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Conservation in the Progressive Era
A Letter from President Roosevelt

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt created the National Conservation Commission. In 1909, the Commission delivered a report to the Congress of the United States that provided an inventory of the nation's natural resources. Accompanying the report to Congress was a letter written by President Roosevelt. The following excerpts are from that letter. The report and letter can be found in Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Why does President Roosevelt believe that resource conservation is such an urgent matter? What roles for government and for citizens does Roosevelt spell out in his letter? What does Roosevelt mean when he uses the term "common good"?

View the document from which this excerpt was taken. Roosevelt's letter is in the first several pages of the document. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

I transmit herewith a report of the National Conservation Commission, together with the accompanying papers. This report, which is the outgrowth of the conference of governors last May, was unanimously approved by the recent joint conference held in this city between the National Conservation Commission and governors of States, state conservation commissions, and conservation committees of great organizations of citizens. It is therefore in a peculiar sense representative of the whole nation and all its parts. . . .

The great basic facts are already well known. We know that our population is now adding about one-fifth to its numbers in ten years, and that by the middle of the present century perhaps one hundred and fifty million Americans, and by its end very many millions more, must be fed and clothed from the products of our soil. With the steady growth in population and the still more rapid increase in consumption, our people will hereafter make greater and not less demands per capita upon all the natural resources for their livelihood, comfort, and convenience. It is high time to realize that our responsibility to the coming millions is like that of parents to their children, and that in wasting our resources we are wronging our descendants. . . .

I desire to make grateful acknowledgment to the men, both in and out of the government service, who have prepared the first inventory of our natural resources. They have made it possible for this nation to take a great step forward. Their work is helping us to see that the greatest questions before us are not partisan questions, but questions upon which men of all parties and all shades of opinion may be united for the common good. Among such questions, on the material side, the conservation of natural resources stands first. It is the bottom round of the ladder on our upward progress toward a condition in which the nation as a whole, and its citizens as individuals, will set national efficiency and the public welfare before personal profit.

The policy of conservation is perhaps the most typical example of the general policies which this Government has made peculiarly its own during the opening years of the present century. The function of our Government is to insure to all its citizens, now and hereafter, their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we of this generation destroy the resources from which our children would otherwise derive their livelihood, we reduce the capacity of our land to support a population, and so either degrade the standard of living or deprive the coming generations of their right to life on this continent. If we allow great industrial organizations to exercise unregulated control of the means of production and the necessaries of life, we deprive the Americans of to-day and of the future of industrial liberty, a right no less precious and vital than political freedom. Industrial liberty was a fruit of political liberty, and in turn has become one of its chief supports, and exactly as we stand for political democracy so we must stand for industrial democracy. . . .

All this is simply good common sense. The underlying principle of conservation has been described as the application of common sense to common problems for the common good. If the description is correct, then conservation is the great fundamental basis for national efficiency. In this stage of the world's history, to be fearless, to be just, and to be efficient are the three great requirements of national life. National efficiency is the result of natural resources well handled, of freedom of opportunity for every man, and of the inherent capacity, trained ability, knowledge, and will, collectively and individually, to use that opportunity.
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View the document from which this excerpt was taken from Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Roosevelt's letter is in the first several pages of the document. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.