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Message to Congress on the Use of Our National Resources

January 24, 1935

To the Congress:

During the three or four centuries of white men on the American continent, we find a continuous striving of civilization against Nature. It is only in recent years that we have learned how greatly by these processes we have harmed Nature and Nature in turn has harmed us.

We should not too largely blame our ancestors, for they found such teeming riches in woods and soil and water, such abundance above the earth and beneath it, such freedom in the taking, that they gave small heed to the results that would follow the filling of their own immediate needs. Most of them, it is true, had come from many-peopled lands where necessity had invoked the preserving of the bounties of Nature. But they had come here for the obtaining of a greater freedom, and it was natural that freedom of conscience and freedom of government should extend itself in their minds to the unrestricted enjoyment of the free use of land and water.

Furthermore, it is only within our own generation that the development of science, leaping forward, has taught us where and how we have violated Nature's immutable laws, and where and how we can commence to repair such havoc as man has wrought.

In recent years little groups of earnest men and women have told us of this havoc: of the cutting of our last stands of virgin timber; of the increasing floods; of the washing away of millions of acres of our top soils; of the lowering of our water-tables; of the dangers of one-crop farming; of the depletion of our minerals—in short, of all the evils that we have brought upon ourselves today and the even greater evils that will attend our children unless we act.

Such is the condition that attends the exploitation of our natural resources if we continue our planless course.

But another element enters in. Men and Nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of Nature throws out of balance also the lives of men. We find millions of our citizens stranded in village and on farm—stranded there because Nature cannot support them in the livelihood they had sought to gain through her. We find other millions gravitated to centers of population so vast that the laws of natural economics have broken down.

If the misuse of natural resources alone were concerned, we should consider our problem only in terms of land and water. It is because misuse extends to what men and women are doing with their occupations and to their many mistakes in herding themselves together that I have chosen, in addressing the Congress, to use the broader term "National Resources."

For the first time in our national history we have made an inventory of our national assets and the problems relating to them. For the first time we have drawn together the foresight of the various planning agencies of the Federal Government and suggested a method and a policy for the future.

I am sending you herewith the report of the National Resources Board, appointed by me on June 30, 1934, to prepare the comprehensive survey which so many of us have sought so long. I transmit also the report made by the Mississippi Valley Committee of the Public Works Administration, which Committee has also acted as the Water Planning Committee in the larger report.

These documents constitute a remarkable foundation for what we hope will be a permanent policy of orderly development in every part of the United States. It is a large subject but it is a great and inspiring subject. May I commend to each and every one of you who constitute the Congress of the United States a careful reading of these reports.

In this inventory of our national wealth we follow the custom of prudent people toward their own private property. We as a Nation take stock of what we as a Nation own. We consider the uses to which it can be put. We plan these uses in the light of what we want to be, of what we want to accomplish as a people. We think of our land and water and human resources not as static and sterile possessions but as life-giving assets to be administered by wise provision for future days. We seek to use our natural resources not as a thing apart but as something that is interwoven with industry, labor, finance, taxation, agriculture, homes, recreation, good citizenship. The results of this interweaving will have a greater influence on the future American standard of living than all the rest of our economics put together.

For the coming eighteen months I have asked the Congress for four billion dollars for public projects. A substantial portion of this sum will be used for objectives suggested in this report. As years pass the Government should plan to spend each year a reasonable and continuing sum in the development of this program. It is my hope, for example, that after the immediate crisis of unemployment begins to mend, we can afford to appropriate approximately five hundred million dollars each year for this purpose. Eventually this appropriation should replace all such appropriations given in the past without planning.

A permanent National Resources Board, toward the establishment of which we should be looking forward, would recommend yearly to the President and the Congress priority of projects in the national plan. This will give to the Congress, as is entirely proper, the final determination in relation to the projects and the appropriations involved.

As I have already stated, it is only because of the current emergency of unemployment and because of the physical impossibility of surveying, weighing and testing each and every project that a segregation of items is clearly impossible at the moment.

For the same reason the constituting of fixed and permanent administrative machinery would retard the immediate employment objective.

Our goal must be a national one. Achievements in the arts of communication, of transportation, of mechanized production, of agriculture, of mining and of power, do not minimize the rights of State Governments but they go far beyond the economics of State boundaries.

Only through the growth of thought and action in terms of national economics, can we best serve individual lives in individual localities.

It is, as these Reports point out, an error to say that we have "conquered Nature." We must, rather, start to shape our lives in more harmonious relationship with Nature. This is a milestone in our progress toward that end. The future of every American family everywhere will be affected by the action we take.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress on the Use of Our National Resources Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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