By: U.S. Congress and Theodore Roosevelt
Date: June 8, 1906
Source: U.S. Congress and Theodore Roosevelt. An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities S. 4698. Public, No. 209. June 8, 1906.
About the Author: Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) was the youngest man to serve as president of the United States (served 1901–1909). He was the vice president when he ascended to the presidency in 1901, at age forty-two, after the assassination of President William McKinley. Known for his boundless energy, Roosevelt had already been a rancher, assistant secretary of the navy, governor of New York, assemblyman, and sheriff. He had also written over forty books and had organized his own cavalry regiment in the Spanish-American War (1898). During his presidency, he promoted conservation and publicly fought against trusts.
Prior to the late nineteenth century, Americans were not especially concerned about preserving the natural environment. One reason was the seemingly endless supply of resources such as vast forests, rich gold streams, and huge buffalo herds. It soon became obvious that these resources were not endless. Many gold streams were tapped out, buffalo herds had been greatly reduced in numbers, and many forests had disappeared. Wildlife species were also becoming extinct, as had, for instance, the passenger pigeon in 1912.
People finally showed interest in preserving rural green space and planning for urban parks. New York City's Central Park was created in the 1860s, and a variety of conservation movements sprang up throughout the country. Some called for preservation of natural resources by setting aside areas for little or no use in order to save them. Others promoted planned development through a judicious process of preserving resources for future use. Theodore Roosevelt, who had been a rancher and sheriff in the West, belonged to the second group. At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States had few national parks; the first was Yellowstone, which had been established as recently as 1872. In an effort to create more national parks and forests, the president pushed for legislation that would allow him to set aside territory for preservation. This did not come without opposition, and Congress passed a bill restricting Roosevelt's power. So Roosevelt moved quickly to add more forests and water areas before the bill went into effect.
The result of Roosevelt's efforts was An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, which went into effect in June 1906 and allowed the president to protect many of America's natural treasures. It was one of the weapons Roosevelt used to greatly increase the size of national parks and forests, adding more land than all of the previous presidents combined. He also issued executive orders to add land to national forests, thus limiting development. Even today, the federal government owns much of the western part of the United States.
The debate over "proper" use of America's natural resources has continued, and management has become a complex issue. In the 1930s, many dams were built, turning land into lakes, creating waterfront areas, and providing a cheap form of electrical power. Over time, though, rivers that had been dammed to build lakes often filled up with silt and did not function well. Questions also arose about the right to use water, particularly in the water-starved West. Since the 1930s, people havetried to clean up rivers and to balance the benefits of a dam against damage to a river. In addition, overuse of national parks and forests has caused damage, as resorts built in many of the western parks have encroached on forests and killed many old trees. Efforts to prevent forest fires have prevented the birth of new redwoods, since existing redwoods need flames to open seeds. The battle over use of resources continues as some interest groups promote oil drilling in the Arctic National Forest. So while An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities and similar legislation represented significant advances, the issue is not dead.
Primary Source: An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities
SYNOPSIS: Section 1 of the act establishes penalties for misuse or destruction of federal lands; Section 2 gives the president power to designate national lands, historic landmarks, and historic structures; Section 3 allows for the preservation of ancient sites for educational and scientific purposes; and Section 4 specifies publication of provisions of the act.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fide unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.
Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which they may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulations as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gathering shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.
Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.
Approved, June 8, 1906.
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