James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Meriwether Lewis, 16 September 1809

From Meriwether Lewis

Chickasaw Bluffs, September 16th. 09

Dear Sir.

I arrived here yesterday about  1 P.M. very much exhausted from the heat of the climate, but having taken medicine feel much better this morning. My appreh[en]sion from the heat of the lower country and my fear of the original papers relative to my voyage to the Pacific ocean falling into the hands of the British has induced me to change my rout and proceed by land through the state of Tennesee to the City of washington.2 I bring with me duplicates of my vouchers for public expenditures &c which when fully explained, or reather the general view of the circumstances under which they were made I flatter myself they will recieve both sanction & approbation.

Provided my health permits no time shall be lost in reaching Washington. My anxiety to pursue and to fullfill the duties incedent to the internal arrangements incedent to the government of Louisiana has prevented my writing you more frequently.3 Inclosed I herewith transmit you a copy of the laws of the territory of Louisiana. I have the honour to be with the most sincere esteem Your Obt. and very humble Servt.4

Meriwether Lewis.

RC (MoSHi). This is one of the last letters written by Lewis, who died in mysterious circumstances on 11 Oct.

1Lewis first wrote “2 OCk” then deleted the exact time.

2Lewis (1774–1809), a native of Albemarle County, was en route to Washington via New Orleans when he changed his mind and headed from Chickasaw Bluffs for the Natchez Trace. After serving on the famous expedition with William Clark he was appointed governor of the upper Louisiana Territory. Some irregularities in his public accounts drew a mild rebuke from the secretary of war, who told Lewis he had discussed the matter with JM (Secretary of War to Lewis, 15 July 1809, Carter, Territorial Papers, Louisiana-Missouri, 14:285–86). Greatly embarrassed by this action, Lewis determined to carry his case and the supporting documents to Washington. “All I wish is a full and fair Investigation” (Lewis to Secretary of War, 18 Aug. 1809, ibid., 14:290–91).

3Lewis wrote a following sentence—“Mr. Bates is left in charge”—then deleted it.

4Lewis wrote his complimentary close twice, then deleted a portion. The troubled mannerisms evident in the composition of this letter support an Indian agent’s testimony that Lewis “appeared at times deranged in mind” (James Neely to Jefferson, 18 Oct. 1809, ibid., 14:333).

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