Michaux Subscription List & Lewis and Clark Journals: History and Conservation

Michaux Subscription List, 1793

From the moment that the United States gained its independence, Thomas Jefferson coveted the idea of sending a scientific expedition to explore the Trans-Mississippi West. Although Britain had ceded political control of the Old Northwest in 1783, the issue of American sovereignty in the region was anything but decided. British forces lingered in the region for years, and the small peacetime American army had neither the will nor the manpower to expel them. To the west and south lay Spanish Louisiana, facing destabilization from radical ideas imported from revolutionary France, and more importantly, the Indian nations of the Ohio Valley were engaged in a bitter resistance to any colonial power.

Michaux Subscription List

Into this maelstrom came a botanist. André Michaux, a native of France, agreed to undertake Jefferson’s pet project of exploring “the interior of North America from the Mississippi along the Missouri, and Westwardly to the Pacific ocean,” recording information about the animals and plants, the inhabitants, geography, and geology. To finance this expedition, Jefferson circulated a copy of his instructions to Michaux among his friends -- including many APS members -- asking each for monetary support. Jefferson anted at $50, followed by the magnanimous George Washington at $100. John Adams chimed in at a modest $20 (matched by James Madison), and others signed on at a level commensurate with their interests and means. The resulting subscription list is the only document known to have been signed by each of the first four Presidents of the United States.

Sadly, the Michaux expedition failed. Michaux was swept up in the political aspirations of French minister Edmond Genêt, who hoped to usurp the Spanish regime in Louisiana, and the expedition died before it ever really started. The failure was not, however, absolute. The experience contributed to the evolution of Jefferson's thought about western exploration and did nothing to dampen his zeal. The plans he drafted for Michaux formed the basis for the instructions provided to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark ten years later.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806

Lewis and Clark Map

In 1801, Jefferson dusted off his plans for André Michaux, and organized yet another effort to explore the west. To lead this expedition, Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, who ironically had been rejected (at the tender age of 19) for participation on the Michaux expedition, who in turn chose an army compatriot, William Clark, as second in command.

Thirteen of the original journals of Lewis and Clark were bound in red morocco, with the remaining journals bound (or unbound) variously. All were carried throughout the journey in a water-proof tin box, and most likely were removed only during those moments when the explorers actually sat down to record their observations.

Conservation of Michaux Subscription List

This document showed signs of wear and tear, partly due to unfavorable storage conditions sometime in the past. Weakened folds were broken and subsequently reinforced with paper strips. These rather crude repairs did not prevent small paper losses at the intersections of the folds and along the top right edge.

Treatment focused on surface cleaning the document and washing the leaf in a bath of calcium enriched deionized water to remove soluble acids and to reduce discoloration. Repairs were also removed while the document was immersed in the bath. Tears were then repaired with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Losses were filled with paper pulp.

The Michaux Subscription list, like the other documents exhibited here, is enclosed in a sealed package constructed of museum quality ultraviolet filtering Acrylite OP-2 on the front and back of the matted work and polypropylene film tape along the edges. The sealed package helps to protect the documents from changes in temperature and humidity as well as protect it from airborne pollutants and dirt.

Lewis and Clark Journal Cover

Conservation of Lewis & Clark Journals

The physical condition of the Lewis & Clark journals is as good as one would hope it to be. No intrusive procedures such as re-sewing and rebinding needed to be undertaken. The preservation and minor conservation of the journals is handled on an in-house basis. The treatment consist of performing minor repairs to those pages that have been most frequently shown to visitors. Rehousing the twenty-eight journals in new compartmentalized boxes was another aspect of the preservation plan.

To ensure long-term safeguarding of these irreplaceable artifacts it was of critical importance to protect the originals from being repeatedly shown and handled. APS opted for facsimile preservation of three of the journals. The Stinehour Press in Vermont printed editions of codex A, codex E, and codex J using offset lithography.