Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks at Clarksburg, West Virginia

October 29, 1944

My friends:

This being Sunday, the Governor, cooperating with me in keeping politics out of it, says that he is not even going to introduce me.

I have been here before, and it is a great comfort to come on a Sunday in a campaign year, because on Sundays my life is made much more comfortable by not having to think about politics. Unfortunately, I do have to think about the war, because every day, including Sundays, dispatches come to me, on the train even, to tell me of the progress of our boys in Europe and in the Pacific and in the Philippines. I cannot get rid of that.

Coming up through the State today, I have been looking out of the window, and I think there is a subject that is a good subject for Sunday, because I remember the line in the poem, "Only God can make a tree." And one of the things that people have to realize all over the United States, and I think especially in West Virginia—I don't see the trees I ought to see. That is something that we in this country have fallen down on. We have been using up natural resources that we ought to have replaced. I know we can't replace coal- it will be a long time before all the coal is gone—but trees constitute something that we can replace.

We have to think not just of an annual crop, not just something that we can eat the next year. We have to think of a longer crop, something that takes years to grow, but which in the long run is going to do more good for our children and for our grandchildren than if we leave the hills bare.

I remember a story, and it is taken out of Germany. There was a town there- I don't know what has happened in the last twenty years—but this is back when I used to be in grade school in Germany—and I used to bicycle. And we came to a town, and outside of it there was a great forest. And the interesting thing to me, as a boy even, was that the people in that town didn't have to pay taxes. They were supported by their own forest.

Way back in the time of Louis something of France—the French king was approaching this town with a large army. And the prince of the time asked the townspeople to come out to defend their principality, and he promised them that if they would keep the invader out of the town, out of the principality, he would give them the forest.

The burghers turned out. They repulsed the French king. And very soon the prince made good. He gave the forest to the town. And for over two hundred years that town in Germany had to pay no taxes. Everybody made money, because they had no taxes. In other words, it was a forest on an annual-yield basis. They cut down perhaps seventy percent of what they could get out of that year's mature crop. And every year they planted new trees. And every year the proceeds from that forest paid the equivalent of taxes.

Now that is true more and more in this country. There are more and more municipalities that are reforesting their watersheds, putting trees on the top of their hills, preventing the erosion of soil. They are not on a self-sustaining basis because it has only been started within the last ten or fifteen years. And yet while only God can make a tree, we have to do a little bit to help ourselves.

I think that all of us sort of look at our lives in terms of ourselves, and yet your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, your great-great-grandchildren- some of them will be living right around here, right around where the population is today. Perhaps the old house- perhaps a better, new house. And more and more we are going to think about those grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It doesn't amount to very much, this cost of planting trees, and yet the hillsides of West Virginia of our grandparents' day were much more wonderful than they are now. It's largely a deforested State. And I believe that from the point of view of the beauties of nature, from the point of view of all that trees can be, and from the point of view of your own grandchildren's pocketbooks, the small number of cents, the small number of dollars that go into reforestation are going to come back a thousandfold.

Up where I live, in the country on the Hudson River, my family had—when I was a boy—five or six hundred acres. It wasn't valuable land. And my own father, in the old days, would go in every year and cut the family needs in the way of timber.

When I was a small boy, I realized that there was waste going on; and when I went to the State Senate as a young man, somebody appointed me to the Conservation Committee. Some parts of upstate New York were being eroded, a lot of topsoil was running away, we were getting more floods than we had ever had in the old days.

And just as an experiment, I started planting a few acres each year on run-down land. I tried to pasture some skinny cows on it. And at the same time, I went into the old woods and cleaned out no-account trees, trees that were under grown or would never amount to anything, crooked trees, rotten trees.

Well, the answer was this. When the last war came on, the old woods had some perfectly splendid trees, because I had cleaned them out, cleaned out the poor stuff.

And during that war, I made four thousand dollars, just by cutting out the mature trees. And I kept on every year. And in the winter time, when the men weren't doing much, they cleaned them out. And the trees grew.

And a quarter of a century later, there came this war. I think I cooperated with the Almighty, because I think trees were made to grow. Oh yes, they are useful as mine timbers. I know that. But there are a lot of places in this State where there isn't any mine timber being cut out.

And in this war, back home, I cut last year—and this is not very Christian- over four thousand dollars' worth net of oak trees, to make into submarine chasers and landing craft and other implements of war. And I am doing it again this year.

And I hope that this use of wood is growing, for all kinds of modern inventions, plastics, and so forth. I hope that when I am able to cut some more trees, twenty or twenty-five years from now—it may not be I, it may be one of the boys—we will be able to use them at a profit, not for building mine chasers or landing craft, but for turning them into some humane use.

And I believe that in this country—not in this State only, but in a great many more- we in the next few years, when peace comes, will be able to devote more thought to making our country more useful—every acre of it.

I remember eight years ago, out in the West, we knew that there were great floods and a dry belt in there. We knew, also, that trees bring water and avoid floods. And so we started one of those "crackpot" things, for which I have been criticized, a thing called the shelter belt, to keep the high winds away, to hold the moisture in the soil. And the result is that a great success has been made of that shelter belt. Not much ran downhill and the farmers are getting more crops and better crops out there on the prairies in the lea of these rows of trees.

Forestry pays from the practical point of view. I have proved that. And so I hope to live long enough to see West Virginia with more trees in it. I hope to live to see the day when this generation will be thinking not just of themselves but also of the children and the grandchildren.

I had a happy day this morning in looking out at this wonderful scenery, but I couldn't take my eyes off those bare hilltops. I couldn't take my thoughts off the fact that this generation, and especially the previous generation, have been thinking of themselves and not of the future.

Some day I hope to come back, and I hope to see a great forestry program for the whole of the State. Nearly all of it needs it. I hope to come back and be able to say, "I stopped, once upon a time, in Clarksburg, on a Sunday morning, and just avoided politics and talked to the people in Clarksburg, and they must have heard me all over the State, because they started planting trees."

And so I think my Sunday sermon is just about over. It has been good to see you, and I really do hope that I will come back here, one of these days soon.


Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks at Clarksburg, West Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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