Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster


Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster tells the story of the six men who first explored the new American territory west of the Mississippi River. When Thomas Jefferson first acquired the Louisiana Purchase, not everyone was impressed. Many thought it was more trouble than it was worth. There was some basis for this opinion, as there were no clearly marked borders between where American territory ended and Spanish territory began. This caused tensions between the two countries that almost led to war.

Jefferson chose to combat both the apathy of his own people regarding the land, and the tension with Spain in a somewhat unconventional way. Instead of a huge show of military strength, Jefferson sent explorers on four major expeditions. He hoped the explorers would bring back reports of the richness of the new land. He also wanted them to bring back examples of new plant and animal specimens so people could see the benefit of the new land for themselves. Jefferson hoped that once he had something to report, congress would give him more money for further exploration, and more people would be on board with his purchase.

The explorers were also told to establish contact with any native groups they came across. This was intended to establish both an American presence, and hopefully, dominance in their new land. Lewis and Clark are the men most remembered for their heroic journey to the Pacific and back. While they deserve credit for what they accomplished, there were other men who did just as much on their journeys. Zebulon Pike, Thomas Freeman, Peter Custis, William Dunbar, and Dr. George Hunter took just as many risks and did just as much for establishing American territorial borders and engaging the interest of the American people in their new land.

Jefferson's America offers a comprehensive and easily understandable look at the above men and their journeys. Each man (including Jefferson) gets the same level of treatment, as does each expedition. The importance of each is highlighted, as is the strength and weakness of each man. The motivations of the explorers is also discussed. Fenster gives a great overall look at the political, social, and economic, and international factors in play in the Louisiana territory during the early 1800s. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Thomas Jefferson, early American history, or exploration and the people who lead it.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255