I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.
Early in history of the United States, the new nation found itself in a cold war not against a nation across the ocean but across the Mississippi river and the Floridian border. In Jefferson’s America, Julie M. Fenster relates how Thomas Jefferson first as Secretary of State and later as President battled with Spain to define the borders of the United States before establishing a claim on the West which would define the future of the country.
Almost a century before the United States and Spain actually fought a war; the two nations could have fought a war over Louisiana which could have been the legacy of Thomas Jefferson’s administration instead of the territory’s purchase. The Louisiana Purchase was not the event that stopped this war; it only made the likelihood more probable as the southern boundary of the territory was undefined and both nations claiming different demarcations of their respective territories. Jefferson’s solution to both keep peace and stake a claim on the West for the United States was exploration.
The journey up the Missouri, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific Ocean by the Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark is thought today to be the expedition that claimed the West for the United States. While that much heralded journey is chronicled in this book, Fenster also brings forth the effects by other explorers to study the geography of the Mississippi and southern rivers like the Red and the Arkansas. Men like Thomas Freeman, William Dunbar, Zebulon Pike, George Hunter, and Andrew Ellicott brought their own talents and personalities in exploring the frontiers of the United States and helping Jefferson make a political claim to those frontiers.
The book as a whole is well researched and overall Fenster does give the reader an view of the little known history behind the first great expansion of the United States, however there are issues that do not make this an easy read. Firstly, the first quarter of the book is rather dry and could discourage some readers who would be impressed with the later three-quarters of the book. Fenster took a chronological approach to her writing and detailed several expeditions simultaneously when they overlapped, while I didn’t have a problem with this particular set up and approach there was a drawback in that Fenster did not transition from one to the other that well which at times forced the reader to stop for a few seconds to stop and reread a sentence or two to denote when Fenster was switching from one expedition to another.
Upon completing Jefferson’s America, I found it instructive on this period of the Early Republic in not only the national and international situation but also the experiences that the explorers faced as they traveled around various points in the West.