The 1803 Louisiana Purchase added 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River to the United States. Wanting to better understand the resources and peoples of this new territory, hoping for an easy passage to the Pacific Ocean, and fearing Spanish and French competition for land, the United States sent exploratory expeditions to the West. Most notably, the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) traveled to the Pacific gathering information about natural resources and Native Americans. Others explored the Mississippi and Southwest. In addition to relying on Native Americans for knowledge of geography, these men made diplomatic gestures to the Native nations they encountered.
Part 3: From Sea to Sea
The Early Republic (c. 1780–1816) was a chaotic period for the new nation. Territorial expansion and a rapidly increasing population spurred the young nation to look westward. Foreign competition inspired exploratory expeditions and new settlements, leading to the growth of trade and demands for more and better infrastructure. Maps defined new postal and travel routes, making it possible for the U.S. government to determine who would receive government services. Thus, maps illustrated who belonged to the nation.
Throughout this period, Native American nations remained sovereign, or self-governing, with their own institutions, citizens/members, social, economic, and religious practices. Nevertheless, U.S. mapmakers erased Native peoples from their lands to allow U.S. citizens to envision a connected transcontinental nation.