In 1802, Thomas Jefferson asked the Spanish to permit a group of explorers to travel the Missouri River; their motives would be “no other than the advancement of geography.” Months later, Jefferson sent a secret memo to Congress arguing that, because France and Spain would view the expedition as “a literary pursuit,” the United States could use the exploration to wrestle the Indian trade away from Britain. Dupree suggests, in addition, that Jefferson utilized an international ethic of scientific achievement to mask an ambition for a dominant position among competing Colonial powers on the continent.

Thus science as an objective was for foreign ears; commerce as an objective was for Congress; and the real purpose, which had to do with the claims of empires, was carefully screened by silence, secrecy, and an ambiguous title to the act. (p. 26)

 

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