This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
An amazing product of our day is the widespread preaching of the gospel. The old familiar message is heard in most unfamiliar places, spoken, sometimes, by most un-Christian voices. The churches are not always keen to recognize this, nor to proclaim the unity of the gospel message, by whomsoever preached. It was the sheer greatness of Paul the apostle that, whether Christ was preached of envy and strife, or of love and good will, he could say sincerely, "I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." Moreover, the artificial separation between sacred things and secular affairs is surely passing away; the law of the Kingdom is at work both in commercial and political life. While the churches have slowly—very slowly—sought to recover their alienated message of stewardship, the American government has launched an active stewardship campaign which is genuinely Christian. And herein appears the largeness of the stewardship revival into which the churches are just now beginning to reenter; for real revival must be as wide as all our wide human interests.
Within the past twenty years a new word has entered into the vocabulary of patriotic Americans. It is the word "conservation" Conservation is an extension of the Christian law of stewardship, which is the law of rational living. The royal doctrine of stewardship has been too often narrowed, as though it were a "financial plan," whereas it is a fundamental purpose, and underlies the whole meaning of life itself. It is related to material things only because material things are related to the higher life. Stewardship marks a man's attitude toward property and income, and therefore expresses his relation to the social order. This we shall see directly. But stewardship also covers the whole wide field of conservation, and therefore defines a man's attitude toward natural resources. This is simply another way of saying that the policy of conservation is the practical recognition that a man is to administer and not exploit the generous supplies of nature. The mere statement of it is an almost sufficient discussion.
Some men have thought they "owned" the land, and, being "owners," they could do as they pleased with their "own." The first blunder was of ethics, and the second of ignorance. Gifford Pinchot says, "The heart of the conservation policy is development and use." This is spoken of the wide national domain, but it is even more true of the soil itself. Stewardship recognizes that a man cannot "own" the soil, he has no absolute lordship over it at all, but is in honor bound to preserve it in its full productive strength. If it be suggested that intelligent selfishness, no less than honorable stewardship, is bound also to preserve the soil, we have no desire to join words in unprofitable debate. This book is not a preachment. We are not writing of life motives nor of the religious instinct. We are dealing with natural forces in the material world. The protein and carbohydrates of the soil will respond to intelligent treatment in any case; but this we say, that stewardship is the only attitude of a man toward natural resources that can stand the strain of a continuous and therefore successful program of conservation. It is suggestive of an awakened public conscience and a widening public intelligence that the federal government is deliberately undertaking a vast policy of stewardship, which shall administer the soil for the living and preserve it for generations yet unborn. An enormous financial loss, with demoralizing poverty among thousands of the people, has already been suffered because, until recently, there was no avowed policy of stewardship on the part of the government. The nation, for the most part, was under the persuasion that the principal business, if not the sole function, of government, was to preserve order and police the land, while the people themselves engaged in a free competitive struggle to get the most they could out of the country—"first come first served." The most costly result of such unthinking trusteeship on the part of the government has been improvident farming and the consequent impoverishment of the soil. Instances can be named, positively without limit. They can be noted in any township, east or west.
Perhaps the most flagrant mistake, and far the most costly, has been in the Southern States among the cotton plantations, where the curse of improvident slavery finally struck the very soil itself. It was not emancipation that impoverished the South, but its own stricken soil, which could no longer carry the white wealth of the world's finest cotton. Cotton was planted and cotton grew, but where the cotton came there came the boll-weevil also. Nor could the pest be dislodged by the most expert skill. The very fiber of the plant itself seemed to invite it, as an anaemic person invites disease. Not only did the quality of the cotton deteriorate, but the yield per acre steadily diminished, until, in many parts of the old South, planters feared that "King Cotton" had forever deserted them, and capital was turned into manufacturing interests.
Now, as a matter of fact, the Southern American States are, and will continue to be, the great cotton belt of this planet. But the soil of Alabama, just as the soil of the Dakotas, refuses to be "owned." It will yield its richness only to the hands of faithful stewardship. Within the past few years, and largely within recent months, most remarkable results have been tabulated in illustration of this absolute law of the soil. Under the direction of the Department of Agriculture of the federal government, wide-reaching experiments have been conducted in intensive cotton cultivation. By giving the soil both "food and air," and always bearing in mind "next year," fields that had become all but barren are now yielding profitable crops, the yield increasing from year to year with unfailing regularity. The fiber of the cotton is itself also finer and of greater length. Southern farmers who had become poverty poor, during the shiftless years in which they thought they "owned" the soil, have been given simple and systematic instruction by the Department, and now find themselves, as stewards of the soil, enjoying a competency. "King Cotton" will return to his throne in the South with vastly increased revenues.
Stewardship, as a national policy for the preserving and enriching of the soil, is now recognized in every State. Agricultural schools, agricultural experiment stations, widely diffused literature, and a general public interest, are uniting to make agriculture (what it must ever be if farmers are to enjoy a worthy prosperity) a stewardship and not an ownership of the land. The farmer, more than any other man, is, or certainly ought to be, a steward. The habit of stewardship, in every department of his life, is his one unbending condition of success.
Of less essential value than the stewardship of the soil, and yet of immense interest within recent years, is the current movement toward conserving the natural resources of the nation; that is, its great coal lands, its mines, its natural oil reservoirs, its forests, waterways, and power sites. This is a "Stewardship Movement" on a colossal scale that will mark our generation for the centuries. It is no other than our national confession of faith in the God of the nations. Our extraordinary natural gifts of climate, fuel, waterways, and mineral wealth, are not to be sacrificed for passing gain. Our children's children have rights as well as we. The restless opportunism of the last generation is passing, and, instead of it, stewardship, or, to use its current synonym, conservation, takes the long look. But stewardship will not exploit the present and forget the days to come, any more than it can sacrifice an immediate good in favor of some Utopian future. It provides a competency for to-day and promises a sure support for to-morrow, for stewardship is the divine plan in life and nature.
It is of value, and is indeed a fine comment on the whole broad movement of stewardship as a national revival, to note the slow growth for years of the idea of conservation, and its swift development within the last decade. Thirty years ago Major John W. Powell was director of the Geological Survey, and made many explorations among the arid lands of the West. He pointed out how vast areas might be reclaimed, and his book is even now a classic on that subject. But the people's interest in their own neglected domain was very small, and Major Powell's enthusiasm found few sympathizers. It was not until Theodore Roosevelt was governor of New York that a public executive officer began seriously to develop a public policy of administration with stewardship as a basis. Having under consideration certain bills with reference to water power in the Adirondacks, which affected immediately the conservation of the Adirondack forests, he called to his aid an expert forester, Mr. Gifford Pinchot, with whom he consulted freely.
At Mr. Pinchot's suggestion, Mr. Frederick Haynes Newell, of the Federal Reclamation Service, was sent for, and, as a result of the consultation, the federal government began a systematic measurement of the streams in the State of New York. It was recognized by the New York Legislature that all future control and use of water power within the State must be based on the facts ascertained and published by the federal government. This was in January, 1900. Almost the first act of Mr. Roosevelt when he succeeded Mr. McKinley in the Presidency was to invite Mr. Pinchot and Mr. Newell to the White House to discuss with him at length a policy of national conservation of natural resources, in order that he might prepare memoranda for his first message to Congress.
The Fifty-seventh Congress took the matter in hand, and, after the usual legislative delay, a reclamation bill was passed and became law in June, 1902. The following year Mr. Pinchot and Mr. Newell, together with the land commissioner, were appointed as a Public Lands Commission which should report directly to the President. The commission has done thorough work and formulated some well-considered legislation, part of which has become law. Its finest work has been the wide interest which it has created and the general intelligence diffused. The much-discussed meeting of governors which Mr. Roosevelt called at the White House toward the close of his administration was a further step toward formulating a nation-wide policy of stewardship for all our natural resources.
It is no part of our purpose to discuss the problem of conservation, in itself considered, but only as it illustrates, in broad national outlines, the Christian law of stewardship. We have nothing, therefore, to remark concerning the relative value of federal or State control of the forests, the coal fields, and the mines. This is a question of method and is not related to our present subject. One thing is clear beyond the cavil of words: As there can be no "ownership" of the soil, so there can be no "ownership" of the forests, nor of the waterways, nor of any other open gift of nature. These must be administered for the common good, both for present and for future days. The fact that this conviction has become embedded in our national conscience within the last decade is a high tribute to the men of this generation.
Christian stewardship is a large word. It touches the perimeter of human life. If, as Gifford Pinchot says, development and use are the heart of the conservation policy, so these are the basis of all wealth and every social good. There is equal disaster in covetous greed and in prodigal waste. As stewardship is the only doctrine of property that can insure social justice, so stewardship is the only policy of possession that can at once use and develop our natural resources, and thus conserve our national domain.