Tuesday, January 29, 2019

James Tackach's "Lincoln and the Natural Environment"

James Tackach is a professor of English at Roger Williams University and the president of the Lincoln Group of Boston. He is the author of Lincoln’s Moral Vision: The Second Inaugural Address and numerous articles on Abraham Lincoln.

Tackach applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lincoln and the Natural Environment, and reported the following:
Lincoln and the Natural Environment presents an environmental biography of Abraham Lincoln. The book traces Lincoln’s relationship to and attitudes on the natural environment from his childhood and young adulthood on family farms through his tenure in the White House, a relationship that was complicated and still evolving at the time of his death. As a young man, Lincoln wished to distance himself from the hard work of living close to the environment; he considered his farming life as “stinted living.” Living so close to and dependent upon the environment also made farmers vulnerable to environmental events; a drought or an early or late frost could push a farm family toward starvation. Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine years old of an environmental disease, milk sickness, caused by drinking fresh milk from cows that had ingested the snakeroot plant, which grew randomly in the meadows of the Midwest. Lincoln escaped the farming life by studying the law and entering politics. As a politician, Lincoln embraced the Whig Party platform of “internal improvements,” the creation of roads, bridges, canals, railroads, which were human attempts to shape and control the natural environment.

As president, Lincoln and his administration waged the Civil War, perhaps the most catastrophic environmental event in United States history. Nonetheless, he opened himself to policies that would enhance the environment in time of war. He enhanced the Department of Agriculture, signed the Morrill Act, which established the land-grant colleges, and he established the National Academy of Sciences.

Page 99 of my book details Lincoln most far-reaching environmental action: his signing of the Yosemite Valley Grant Act. This law, introduced by John Conness, a U.S. senator from California, deeded thousands of acres of federal land in Yosemite Valley to the state of California for “public use, resort, and recreation.” This measure was the forerunner to the establishment of the nation’s National Parks. The measure also set a new precedent: The federal government would take measures to manage and protect the natural environment.
Learn more about Lincoln and the Natural Environment at the Southern Illinois University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue