Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, and the State, New England, 1790-1930

Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, and the State, New England, 1790-1930

Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, and the State, New England, 1790-1930

Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, and the State, New England, 1790-1930

Synopsis

This book is a study of the impact of industrialization and urbanization on the environment of New England in general and the Connecticut River Valley in particular, and of the varied public responses the impact engendered. The narrative engages the reader with biographical vignettes woven into the larger narrative and crosses several historical fields by combining industrial, urban, environmental, legal, and political history.

Excerpt

Early twentieth-century conservation in the United States has been identified in the public mind with the West and the protection of wilderness, parks, and national forests. Some scholars have explored conservation through the writings of naturalists and antimodernists like Henry David Thoreau. What we have only recently come to appreciate is that there was a whole generation of reformers very much concerned about the environment who were neither antimodernists nor wilderness protectors. They were modernists who rejected not the modern world, but the way the modern world was being fashioned. They did not retreat or long to retreat into the wilderness but lived in cities and towns. And they struggled to make the environment of the most settled parts of the nation more amenable to human habitation.

It was in New England where these reformers first began to make their claims for the rights of citizens to clean air, clean water, and clean soil. The Massachusetts board of health argued, less than five years after the Civil War, for aggressive state action on the claim that “all citizens have an inherent right to the enjoyment of pure and uncontaminated air, and water, and soil, that this right should be regarded as belonging to the whole community, and that no one should be allowed to trespass upon it by his carelessness or his avarice.” And the New Hampshire board, in its first report, stated that “every person has a legitimate right to nature's gifts—pure water, air, and soil—a right belonging to every individual, and every community upon which no one should be allowed to trespass through carelessness, ignorance, or other cause.”

New England's first environmental crisis was brought on by its people's fecundity and by their material practices in the late eighteenth century. Out of that crisis emerged a changed New England with concentrated manufacturing centers and increasingly market-oriented agriculture. Although not all New Englanders enthusiastically supported this change . . .

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