroads. The military and police were brought to protect the rail workers from the native attacks. Consequently, many forts and posts were established in various regions such as Yates, rice, Buford, Berthold, Totten, Abraham Lincoln, McKeen and Abercrombie (Burns 174). These forts attracted traders, companies and settlers, eventually becoming major cities across North Dakota, South Dakota and other new states.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition were initially meant to establish a trade link between the east and the west coast through Louisiana. However, the consequences were multiple. Politically and economically, the US was able to claim the entire region west of Louisiana, establishing various trade centers, railroads, military centers and settlements. On the other hand, the natives lost their culture, social system, traditions as well as lands and natural resources.

Works Cited

Bassman, John H. A Navigation Companion for the Lewis & Clark Trail: History, camp locations and daily summaries of expedition activities. New York: Springer, 2009. Print.

Burns, Ken. Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. New York: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Gilman, Carolyn. Lewis and Clark: Across the Divide. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2003. Print.

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