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A French Diplomat Grants Lewis and Clark a Passport

This letter to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs describes the circumstances under which Louis Andre Pichon, a French diplomat, granted President Jefferson's request for a passport to expedite the Lewis and Clark Expedition across the North American continent. Pichon could have had little idea of the impact the explorers' journey, which traversed the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase which the United States acquired shortly after this letter was written, would have on the future prospects of French influence in North America.

Louis Andre Pichon to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Georgetown 13 Ventose Year 11 (4 March 1803)

Citizen Minister,

….Citizen Minister, the President, at whose residence I was yesterday, expressed the wish that, before his departure, I would grant him a passport, of which I have the honor to send you the attached copy, and the purpose of which I must explain to you. For a long time Mr. Jefferson has been concerned with the means of exploring the sources of the Missouri beyond which he supposes must be found those of the river Origan which flows into the Pacific Ocean, and of which only the mouth is known; I believe that is the river named, if I am not mistaken, the river Colombia by the explorer McKenzie. As a result he has planned an expedition destined to this discovery and for which he has obtained form Congress a small sum of money; this appropriation, however, could not be made directly for this purpose on account of the scruples they have over the right of the general Government to do anything which might tend toward the encouragement of the Sciences. The thing was voted through with the indefinite end of encouraging foreign trade, and they even assure me that the President’s personal influence was necessary to obtain this small appropriation which I believe [does not amount to] 5000 Dollars. The President, then, who has this expedition very much at heart, asked me for a passport yesterday. He explained his purpose to me, on the big map by Arrow Smith. Citizen Minister, the only observation I allowed myself to make was to ask Mr. Jefferson whether the Minister from Spain was granting a passport. He replied that he ought to grant one [qu’il devait le donner]. I asked him to give me a memorandum on how to carry it out. He entrusted me with that of the English charge d’affairs, Mr. Thornton. I copied mine almost exactly from that and I even copied the date, that of 1 March, which is what makes my passport appear antedated when compared to this letter. Citizen Minister, I did not think I should allow myself any other reflection on the wish which the President expressed to me and, truly, the request did not appear to demand it. As you see, Citizen Minister, the expedition is entrusted to a Capt. Merrywether; I have not been able to determine the number of men who are accompanying him. The President told me that it would be eight or ten, if my memory is correct. The travelers must return by sea. They will find an opportunity on the Northwest coast, even by American ships. That is perhaps the only detail of the expedition in which a French passport might be of some use. 

Citizen Minister, accept my respects, 

L. A. Pichon

Source | Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783-1854, (Urban: University of Illinois, 1978), 22-23.
Creator | Louis Andre Pichon
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Louis Andre Pichon, “A French Diplomat Grants Lewis and Clark a Passport,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed August 4, 2021, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/705.

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