First Edition of the "Most Important of all Overland Narratives," and the "Definitive Account of the Most Important Exploration of the North American Continent" (Wagner-Camp)
The expedition, commissioned by Jefferson and funded by Congress in early 1803 (it cost all of 2,500 dollars), was the first exploration officially sponsored by the Federal government. The acquisition of Louisiana Territory, finalized in December of the same year, increased the importance and urgency of the expedition, which set out from St. Louis in May 1804 and covered 8000 miles in the next 2 years, crossing the Rocky Mountains and reaching the mouth of the Columbia River before returning by the same route. The extremely accurate and detailed map, based on Clark's manuscript, was termed by Wheat the "master map of the American West" (quoted in Cohen). The remarkable cartographic achievement, perhaps even more than the written account of the journey, served to impel and motivate the nation's inexorable westward expansion. Publication of Lewis's and Clark's account of the epic expedition was delayed by the appointments of both leaders to official positions in the new Louisiana Territory (Lewis as territorial Governor and Clark as Superintendent of Indian Affairs), and later by Lewis's murder or suicide in 1809. This "most important of all overland narratives" (Grolier) was finally brought to press but a high proportion of the copies issued in this first printing, which is replete with errors, apparently lacked the folding map or were otherwise defective. The work includes a prefatory "Life of Captain Lewis" by President Jefferson.