WHAT WERE JEFFERSON'S VIEWS ON CONSERVATION?
> As you probably know, Thomas Jefferson was the very first "private" > owner of Virginia's Natural Bridge. He bought it in 1776 because it so > inspired him and he wanted to protect it. Can you tell me of any TJ > quotes that you are aware of that highlights his profound interest in > conserving, protecting our environment?. Surprisingly enough, there seems to be very little that I am aware of. The only mention I am aware of is in response to his nephew writing to him about the uses of "waste" land. He answered: "So careful is the law [in England] against permitting a deterioration of the land, that though it will permit such improvement in the same line, as manuring arable lands, leading water into pasture lands, etc., yet it will not permit improvements in a different line, such as erecting buildings, converting pasture into arable, etc., lest this should lead to a deterioration. Hence we might argue in Virginia, that though the cutting down of forest in Virginia is, in our husbandry, rather an improvement generally, yet it is not so always, and therefore it is safer never to admit it. Consequently, there is not reason for adopting different rules of waste here than those established in England." --Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1792. ME 8:384 What he is suggesting in the above quote is a very conservative approach to land management. The system he outlines would keep lands as they are, only allowing for improvements that did not change its present usage. Converting lands to a different type of usage would be allowed only after due and deliberate consideration. In a completely undeveloped country, such as Virginia at that time, change from one usage to another might be more acceptable, otherwise the life of man would be impaired. But at later stages, a more restrictive policy might be appropriate. In Jefferson's time, the nation was faced with a vast amount of undeveloped land and resources, and conservation was hardly something for much concern. More often, Jefferson thought was directed at the use and development of what we had, such as when he wrote: "A people, occupied as we are, in opening rivers, digging navigable canals, making roads, building public schools, establishing academies, erecting busts and statues to our great men, protecting religious freedom, abolishing sanguinary punishments, reforming and improving our laws in general... --these are... the occupations of a people at their ease." --Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 1786. ME 5:438 "I experience great satisfaction at seeing my country proceed to facilitate the intercommunications of its several parts, by opening rivers, canals and roads. How much more rational is this disposal of public money, than that of waging war." --Thomas Jefferson to James Ross, 1786. ME 5:320 It is not until much later in our nation's history that there appeared to be real threats to the environment. Jefferson's thought tended to focus mainly on problems at hand.
Table of Contents