« AnteriorContinuar »
concerned. * * * It appears to us that few public interests are more obvious, indisputable and independent of particular theory than the interest of a State to maintain the rivers that are wholly within it substanially undiminished, except by such drafts upon them as the guardian of the public welfare may permit for the purpose of turning them to a more perfect use. The public interest is omnipresent whenever there is a State, and grows more pressing as population grows. We are of opinion, further, that the constitutional power of the State to insist that its natural advantages shall remain unimpaired by its citizens is not dependent upon any nice estimate of the extent of present use or speculation as to future needs. The legal conception of the necessary is apt to be confined to somewhat rudimentary wants, and there are benefits from a great river that might escape a lawyer's view. But the State is not required to submit even to an aesthetic analysis. Any analysis may be inadequate. It finds itself in possession of what all admit to be a public good, and what it has it may keep and give no one a reason for its will.” There are those in this country who desire to monopolize the water powers on our rivers and streams, who are eager to grab our forests, who desire to seize upon great areas of coal lands and use them all for their own private aggrandizement, to the detriment of the people of the country. To such individuals the opinion of the New Jersey Court is “socialistic.” But that much socialism we can all applaud, and we need not be ashamed to admit that we are, to that extent, all socialists. The Supreme Court of Maine was also “socialistic,” in this sense, when it handed down an opinion of which the following is a part : “First, such (private) property is not the result of productive labor, but is derived solely from the State itself, the original owner; second, the amount of land being incapable of increase, if the owners of large tracts can waste them at will without State restriction, the State and the people may be hopelessly impoverished and one great purpose of government defeated. * * * We do not think the proposed legislation would operate to “take' private property within the inhibition of the Constitution. While it might restrict the owner of wild and uncultivated lands in his use of them, might delay his taking some of the product, might delay his anticipated product and even thereby might cause him some loss of profit, it would, nevertheless, leave him his lands, their product and increase, untouched, and without diminution of title, estate or quantity. He would still have large measure of control and large opportunity to realize value. He might suffer delay but not deprivation.”
If such reasoning be sound common sense—and it surely is—with regard to private property, is it not all the more applicable to public property? Is there any sense in the public's giving away in perpetuity a water power site, for instance, and then being brought face to face with that water power site used by rapacious private enterprise to oppress and harass those who gave it? Private enterprise ought to be made to understand that its use of such public property shall be so restricted that only reasonable returns upon its actual investment of money shall be allowed it for the services it gives to the public; it is services and not the use of its own property for which the public should pay.
At the Conference of Governors held a year and a half ago in the White House at Washington, Mr. Andrew Carnegie informed us that for every ton of coal that has been put to practical use in this country one and a half tons have been wasted. Is it not time that the remaining public coal lands now belonging to the public shall be preserved from private spoilation? Our coal supply is too near extinction to permit the wasteful methods that have prevailed to continue.
Iron, copper, oil, and other minerals have enabled those who exploited them to reap enormous fortunes—fortunes that too often have been used to the detriment of the public good. Such minerals belong to the whole people. Is there any sound reason in morals or political economy, to say nothing of fundamental law, why the public should not regulate the use and abuse of these natural resources and cause them to be so exploited that they shall be neither unnecessarily wasted nor made the means of oppressing those who are compelled to use them?
No men ought to be willing to expose his ignorance enough to deny that our forests are essential to the navigation of our rivers, to the proper irrigation of our arid and semi-arid lands, and to the prevention of disastrous floods. We have, however, given over to the devastating axe and firebrand of private enterprise three-fourths of all our magnificent forests, the like of which no other country has even seen. The air you breathe here today is thick with the smoke of burning forests, once, if not now, the property of the people. Experts inform us that, at their present use and waste, they will all be gone in less than half a century. Is there any reason why the Government should turn back to public entry one single acre of the forest lands which were withdrawn under Roosevelt and Garfield 2 Is it not best that all the public forests should continue to be public forests?
Private enterprise has swung the axe and wielded the firebrand until whole States have been swept bare of their forests. True, several States had to be thus denuded in order that the settler might find acres to cultivate. But how about the mountain slopes along the headwaters of our rivers? The annual destructive floods in the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Sacramento, the Tennessee and all our great rivers, caused by the denuded forest lands, give eloquent answers.
Public forests continue to give timber and lumber for the needs of those who maintain them. Germany's public forests, not one quarter so good as ours, are among her most valuable assets. Spain suffers because she permitted her forests to be destroyed. And thousands of Chinese starve and drown every year because their rulers did not have sense enough to see that forests are essential to a nation's prosperity.
At the National Rivers and Harbors Congress, held in Washington two years ago, Mr. J. J. Hill informed us that it will require five billions of dollars to put our railroads in condition properly to handle the business of the country. Experts of the National Conservation Commission tell us that for one-tenth of that sum, viz., for five hundred millions of dollars, the rivers of the country can be so improved as to develop navigation, drainage, power, and irrigation possibilities, relieve the railroads, take care of floods, and make homes of desert places. Could five hundred millions of dollars of the people's money be better invested for the public good? Yet there are men, some of them in high station, who say that the Government of the United States, which is, or ought to be, nothing more or less than the people themselves, should do nothing under any circumstances to interfere with private enterprise and should throw no practical and practicable obstacle between the rapacity of private enterprise and the people. I stand upon the proposition that the Government of the United States, which is the people, is false to itself and false to those whom it represents if it does not exert all its powers to make the burdens of the people, both present and future, as light as they possibly can be made.
I can conceive of no more pitiful object than a nation composed of but two classes, the rich and the poor. China's toiling, hungry millions and India's starving hordes are object lessons which should give all patriotic Americans pause. It is true that posterity has done nothing for us. But he is a poor apology for an American who is not willing to do what he can to make the lives of all future American citizens as pleasant as possible. To say that every man should be permitted to grab and hold what he can of our natural resources is equivalent to saying that one has no objections to so arranging matters that our future American citizenship shall be composed of a few very rich and millions of very poor people. Such a doctrine is, to me, repugnant from every possible standpoint. It is neither decent nor patriotic. Let me conclude by quoting the last paragraph of President Roosevelt's address at the Conference of Governors: “Let us remember that the conservation of our natural resources, though the greatest problem of today, is yet but a part of another and greater problem to which this Nation is not yet awake, but to which it will awake in time, and with which it must hereafter grapple if it is to live—the problem of national efficiency, the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the Nation. When the people of the United States consciously undertake to raise themselves as citizens, and the Nation and the States in their several spheres, to the highest pitch of excellence in private, State and national life, and to do this because it is the first of all the duties of true patriotism, then and not till then the future of this Nation in quality and in time will be assured.”