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Wealth of NatureEnvironmental History and the Ecological Imagination$
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Donald Worster

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780195092646

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195092646.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 28 September 2021

Private, Public, Personal: Americans and the Land

Private, Public, Personal: Americans and the Land

(p.95) 8 Private, Public, Personal: Americans and the Land
Wealth of Nature

Donald Worster

Oxford University Press

I Sat down the other night to do something I had not done in a long time: read the United States Constitution. Though a short document, only some twelve or thirteen double-columned pages in most printings, it was writing I had not looked at for over a decade. Yet I am an historian of this country. My excuse is that there is not enough time to read most things even once, and twice or more is out of the question. It is a poor excuse; some things we really ought to read more than once in a lifetime—ought to read every year, like Emily Dickinson’s poetry or Henry Thoreau’s book about that pond in Massachusetts. The Constitution is a piece of writing I would recommend reading no more than once a decade. It hasn’t got much of a plot. The language is clear and easy, but lacks eloquence. Its single great virtue is its plain sensibleness, a virtue that has, with many glaring exceptions, stayed with us and become one of our most attractive national qualities. We like to think we are a level-headed people and that this document epitomizes our level-headedness. In a world that often seems to have gone plumb crazy into one fanaticism or another, the Constitution reassures us with its good sense. We can look back to it with relief that our political system was framed by wise, far-sighted people; and unsure today whether we could improve on their wisdom, we usually leave it alone. Now and then we take the document out and actually read it. There is, however, one glaring omission in the Constitution, so immense and damaging that I believe we ought to try to repair it. Nowhere in all the sections, articles, and amendments is there any mention of the American land and our rights and responsibilities pertaining thereto. I find the word “land” appearing only once, and then it refers to rules governing the capture of prisoners “on Land and Water.”

Keywords:   Alaska, Bureaucracies, Feudalism, Land professionals, Nature Conservancy, Public land, Wildlife, Yeoman farmers, Zoning

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