Choose one of the following topics: Civil Rights (NAACP?), conservation of natural resources, public health, or medical education and explain how progressivism changed the topic or did not change it.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In my answer, I will discuss the question of whether the Progressives had an impact on the conservation of natural resources.  The Progressives had a very definite impact in this area.  However, we should not think that the Progressives were necessarily environmentalists as we would use the term today.

The Progressives were very interested in the conservation of natural resources.  President Theodore Roosevelt is particularly well-known for his support of this idea.  President Roosevelt wanted to conserve natural resources for two main reasons.  To some degree, Roosevelt wanted to conserve nature for its own sake.  He felt that it was important for people to have a chance to experience nature to some degree.  For example, he issued an executive order in 1903 that created a refuge for pelicans in Florida when they were being overhunted for their feathers.  This refuge was not created for any economic reason but rather as a way of protecting nature.  Roosevelt created many other refuges during his time as president.  He also created new national monuments and national parks. 

However, not all of Roosevelt’s desire for conservation came out of a love of nature.  Roosevelt also wanted to conserve nature for its economic value.  In addition, he wanted to prevent large companies (remember that Roosevelt is famous for his antipathy towards large companies) from overusing natural resources for their own economic good.  Roosevelt wanted to ensure that nature would be exploited, but exploited in a way that was, in his eyes, wise.  Therefore, he created the Bureau of Forestry to try to ensure that forest resources would be used wisely.  He also created the Reclamation Service, which put in dams to irrigate places that had previously been too dry to farm.  These are not necessarily actions that would please environmentalists today because they were meant to exploit nature (albeit in a more sensible way), not to preserve it.

The Progressives, then, had a great impact on the conservation of natural resources in the United States.  They did not necessarily conserve nature for its own sake, but they did do a great deal to protect natural resources from excessive exploitation by big companies.

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