Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Lesson Plans > The Conservation Movement at a Crossroads

Back to Lesson Plans

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point...

[Detail] Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point...

The Fight for Conservation, by Gifford Pinchot

For Lesson One

NOTE: This is an excerpt. For the full document, see The Fight for Conservation in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.

Begin page no. 132

CHAPTER XII
THE PRESENT BATTLE

CONSERVATION has captured the Nation. Its progress during the last twelve months is amazing. Official opposition to the conservation movement, whatever damage it has done or still threatens to the public interest, has vastly strengthened the grasp of conservation upon the minds and consciences of our people. Efforts to obscure or belittle the issue have only served to make it larger and clearer in the public estimation. The conservation movement cannot be checked by the baseless charge that it will prevent development, or that every man who tells the plain truth is either a muck-raker or a demagogue. It has taken firm hold on our

{Begin page no. 133}

national moral sense, and when an issue does that it has won.

The conservation issue is a moral issue, and the heart of it is this: For whose benefit shall our natural resources be conserved-for the benefit of us all, or for the use and profit of the few? This truth is so obvious and the question itself so simple that the attitude toward conservation of any man in public or private life indicates his stand in the fight for public rights.

All monopoly rests on the unregulated control of natural resources and natural advantages, and such control by the special interests is impossible without the help of politics. The alliance between business and politics is the most dangerous thing in our political life. It is the snake that we must kill. The special interests must get out of politics, or the American people will put them out of business. There is no third course.

Because the special interests are in politics,

Top

{Begin page no. 134}

we as a Nation have lost confidence in Congress. This is a serious statement to make, but it is true. It does not apply, of course, to the men who really represent their constituents and who are making so fine a fight for the conservation of self-government. As soon as these men have won their battle and consolidated their victory, confidence in Congress will return.

But in the meantime the people of the United States believe that, as a whole, the Senate and the House no longer represent the voters by whom they were elected, but the special interests by whom they are controlled. They believe so because they have so often seen Congress reject what the people desire, and do instead what the interests demand. And of this there could be no better illustration than the tariff.

The tariff, under the policy of protection, was originally a means to raise the rate of wages. It has been made a tool to increase the cost of living. The wool schedule, professing

{Begin page no. 135}

to protect the wool-grower, is found to result in sacrificing grower and consumer alike to one of the most rapacious of trusts.

The cotton cloth schedule was increased in the face of the uncontradicted public testimony of the manufacturers themselves that it ought to remain unchanged.

The Steel interests by a trick secured an indefensible increase in the tariff on structural steel.

The sugar Trust stole from the Government like a petty thief, yet Congress, by means of a dishonest schedule, continues to protect it in bleeding the public.

At the very time the duties on manufactured rubber were being raised, the leader of the Senate, in company with the Guggenheim Syndicate, was organizing an international rubber trust, whose charter made it also a holding company for the coal and copper deposits of the whole world.

For a dozen years the demand of the

Top

{Begin page no. 136}

Nation for the Pure Food and Drug bill was outweighed in Congress by the interests which asserted their right to poison the people for a profit.

Congress refused to authorize the preparation of a great plan of waterway development in the general interests, and for ten year has declined to pass the Appalachian and White Mountain National Forest bill, although the people are practically unanimous for both.

The whole Nation is in favor of protecting the coal and other natural resources in Alaska, yet they are still in grave danger of being absorbed by the special interests. And as for the general conservation movement, Congress not only refused to help it on, but tried to forbid any progress without its help. Fortunately for us all, in this attempt it has utterly failed.

This loss of confidence in Congress is a matter for deep concern to every thinking American. It has not come quickly or

{Begin page no. 137}

without good reason. Every man who knows Congress well knows the names of Senators and members who betray the people they were elected to represent, and knows also the names of the masters whom they obey. A representative of the people who wears the collar of the special interests has touched bottom. He can sink no farther.

Who is to blame because representatives of the people are so commonly led to betray their trust? We all are-we who have not taken the trouble to resent and put an and to the knavery we knew was going on. The brand of politics served out to us by the professional politician has long been composed largely of hot meals for the interests and hot air for the people, and we have all known it.

Political platforms are not sincere statements of what the leaders of a party really believe, but rather forms of words which those leaders think they can get others to believe they believe. The realities of the

Top

{Begin page no. 138}

regular political game lie at present far beneath the surface; many of the issues advanced are mere empty sound; while the issues really at stake must be sought deep down in the politics of business-in politics for revenue only. All this the people realize as they never did before, and, what is more, they are ready to act on their knowledge.

Some of the men who are responsible for the union of business and politics may be profoundly dishonest, but more of them are not. They were trained in a wrong school, and they cannot forget their training. Clay hardens by immobility-men's minds by standing pat. Both lose the power to take new impressions. Many of the old-style leaders regard the political truths which alone insure the progress of the Nation, and will hereafter completely dominate it, as the mere meaningless babble of political infants. They have grown old in the belief that money has the right to rule, and they can never

{Begin page no. 139}

understand the point of view of the men who recognize in the corrupt political activity of a railroad or a trust a most dangerous kind of treason to government by the people.

When party leaders go wrong, it requires a high sense of public duty, true courage, and a strong belief in the people for a man in politics to take his future in his hands and stand against them.

The black shadow of party regularity as the supreme test in public affairs has passed away from the public mind. It is a great deliverance. The man in the street longer asks about a measure or a policy merely whether it is good Republican or good Democratic doctrine. Now he asks whether it is honest, and means what it says, whether it will promote the public interest weaken special privilege, and help to give every man a fair chance. If it will, it is good, no matter who proposed it. If it will not, it is bad, no matter who defends it.

Top

{Begin page no. 140}

It is a greater thing to be a good citizen than to be a good Republican or a good Democrat.

The protest against politics for revenue only is as strong in one party as in the other, for the servants of the interests are plentiful in both. In that respect there is little to chose between them.

Differences of purpose and belief between political parties to-day are vastly less than the differences within the parties. The great gulf of division which strikes across our whole people pays little heed to fading party lines, or to any distinction in name only. The vital separation is between the partisans of government by money for profit and the believers in government by men for human welfare.

When political parties come to be badly led, when their leaders lose touch with the people, when their object ceases to be everybody's welfare and becomes somebody's profit, it is time to change the leaders. One

{Begin page no. 141}

of the most significant facts of the time is that the professional politicians appear to be wholly unaware of the great moral change which has come over political thinking in the last decade. They fail to see that the political dogmas, the political slogans, and the political methods of the past generation have lost their power, and that our people have come at last to judge of politics by the eternal rules of right and wrong.

A new life is stirring among the dry bones of formal platforms and artificial issues. Morality has broken into politics. Political leaders, Trust-bred and Trust-fed, find it harder and harder to conceal their actual character. The brass-bound collar of privilege has become plain upon their necks for all men to see. They are known for what they are, and their time is short. But when they come to be retired it will be of little use to replace an unfaithful public servant who wears the collar by another public servant with the same collar around his neck. Above

Top

{Begin page no. 142}

all, what we need in every office is free men representing a free people.

The motto in every primary-in every election-should be this: No watch-dogs of the Interest need apply.

The old order, standing pat in dull failure to sense the great forward sweep of a nation determined on honesty and publicity in public affairs, is already wearing thin under the ceaseless hammering of the progressive onset. The demand of the people for political progress will not be denied. Does any man, not blinded by personal interest or by the dust of political dry rot, suppose that the bulk of our people are anything else but progressive? If such there be, let him ask the young men, in whose minds the policies of to-morrow first see the light.

The people of the United States demand a new deal and a square deal. They have grasped the fact that the special interests are now in control of public affairs. They

{Begin page no. 143}

have decided once more to take control of their own business. For the last ten years the determination to do so has been swelling like a river. They insist that the special interests shall go out of politics or out of business-one or the other. And the choice will lie with the interests themselves. If they resist, both the interests and the people will suffer. If wisely they accept the inevitable, the adjustment will not be hard. It will do their business no manner of harm to make it conform to the general welfare. But one way or the other, conform it must.

The overshadowing question before thee American people to-day is this: Shall the Nation govern itself or shall the interests run this country? The one great political demand, underlying all others, giving meaning to all others, is this: The special interests must get out of politics. The old-style leaders, seeking to switch public attention away from this one absorbing and overwhelming issue are pitifully ridiculous and

Top

{Begin page no. 144}

out of date. To try to divert the march of an aroused public conscience from this righteous inevitable conflict by means of obsolete political catchwords is like trying to dam the Mississippi with dead leaves.

To drive the special interests out of politics is a vast undertaking, for in politics lies their strength. If they resist, as doubtless they will, it will call for nerve, endurance, and sacrifice on the part of the people. It will be no child's play, for the power of privilege is great. But the power of our people is greater still, and their steadfastness is equal to the need. The task is a tremendous one, both in the demands it will make and the rewards it will bring. It must be undertaken soberly, carried out firmly and justly, and relentlessly followed to the very end. Two things alone can bring success. The first is honesty in public men, without which no popular government can long succeed. The second is complete publicity of all the affairs in which the public has an interest,

{Begin page no. 145}

such as the business of corporations and political expenses during campaigns and between them. To these ends, many unfaithful public servants must be retired, much wise legislation must be framed and passed, and the struggle will be bitter and long. But it will be well worth all it will cost, for self-government is at stake.

There can be no legislative cure-all for great political evils, but legislation can make easier the effective expression and execution of the popular will. One step in this direction, which I personally believe should be taken without delay, is a law forbidding any Senator or Member of Congress or other public servant to perform any services for any corporation engaged in interstate commerce, or to accept any valuable consideration, directly or indirectly, from any such corporation, while he is a representative of the people, and for a reasonable time thereafter. If such a law would be good for the Nation in its affairs, a similar law should

{Begin page no. 146}

be good for the States and the cities in their affairs. And I see no reason why Members and Senators and State Legislators should not keep the people informed of their pecuniary interest in interstate or public service corporations, if they have any. It is certain such publicity would do the public no harm. This Nation has decided to do away with government by money for profit and return to the government our forefathers died for and gave to us-government by men for human welfare and human progress.

Opposition to progress has produced its natural results. There is profound dissatisfaction and unrest, and profound cause for both. Yet the result is good, for at last the country is awake. For a generation at least there has not been a situation so promising for the ultimate public welfare as that of to-day. Our people are like a hive of bees, full of agitation before taking flight to a better place. Also they are ready to sting. Out of the whole situation

{Begin page no. 147}

shines the confident hope of better things. If any man is discouraged, let him consider the rise of cleaner standards in this country within the last ten years.

The task of translating these new standards into action lies before us. From sea to sea the people are taking a fresh grip on their own affairs. The conservation of political liberty will take its proper place alongside the conservation of the means of living, and in both we shall look to the permanent welfare by the plain people as the supreme end. The way out lies in direct interest by the people in their own affairs and direct action in the few great things that really count.

What is the conclusion of the whole matter? The special interests must be put out of politics. I believe the young men will do it.

Top