American Environmental History


The University of Virginia rotunda; built by slave labor but dedicated to intellectual freedom.



The growing national crisis over property in land and labor.


“Slavery as an ecological revolution that ignited a national political and moral crisis.”

Nationalism, America as the last great hope of humankind to reform

Emerson, transcendental breaks with Congregationalism to be a Unitarian

Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States

Ideology, a political faith

Manifest destiny, the Protestant missionary zeal tied to land; Free-soil Party


1828-1858, The road to disunion -- fight over western land and new states.


Even in the East did soil, climate and heritage create two nations or one people?


Nature, 1836, Emerson – “there is naked nature.” (idealism)

Journey in the seaboard slave states – as a reality check—1850s. (realism)

The Mexican War, 1846-48, Lincoln’s objection, Thoreau’s imprisonment, poll tax.


Prelude to disunion

            Missouri Compromise of 1820 – extension of the east west boundary

California and the Compromise of 1850 – exception to the 1820 line

The Kansas-Nebraska Act – prairie warfare and the liberal end of compromise

“popular sovereignty” - the Lincoln–Douglas debates; discovery of moral evil.



Jefferson & Jeffersonian – agrarian laissez faire                        Jeffersonian democrats

Hamiltonians  & Hamiltonians– commercial laissez nous faire          Federalists - Whigs


Jeffersonian's – agrarian laissez faire unregulated state banks, Preemption for squatters on federal land, low tariff to encourage cotton, tobacco, tallow exports, no Supreme Court power over state legislatures.


Hamilton – national bank, commercial credit, navigational improvements–

John Marshall Court (federalist)


Together under the stress of civil war would be born the liberal ideal of the corporate state. (Neo liberalism)

Railroad land grants

Land grant colleges

Department of Agriculture

National Academy of the Sciences -- NAS

Yosemite Valley

Abolition of slavery

14th Amendment – definition of citizenship, equal rights and due process



Environmental and ecological history raise questions:


What did Thoreau see that Emerson did not?



What did Olmsted see (as a consequence of the chattel slave systemlegal regime)?



John Wesley Powell as a Jeffersonian vision & Hamiltonians means – Conservation & reclamation policy

Federalism – the appropriate use of the Public Domain & common property resources

            Irrigation Survey of 1888 and the settlement of western timber, mineral and Homestead lands.