A few months ago my twelve-yearold son and I gazed west in the twilight from an observation window at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, toward our home near Kansas City. Dayton Duncan’s “If Lewis and Clark Came Back Today” (November) has put what I saw in marvelous perspective.
The present condition of what Louisiana’s purchasers did get their hands on—rivers, flora, fauna, native peoples—compares most unfavorably with the condition of what has remained beyond their grasp—“the Western sky … broiling summer heat on the plains … the startling fury of a prairie hailstorm.” That the work of the author of the Declaration of Independence, the Purchase, and Lewis and Clark’s journey comes down to this is one more irony of history to add to the list.
Will tomorrow’s “men of the Enlightenment” proceed on to civilize what has heretofore been beyond our grasp? Will they come closer to fulfilling the promise than their forebears? As long as insights such as Mr. Duncan’s are available for their consideration, my son and his contemporaries have at least as much chance as Mr. Jefferson had.