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FOCUS QUESTION 4:
What contributions did Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft make to the progressive movement? How and why did these men come to disagree about the best ways to advance progressive ideals?
Gifford Pinchot, President Theodore Roosevelt’s friend and the first chief of the United States Forest Service, remarked that the president believed that “Launching the conservation movement was the most significant achievement” of his administration. A key moment in the history of the founding of the National Park system is when the naturalist John Muir hosted President Roosevelt on a camping trip in Yosemite Valley, California. The man who made the presidency an activist one, the president who, coming from the political party that was most friendly to big business, took on corporations and monopoly power, the president who extended America’s influence deep into Latin America and the Pacific Rim was most proud of his respect for the natural world. President Roosevelt made conservation an issue of national importance and that explains how the seemingly opposing outlooks of the conquering imperialist and environmentalist are reconciled. Roosevelt was proud of his nation and its resources. To him, a well-managed forest was as important to the well-being of the nation as a well-equipped navy. The images and documents included in this Primary Source Exercise are designed to introduce students to the thinking of these two influential men about the value of nature and its bounty.
1. Read Chapter 21 of the textbook, with special attention to pages 874-879.
2. Analyze Document 1, a photograph of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir atop Glacier Point at Yosemite Valley in California.
3. Document 2 is a photograph of lumberjacks with the trunk of a very large redwood tree in Coos Bay, Oregon.
4. Read Document 3, an article, “Man’s Place in the Universe,” by John Muir, in which he explains his belief of how nature fed the human spirit while also providing fuel for the industries that contributed to America’s prosperity. Muir believed wild places were sacred and nurtured the soul and were God-given.
5. Read Document 4, the speech President Theodore Roosevelt gave at a conference of the nation’s governors. The chief purpose of this conference, held at the White House May 13-15, 1908, was to develop a consensus around the appropriate use and management of the nation’s natural resources, so as not to exploit them into extinction.
6. Answer the Focus Question.
John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt at Yosemite Valley, California.
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Credit: Library of Congress
Redwood lumberjacks, early 20th century.
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Credit: Library of Congress
John Muir, Man’s Place in the Universe, 1916
The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts. A numerous class of men are painfully astonished whenever they find anything, living or dead, in all God’s universe, which they cannot eat or render in some way what they call useful to themselves. They have precise dogmatic insight into the intentions of the Creator, and it is hardly possible to be guilty of irreverence in speaking of their God any more than of heathen idols. He is regarded as a civilized, law-abiding gentlemen in favor either of a republican form of government or of a limited monarchy; believes in the literature and language of England; is a warm supporter of the English constitution and Sunday schools and missionary societies; and is as purely a manufactured article as any puppet at a half- penny theater.
With such views of the Creator it is, of course, not surprising that erroneous views should be entertained of the creation. To such properly trimmed people, the sheep, for example, is an easy problem — food and clothing “for us,” eating grass and daisies white by divine appointment for this predestined purpose, on perceiving the demand for wool that would be occasioned by the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden.
In the same pleasant plan, whales are storehouses of oil for us, to help out the stars in lighting our dark ways until the discovery of the Pennsylvania oil wells. Among plants, hemp, to say nothing of the cereals, is a case of evident destination for ships’ rigging, wrapping packages, and hanging the wicked. Cotton is another plain case of clothing. Iron was made for hammers and ploughs, and lead for bullets; all intended for us. And so of other small handfuls of insignificant things.
But if we should ask these profound expositors of God’s intentions, How about those man-eating animals — lions, tigers, alligators — which smack their lips over raw man? Or about those myriads of noxious insects that destroy labor and drink his blood? Doubtless man was intended for food and drink for all these? Oh no! Not at all! These are unresolvable difficulties connected with Eden’s apple and the Devil. Why does water drown its lord? Why do so many minerals poison him? Why are so many plants and fishes deadly enemies? Why is the lord of creation subjected to the same laws of life as his subjects? Oh, all these things are satanic, or in some way connected with the first garden.
Now, it never seems to occur to these far-seeing teachers that Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit — the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.
From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material he has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals. The fearfully good, the orthodox, of this laborious patch-work of modern civilization cry “Heresy” on every one whose sympathies reach a single hair’s breadth beyond the boundary epidermis of our own species. Not content with taking all of earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kind of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.
This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. After human beings have also played their part in Creation’s plan, they too may disappear without any general burning or extraordinary commotion whatever.
Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all. But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?
But I have wandered from my subject. I stated a page or two back that man claimed the earth was made for him and I was going to say that venomous beasts, thorny plants, and deadly diseases of certain parts of the earth prove that the whole world was not made for him. When an animal from a tropical climate is taken to high latitudes, it may perish of cold, and we say that such an animal was never intended for so severe a climate. But when man betakes himself to sickly parts of the tropics and perishes, he cannot see that he was never intended for such deadly climates. No, he will rather accuse the first mother of the cause of the difficulty, though she may never have seen a fever district; or will consider it a providential chastisement for some self-invented form of sin.
Furthermore, all uneatable and uncivilized animals, and all plants which carry prickles, are deplorable evils which, according to closes researches of clergy, require the cleansing chemistry of universal planetary combustion. But more than aught else mankind requires burning, as being in great part wicked, and if that transmundane furnace can be so applied and regulated as to smelt and purify us into conformity with the rest of the terrestrial creation, then the tophetization of the erratic genius Homo were a consummation devoutly to be prayed for. But, glad to leave these ecclesiastical fires and blunders, I joyfully return to the immortal truth and immortal beauty of Nature.
Source: John Muir, from A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916)
Accessed at Sierra Club John Muir online exhibit – http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/mans_place_in_the_universe.aspx
Theodore Roosevelt, selection from speech to the Conference of Governors at the White House, 1909
Governors of the several States; and Gentlemen:
I welcome you to this Conference at the White House. You have come hither at my request, so that we may join together to consider the question of the conservation and use of the great fundamental sources of wealth of this Nation.
So vital is this question, that for the first time in our history the chief executive officers of the States separately, and of the States together forming the Nation, have met to consider it. It is the chief material question that confronts us, second only–and second always–to the great fundamental questions of morality.
With the governors come men from each State chosen for their special acquaintance with the terms of the problem that is before us. Among them are experts in natural resources and representatives of national organizations concerned in the development and use of these resources; the Senators and Representatives in Congress; the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and the Inland Waterways Commission have likewise been invited to the Conference, which is therefore national in a peculiar sense.
This Conference on the conservation of natural resources is in effect a meeting of the representatives of all the people of the United States called to consider the weightiest problem now before the Nation; and the occasion for the meeting lies in the fact that the natural resources of our country are in danger of exhaustion if we permit the old wasteful methods of exploiting them longer to continue.
With the rise of peoples from savagery to civilization, and with the consequent growth in the extent and variety of the needs of the average man, there comes a steadily increasing growth of the amount demanded by this average man from the actual resources of the country. And yet, rather curiously, at the same time that there comes that increase in what the average man demands from the resources, he is apt to grow to lose the sense of his dependence upon nature. He lives in big cities. He deals in industries that do not bring him in close touch with nature. He does not realize the demands he is making upon nature. For instance, he finds, as he has found before in many parts of this country, that it is cheaper to build his house of concrete than of wood, learning in this way only that he has allowed the woods to become exhausted. That is happening, as you know, in parts of this country at this very time
Savages, and very primitive peoples generally, concern themselves only with superficial natural resources; with those which they obtain from the actual surface of the ground. As peoples become a little less primitive, their industries, although in a rude manner, are extended to resources below the surface; then, with what we call civilization and the extension of knowledge, more resources come into use, industries are multiplied, and foresight begins to become a necessary and prominent factor in life. Crops are cultivated; animals are domesticated; and metals are mastered. We can not do any of these things without foresight, and we can not, when the nation becomes fully civilized and very rich, continue to be civilized and rich unless the nation shows more foresight than we are showing at this moment as a nation.
Source: The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920, Washington: G.P.O., 1909.