Chapter OneMr. Astor's Proposal
In February 1808, Thomas Jefferson, sixty-five years old and in the waning months of his second term as president, received a letter from the New York merchant John Jacob Astor asking him to support a far-flung trading venture beyond the Mississippi.
Astor had already begun to amass an enormous fortune in trading furs and exporting and importing goods, yet he was not widely known outside New York and Montreal, where he did much of his trading. The president had never met Astor -- in fact, he had likely never heard of him, though Astor cited his fellow New Yorker, George Clinton,...