Dept. of History


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt demonstrated tremendous foresight by organizing a conference of state governors, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices to address what he considered “the weightiest problem” facing the United States: diminishing natural resources. In the gathering’s opening address, he articulated his concerns as follows: “The occasion for the meeting lies in the fact that the natural resources of our country are in danger of exhaustion if we permit the old wasteful methods of exploiting them longer to continue.” A year prior, in his annual address to Congress, Roosevelt stated, “Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.” Although Roosevelt was exceptionally farsighted in his accomplishments in land protection and resource conservation, his ideas did not emerge out of nowhere. Previous efforts to explain Roosevelt’s policies and the roots of environmentalism primarily have focused on the influences of other late nineteenth and early twentieth-century wilderness advocates, including proponents of the preservationist and conservationist movements. In an article entitled “The American Environmental Movement,” for example, scholar D. T. Kuzmiak includes a general overview of the origins of environmentalism. But his treatment of the contributions prior to Roosevelt is meager and relegated to merely two pages. Roosevelt and his contemporaries were undeniably important for their contributions to wilderness protection; however, this thesis attempts to trace the origins of environmentalist attitudes by emphasizing often overlooked connections among various groups and exploring lesser-known figures and ideas. By examining the Native Americans’ relationship with nature, early religious attitudes toward wilderness, the ideas of nineteenth-century Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and the writings and actions of environmentalist icons including John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, a more comprehensive understanding of the American environmental movement is attained.


B. A.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts.




Conservation of natural resources -- United States -- History; Environmental policy -- United States; Nature conservation -- United States -- History -- 20th century


Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919


Origins of environmentalism; Puritans; Quakers; Transcendentalism; Muir; Theodore Roosevelt


Political History | United States History

Document Type



47 leaves