Theodore Roosevelt The Great Environmentalist Essay Research

Theodore Roosevelt: The Great Environmentalist Essay, Research Paper

This Paper will outline President Theodore Roosevelt’s role in helping to


our environment during his administration (1901-1909). It will also examine

his theory of

a stronger American democracy through environmental conservationism.

“The movement for the conservation of wildlife, and the larger movement for

the conservation of all our natural resources, are essentially democratic in

spirit, purpose, and method.” (Roosevelt 274)

As president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt made conservation a


policy issue of his administration. He created five National Parks, four Big


Refuges, fifty-one National bird Reservations, and the National Forest

Service. Roosevelt

advocated for the sustainable use of the nation’s natural resources, the

protection and

management of wild game, and the preservation of wild spaces. Considering


landscape to be the source of American wealth and the American character,


believed conservationism was a democratic movement necessary to maintain and


strengthen American democracy.

Roosevelt recognized America’s vast natural resources as the source of the


economic wealth and subsequent political strength globally. The abundance of


timber, waterways, and mineral deposits fueled the continuing expansion of


industry. In a speech addressed to a national conference on conservation held

at the White

House in 1908, Roosevelt stated, “Our position in the world has been attained

by the

extent and thoroughness of the control we have achieved over nature; but we

are more,

and not less, dependent upon what she furnishes than at any previous time of


(Internet 1) The United States had built its economic and political strength

by exploiting

the nation’s natural resources; but Roosevelt, like other leading

conservationists, no

longer believed that these natural resources were infinite in their


The end of the nineteenth century brought the closing of the frontier, the


extinction of the buffalo, and the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Both

species had

symbolized America’s endless natural abundance, and their destruction forced


Americans to question the myth of nature’s infinitude. Understanding the

finite quality of

America’s natural resources, Roosevelt felt that the nation’s dependency on

them could

now become the nation’s weakness if the reckless and wasteful exploitation of


resources continued. The conservation and management of the nation’s natural


was urgently necessary to ensure their future availability. Roosevelt went on

to say in his

speech to the conference on conservation, “It is equally clear that these

resources are the

final basis for national power and perpetuity.” (Internet 1) Concerned about

the long term

well being of the nation, Roosevelt regarded the land as an economic resource


must be conserved and managed to protect the long term economic and political


of the nation.

Roosevelt believed that conservation, as a utilitarian tool for sustained


growth, strengthened American democracy. He hoped that conservation would


the economic goal of providing the greatest good, for the greatest number,

over the

greatest period of time. Roosevelt stretched the concept of a democratic

society to include

its future members. Considering it undemocratic to exploit and squander the


natural resources for present profit, he believed that a democratic society

should work to

protect the economic strength of future generations. Conservation, having the

goal of

sustainable resource use for successive generations, was for Roosevelt



Roosevelt encouraged the federal government’s acquisition and management of


lands and the natural resources within them. He wanted to use this government

acquisition and management to prevent the exploitation of the nation’s

natural resources

by industry and the wealthy for industrial or private gain and to ensure a

more equal and

democratic distribution of the public lands and its resources. Describing the

public land

use policies of the federal government prior to his presidency, Roosevelt

writes that

decisions were made “in favor of private interests against the public

welfare.” (Roosevelt

430) He clearly states the principles guiding the land use policies of his


“The principles thus formulated and applied may be summed up in the statement

that the

rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and

must be given its

first consideration.” (Roosevelt 438) Roosevelt enacted land policies

consistent with this

democratic value of greater land distribution and resource access for the


socio-economic classes he opened up National Forests lands suitable for

agriculture to

small farmers and challenged the exclusive grazing rights of large ranchers

on the public

lands of the West. Despite the opposition of “land grabbers and the great


interests,” (Roosevelt 440) Roosevelt demanded that those who used public

land and

resources for private profit pay the government for their usage. This measure


strengthened the principle that public lands and natural resources belong to

the public,

and that they do not exist for the unrestricted use of private industry.

Government land management was not only a means to achieving a greater


equity of land and resource use, but for ensuring access to wilderness for

recreation and

hunting to all classes. Roosevelt wrote in his essay on Yellowstone National


It is entirely in our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of

wilderness…as playgrounds for rich and poor alike, and to preserve the

game…But this end can only be achieved by wise laws and by a a resolute

enforcement of the laws. Lack of such legislation and administration will

result in harm to all of us, but most of all harm to the nature lover who

doe not

possess vast wealth. Already there have sprung up here and there through

the country, as in New Hampshire and the Adirondacks, large private

preserves. (Internet 2)

Roosevelt’s commitment to federal action to ensure land access to all


classes was fostered in part by his belief that wilderness recreation, and


specifically, engendered in men the qualities essential for good citizenship.

He wrote,

“The establishment of the National Park Service is justified by

considerations of good

administration, of the value of natural beauty as a National asset, and of


effectiveness of outdoor life and recreation in the production of good


(Roosevelt 246) Roosevelt feared that the increasingly urban population,

removed from

wilderness, was losing the qualities that led to good citizenship. Chief

among the qualities

necessary for the continued health of American democracy was, according to



For Roosevelt, conservation was in part the preservation of American

manhood. He

wrote, “Every believer in manliness and therefore in manly sport…should

strike hands

with the farsighted men who wish to preserve our material resources, in the

effort to keep

our forest and game beasts…” (Internet 3) Roosevelt’s construction of

masculinity was one

of self reliance, hard work, and courage. Roosevelt said of manliness,

“…these qualities

are all important…It is necessary absolutely to have them. No nation can

rise to greatness

without them…” (Internet 3) For Roosevelt, hunting and wilderness

recreation best taught

man these values. He feared that urbanization was leading to the emasculation

of the

American male; and Roosevelt considered this threat to masculinity a threat

to American

democracy. Roosevelt believed that American democracy was sustained by self


men willing to work hard to support themselves, their families, and American


upon which democracy rested. These men were committed to the betterment of

themselves and their community, and were willing and able to fight for the

survival of the

nation courageously. For Roosevelt, American democracy was dependent on the


work and participation of citizens committed to the growth of the nation.


men would lose their willingness and ability to work hard to support

themselves, their

families, or American industry; their commitment to their communities and the


would be overwhelmed by idleness. Without wilderness and a large stock of


animals upon which men could hunt, to which men from the cities could

retreat, the

nation would lose the site of its masculinity. Believing this loss would


democracy, Roosevelt was committed to preserving wild game and wilderness.

Roosevelt held the belief that the land itself, not as a source of economic

wealth or a

place for wilderness activity, but as sublime landscape and as part of the

nation’s history,

embodied the national character and the democratic ideals of the United

States and was

for this alone worth preserving. Roosevelt still held on to the romantic

ideal of the

sublime and valued the land for that intangible spirit romantics believed it


inspire. During a speech given at the Grand Canyon he stated:

“I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a


or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, sublimity, the great

loneliness and beauty of the canon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on

it; not a bit…What you can do is to keep it for your children, your


children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which

every American, if he can travel at all, should see. This sublime site

embodied something inexpressibly American for Roosevelt. His call for all

Americans to visit the Grand Canyon suggests that Roosevelt believed that

the sublimity of the sight inspired something in the people who viewed it


was important to the development of the national character.” (Internet 4)

Roosevelt also viewed nature as part of the nation’s history and national


Lacking the long history and cultural traditions of European nations,

Americans turned to

the natural landscape, placing it within the construction of the nation’s

historical identity.

The monumental natural sites of America and its unique wildlife were a source

of pride

for the nation, contributing to what many believed to be America’s

uniqueness, and

greatness, among nations. Roosevelt wrote:

“Birds should be saved because of utilitarian reasons; and, moreover, they

should be saved because of reasons unconnected with any return in dollars

and cents. A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we

keep a great and beautiful cathedral. The extermination of the passenger

pigeon meant that mankind was just so much poorer; exactly as in the case

of the destruction of the cathedral at Rheims.” (Roosevelt 289)

Roosevelt considered the landscapes and wildlife within the American

wilderness of

equal historical and cultural significance to the manmade cultural treasures

of Europe.

Their loss would be a loss of part of America’s national history and

democratic character.

Roosevelt’s notion that nature, in its sublimity and wildness, inspired


values among a nation’s citizens existed comfortably along side his


constructions of nature. He looked upon nature as an economic resource which

man could

improve upon, but he romantically imbued it with the capacity to inspire and

teach as

well. This contradiction in Roosevelt’s construction of wilderness,

devaluating nature to

an economic resource while at the same time giving it spiritual powers, was

the basic

ideological framework of Roosevelt’s conservationism. He viewed conservation

as a

means of protecting the nation’s economic stability and its spiritual well

being, both of

which Roosevelt believed were fundamental to the continued strength of


democracy, conservation’s greater goal.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “Bird Reserves at the Mouth of the Mississippi.” A Book

Lover’s Holiday in the Open. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916. 274


Via Telnet-Internet Virtual Library: History via CARRIE)


Roosevelt, Theodore. “Publicizing Conversation at the White House.” — The text is talen from the


opening address to a conference of governors held at the White House to


conservation policy in 1908

Roosevelt, Theodore. An Autobiography. New York: MacMillan, 1913. 430


unknown address)

Roosevelt, Theodore. An Autobiography. New York: MacMillan, 1913. 438


unknown address)

Roosevelt, Theodore. An Autobiography. New York: MacMillan, 1913. 440


unknown address)


Roosevelt, Theodore. “Wilderness Reserves: The Yellow Stone Park.”

Roosevelt, Theodore. “A National Park Service.” The Outlook. 3 Feb. 1912 :


(Obtained Via Telnet-Internet Virtual Library: History via CARRIE)


Roosevelt, Theodore. “Wilderness Reserves: The Yellow Stone Park.”


Roosevelt, Theodore. “Wilderness Reserves: A Speech at the Gran Canyon”

Roosevelt, Theodore. “Bird Reserves at the Mouth of the Mississippi.” A Book

Lover’s Holiday in the Open. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916. 289


Via Telnet-Internet Virtual Library: History via CARRIE)


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