With this one quotable speech, Teddy Roosevelt changed the way America thinks about nature Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California, ca. 1906. (Library of Congress/NY Times/Wiki Commons)
With this one quotable speech, Teddy Roosevelt changed the way America thinks about nature
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President Theodore Roosevelt is remembered for his oration.

His lines included “speak softly and carry a big stick.” And he said “the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic.” He also said “the government is us; we are the government, you and I.” These words have deservedly been remembered. But Roosevelt was also a conservationist and he often put his skills to use in support of that cause.

The Conference of Governors was held at the White House May 13-15, 1908. State leaders met with Roosevelt and conservation authorities from across the country. They discussed the question of what should be done with America’s natural resources. It might sound everyday now, but then it was something new. Roosevelt opened the conference with a speech titled “Conservation as a National Duty.”

Conservation “is the chief material question that confronts us. It is second only—and second always—to the great fundamental questions of morality,” he said. Americans had “become great in a material sense because of the lavish use of our resources,” he explained. Americans had “just reason” to be proud of what they had done. “But,” he went on, as follows.

"The time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation.""

He said by planning ahead, these fates could be avoided. “One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight,” he said. “We have to, as a nation, exercise foresight for this nation in the future. And if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!” 

“As a historian and a frontiersman,” Roosevelt probably understood the significance of the social pressures that he was fighting by saying that resource use should be limited. That's according to historian Leroy G. Dorsey. “For centuries citizens worshipped the notion of a God-blessed virgin land that belonged to them. They embraced an ownership that allowed them unfettered use (and misuse) of the land for survival, profit, and as a means to understand American identity,” he writes.

Roosevelt had been president since 1901. During those years, he had worked to establish the national park system and create national wildlife refuges. That's according to the Department of the Interior. He also created the United States Forest Service.

But Roosevelt’s opening speech in 1908 was a pivotal moment in conservation, Dorsey writes. It positioned conservation “in a way that reassessed America’s past actions and presaged its possible future if nature was not saved.” The speech riveted national attention and “led to profound changes in American attitudes about conservation.”

The speech’s most important contribution, writes historian Jessica Sheffield, was making conservation sound like “a public (rather than private) and moral (rather than economic) issue.” And Roosevelt did so on a grand stage: his event involved all levels of government, she wrote. And it created a spectacle for press to report on. Newspapers were bombarded with advance notice of the governors conference, she writes. They wrote at length about the event and Roosevelt’s speech.

“By linking conservation to themes of civilization, American patriotism and morality,” she writes, “Roosevelt turned the conservation issue from one of private use of resources into a public concern about the future of the United States.” It was a theme he built on in his final State of the Union address later that year.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Should conservation of our national parks be a priority? Why or why not?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (12)
  • jeremyj-orv
    5/15/2018 - 08:02 a.m.

    Yes it should be preserved because it is a part of history, that needs to be remembered.

  • jamariw-orv
    5/16/2018 - 08:09 a.m.

    I think we should conserve national parks so people who are already away from nature can have a reason to get out and go see what the world has to offer .

  • Charlotte-E2
    5/16/2018 - 10:43 a.m.

    Teddy Roosevelt helped change the way we think about nature and the environment with just a speech. He met with the state leaders and discussed America's natural resources and stuff like that. The article said that now we talk about that kind of stuff a lot but back then this was a subject that was not brought up often.

  • 24jmfryc
    5/17/2018 - 10:22 a.m.

    Yes conversation of our national park should be a priority because then we can conserve our parks and make sure its a nicer landmark for tourist.

  • 24keolse
    5/17/2018 - 10:26 a.m.

    Yes conservation should be a priority. People love national parks like Teddy Roosevelt loved them. People like seeing the nature and they're some of the only places that have pure nature so if they get destroyed or used fro mining everything would be big cities and there would be lots of pollution. Also lost of animals live there so it would be destroying their homes which could cause extintion.

  • holdenj-orv
    5/18/2018 - 11:34 a.m.

    Liking Nature made Teddy Roosevelt famous. Too bad he lost to William Howard Taft in the 1908 Election.

  • ethanm-orv
    5/18/2018 - 02:46 p.m.

    Teddy Roosevelt is now one of my favorite presidents. I'm glad that someone in government cared so much about nature.

  • averym-orv
    5/21/2018 - 10:49 a.m.

    Yes, conservation of our national parks should be a priority because we can conserve our parks and make sure its a nicer landmark kept with Maintenace.

  • aiyanaa-orv
    5/21/2018 - 11:05 a.m.

    I don't think it should be a priority because people don't need to go to it. I think it's optional.

  • TatyM-ilc
    8/27/2018 - 06:36 p.m.

    Conservation of national parks should be a priority. Every time more habitats and species are lost. The role of these spaces is not only important for the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, we must remember that protected areas store carbon, it allows us to face the climate change. Therefore, the conservation of protected areas is everyone's duty.

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