The surprising story of how Thomas Jefferson commanded an unrivaled age of American explorationand in presiding over that era of discovery, forged a great nation.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, as Britain, France, Spain, and the United States all jockeyed for control of the vast expanses west of the Mississippi River, the stakes for American expansion were incalculably high. Even after the American purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Spain still coveted that land and was prepared to employ any means to retain it. With war expected at any moment, Jefferson played a game of strategy, putting on the ground the only Americans he could: a cadre of explorers who finally annexed it through courageous investigation.
Responsible for orchestrating the American push into the continent was President Thomas Jefferson. He most famously recruited Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific, but at the same time there were other teams who did the same work, in places where it was even more crucial. William Dunbar, George Hunter, Thomas Freeman, Peter Custis, and the dauntless Zebulon Pikeall were dispatched on urgent missions to map the frontier and keep up a steady correspondence with Washington about their findings.
But they werent always well-matchedwith each other and certainly not with a Spanish army of a thousand soldiers or more. These tensions threatened to undermine Jeffersons goals for the nascent country, leaving the United States in danger of losing its foothold in the West. Deeply researched and inspiringly told, Jeffersons America rediscovers the robust and often harrowing action from these seminal expeditions and illuminates the presidents vision for a continental America.
JULIE M. FENSTER is the author of many works of popular history, including The Case of Abraham Lincoln, Race of the Century, the award-winning Ether Day, and, with Douglas Brinkley, Parish Priest, which was a New York Times bestseller. She also co-wrote the PBS documentary First Freedom, about the founders and religious liberty. She lives in upstate New York.
Praise for Jefferson's America
"Riveting…Fensters forceful account, peppered with succinct formulations and wry wit, shows how Jefferson launched expeditions to stake his claim to this 'wilderness' and its people… [Jefferson's America] offers fresh insight into the minds of these 19th century men, carrying you deeply, irresistibly, into a distant landscape."
Wall Street Journal
"Expertly detailed... [Fenster] spins a masterful, adventure-filled tale of intrigue, diplomatic maneuverings, and nimble political deal-making for Western lands."
"[Fenster] does an excellent job of making a case for the importance of Jeffersons foresight and the impact of the expeditions on the development of the new nation."
"Fenster skillfully profiles the 'Men of Jefferson' who were selected to spearhead the exploration efforts, but its the wily, resourceful Jefferson who steals the show with his ambitious vision, ability to gauge the foreign opposition, and advantageous use of the federal treasury to support his missions."
"Enthralling… A necessary read for American history buffs."
"A sparkling, sprightly tale of partisan politics, grizzly bears, and the men who charted the American West at a time when it seemed only one map of the Missouri River existed. Julie Fenster probes the political implications and myriad complications of Jeffersonian exploration; she is as expert at describing the badger-stuffing Meriwether Lewis as she is at resurrecting our 18th century cold war with Spain. A taut, colorful account of American expansion, of a peculiar intersection of politics and ideals, and of Americas first post-Revolutionary heroes."
Stacy Schiff, New York Times bestselling author of The Witches and Cleopatra
"Julie Fensters Jeffersons America is a marvelous look at the Age of Jeffersonian Exploration. Larger-than-life figures like William Dunbar and Zebulon Pike are ably brought back to life in this riveting narrative. This is a first-rate book; fair, clear, and enormously welcome. Highly recommended!"
Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of Wilderness Warrior
"The protean Julie M. Fenster, who has written with verve and authority on subjects that range from the dawn of the automobile to the discovery of surgical anesthesia, here turns her formidable narrative gifts to the great seminal adventure of our nationhood. Lewis and Clark were only part of Thomas Jeffersons quest to understand the continent he wished to bring into the American fold, and Fenster follows them along with less-remembered explorersPhilip Nolan, George Hunter, John Evanswhose travails were equally arduous. All of them set out into a world of competing European powers on a high-stakes mission whose complexity the author makes lucid in an absorbing saga bright with sly humor, and sharp with treachery, bad faith, harrowing calamities, and high heroism."
Richard Snow, author of I Invented the Modern Age and A Measureless Peril
"Once again Julie Fenster has uncovered a little appreciated but crucial moment in American history and told its story irresistibly. She brings an almost unbelievable cast of characters and their interwoven adventures to life in a way that is at once both hugely entertaining and surprisingly moving."
Fred Allen, former managing editor of American Heritage
"[A]wonderful and twisted story…Geographers and American history buffs will enjoy Fensters detailed research on these fascinating men, her easy style of writing, and tales beyond the textbooks. She opens an entirely new vista on those who opened the West."
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