Meriwether Lewis

by Kiana from San Diego

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Charles Willson Peale
Charles Willson Peale / [Public domain] via Wikimedia

Meriwether Lewis was born in Albemarle, Virginia on August 18, 1774. He joined the army around the age of 20 to deal with the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1800, the army promoted him to captain. The year after that, President Thomas Jefferson (a neighbor and long-time friend) appointed Lewis to be his personal secretary. In 1803 after the Louisiana Purchase, the President appointed Lewis to be the commander of the Corps of Discovery so he could explore the continent and introduce commerce to Native American tribes. Because Lewis thought he was too emotionally unstable and incapable of leading 30+ men safely across the continent and back, he had his old friend, William Clark, share command with him. Together, they co-led the Corps of Discovery through many Native American tribes and even reached the Pacific Ocean. Only one man died and next to no tribes were provoked into a fight. A hero has to be brave and be motivational, because an indecisive "hero" will doubt people then spark something powerful. Lewis was able to push everyone through despite his and their obstacles. There were many times when starvation or the heavy equipment the Corps of Discovery had to carry would discourage everyone, but he helped raise their spirits again, whether it was helping them or simply encouraging them. He would inspire some kind of motivation to keep going. Whether opening the West to America caused a negative or positive impact, he protected his friends and was emotionally flawed to widely inspirational.

Meriwether Lewis was flawed in many ways, but he was courageous and responsible as well. He was manic depressive yet he still managed to lead 30 men, a woman, dog, and baby 8000 miles through a dangerous continent through courage and leadership. He collected thousands of specimens and gathered countless amounts of information on the West for the President of the United States. While he caused indirect harm to the future of Native Americans a few years later, it's important to know that America would be extremely different had he not helped lead the way.  

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Merriwether Lewis Monument
Unknown author / [public domain] via Wikimedia

Meriwether Lewis was a hero because he was able to overcome his imperfections and flaws when he needed to. He was far from a perfect human being. For example, he made many enemies during his last years because of his attitude and lack of proper diplomacy skills.   "Given his army conditioning, he was fiercely loyal, disciplined, and flexible, yet was also prone to being moody, speculative, and melancholic." (PBS). Lewis was a melancholic and skeptical person, making it difficult to get along with him. It was especially difficult when it came to diplomacy with the Native Americans or fur traders in St. Louis, when he became territorial governor of Louisiana. Because of his depression, he ended up becoming something of a lazy writer. This meant that many of his journal entries have random periods of silence. Not only that, but he never wrote a single page of a book he promised President Jefferson that he'd write about his travels. Meriwether Lewis was a good friend to many people and had pure motives, but he caused people close or professionally related to him uncomfortable by being unresponsive, in letters as well as journals. His skepticism and moodiness were unfortunately frequent. On the Expedition, he took great care in his duties, even if he wasn't writing frequently. There are many things  he did when he wasn't handling commerce with the Native Americans. He was measuring and collecting everything in the West, whether it was the weather, animals, or plants. "A large share of the responsibility for the brilliance of the Lewis and Clark expedition must go to William Clark, but the genius of this Corps of Discovery was Lewis himself. He combined a talent for military leadership with an inquiring mind, which was perfect for the task at exploring, mapping, and reporting upon the terra incognita, which in 1804 was the American Far West." (Gale Virtual Reference Library) . Lewis was in charge of introducing new fields of science to the United States and Thomas Jefferson. Many historians view William Clark's journal entries as terse, even if he produced beautiful and accurate maps of the West. When Lewis did write, his prose was descriptive and beautiful. He worked hard to uncover the many questions his people back home wondered about the West (i.e. mammoths and behaviors among different tribes). Many influential American heroes at the time (i.e. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, etc.) pressured Lewis to report back everything in explicit and accurate detail, and then reveal it to the whole country. He did his job well and followed orders, but unfortunately was too overwhelmed after coming back to meet the President's expectations. The main expectation was to publish a book on his discoveries. He was a responsible man when he went out to the West and for a long time, he managed to work well under pressure, even if it was just barely.

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Meriwether Lewis
Henry Howe / [public domain] via New York Public Library

Meriwether Lewis was both a man of unstable emotions and a man of powerful willpower.  When someone is in depression, it must take a lot of power and will to stay strong and move forward, both physically and mentally. "A man fraught with with serious emotional problems but also a man of of great character, great integrity, truly marvelous insightful leadership. But a man who continually was on the edge of falling off of the abyss of of good sane control." (William Least Heat-Moon PBS). Meriwether Lewis most likely had manic depression/bipolar disorder. He was full of energy but on some days, he would almost completely shut down. It was important for him, especially when there was no turning back, that he had self-control and pulled himself through his depression. His men's safety was his top priority above all else, even himself, during the mission. Many people in his time admired him, especially the people closest to him. While he wasn't liked by everyone, people who knew him best recognized unique aspects about him and appreciated how he did his duties. "'Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness & perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from it's direction, careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order & discipline, intimate with the Indian character, customs & principles, habituated to the hunting life, guarded by exact observation of the vegetables & animals of his own country....'" (Thomas Jefferson Biography in Context). Nothing scared Lewis into retreating or giving up hope. As the journey progressed, he came to respect and live like Native Americans. He looked over the Corps of Discovery in a way that gradually became personal to him. Before the Corps of Discovery, Thomas Jefferson funded and launched two expedition parties to go West, but unfortunately, both failed. The Spanish and British were taking control of the rivers at the time Lewis and Clark were exploring them, and that meant that they were planning on taking control of the continent. Lewis loved Jefferson and his country dearly, and he knew the severity of these situations. That is why he felt it urgent for the Expedition to succeed. It was clear that Meriwether Lewis let himself become personally attached to the Corps of Discovery as time gradually went on. This is what motivated him to stay strong and protect the people he loved most.


Whether the future effects of his findings were negative, positive, or both, he was emotionally flawed to widely inspirational, and that's what made him a true hero. He was a selfless, courageous, yet flawed man on that journey, but he accomplished much more than he did fail anything. He had the ability to carry invaluable knowledge back to the East from the West. He had the willpower to break free from the chains of depression. He shouldered many of the Expedition's responsibilities and duties. He started out as a moody and aloof commander but ended up considering everyone in the Corps to be his family. He looked down upon Native Americans in a way and then came to understand them almost completely. He changed and overcame hardships only a hero could accomplish to do. Meriwether Lewis inspires me, and possibly others, because of his strength. Lewis had plenty of awful days, whether it was during the Expedition or after. There were a lot of things he wasn't capable of but ended up accomplishing them greatly. He's a good person to keep in mind if I have a bad day and feel overwhelmed. Sometimes if I, personally, have too much homework or too much stress on me, it's reassuring to think of Lewis and remember that he had many more situations that were much more worse than mine. When that happens, I try to do as much as I can to the best of my available ability, like him. Others might relate to him because of his bipolar or is bravery. Lewis didn't create a large impact on the world, but he led a path that could lead to one. He is admired and idealized for his courage, which is usually described as undaunted. He deserves recognition today for his accomplishments and for the future he opened for many Americans.

Page created on 5/27/2017 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 8/11/2020 10:14:15 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

PBS - Learn more about Lewis and Clark
Discovering Lewis and Clark - Another biography on Meriwether Lewis

Extra Info

Works Cited search_within_results=&p=BIC1&mode=view&catId=&u=powa9245&limiter=&display-query=&displayGroups=&contentModules=&action=e&sortBy=&  documentId=GALE%7CBT2310009045&windowstate=normal&activityType=&failOverType=&commentary=true. Accessed May 2017.

Karam, P. Andrew. "Meriwether Lewis." Science and Its Times, edited by Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer, vol. 5: 1800 to 1899, Gale, 2000, pp. 78-79.

Gale Virtual Reference Library, e14d9cb6361eb41fde5fe529e3167ec2. Accessed 2 May 2017.

"PBS." PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Accessed 1 May 2017.

            "PBS." PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Accessed 1 May 2017.