Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation, and the 1908 Governors' Conference

Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation, and the 1908 Governors' Conference

Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation, and the 1908 Governors' Conference

Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation, and the 1908 Governors' Conference

Synopsis

Among Theodore Roosevelt’s many initiatives, one of the most important accomplishments was his effort to convince the nation that conserving the environment was crucial to its continued existence. Years of national tours, presidential edicts, and policy wrangling culminated in an unprecedented conference of governors at the White House in 1908. Leroy G. Dorsey explores the rhetorical power of Roosevelt’s address at this historic conservation summit, specifically examining how the president popularized the notion of conservation in the public consciousness.

Much has been written on Roosevelt’s conservation policy, but surprisingly little attention has been given to this pivotal moment in the rhetorical rally on its behalf. This book fills an important void in the history of conservation for all who seek a deeper understanding of a president so identified as a champion of the environment.

Excerpt

During his lifetime, Theodore Roosevelt was shocked at the wholesale destruction of trees, land, animals, and water resources. So he entered the presidency hell-bent on awakening the citizenry to the need for conservation and instituting change in the nation’s environmental policies. Unquestionably, he faced overwhelming opposition from several quarters. the general public seemed disinterested in protecting the environment. For those who did want to protect nature, some saw it as a godly obligation and clashed with others who saw it as scientific and managerial puzzle to solve. Congress, having embraced a laissez-faire attitude that saw little interest in making fundamental changes to society, was thunderstruck by Roosevelt’s determination to do just that. Legislators largely appeared to come down into two camps: those like Sen. William Clark dismissed conservation as a means to ensure the future, stating, “Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves;” or those like Rep. Herschel Hogg who ridiculed conservation as the province of “google-eyed, bandy-legged dudes from the East and sad-eyed, absent-minded professors and bugologists.” As a result, Congress resisted Roosevelt from the beginning on conservation and particularly went out of its way to impede his agenda in his second term. the president had been so aggressive on this issue, Douglas Brinkley noted, that businessmen openly hoped Roosevelt would die in “some godforsaken African port” when he talked about going on safari at the end of his presidency.

Despite the forces arrayed against him during his tenure in the White House from 1901 to 1909, President Roosevelt took unprecedented steps to safeguard the environment. Over the course of those eight years, he established five national parks including ones at Crater Lake in Oregon and Mesa Verde in Colorado; four big game preserves in places such as Oklahoma and Arizona; fifty-one bird refuges in over a dozen states and territories; almost . . .

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