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Remarks at the Swearing In of Rogers C. B. Morton as Secretary of the Interior.

January 29, 1971

WE WILL now have the swearing in of the new Secretary of the Interior.

And before the ceremony takes place, I should like to point out that it is a happy coincidence that Mr. Justice Stewart, who will swear in the new Secretary of the Interior, Rogers Morton, was a classmate of the new Secretary of the Interior at Yale a few years ago.

[At this point, Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, administered the oath of office. The President then resumed speaking.]

It shows you these Yale men can read, anyway.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Justice Stewart, members of the Cabinet, Mr. Former Secretary Udall, all of the distinguished guests who are gathered here today:

I would like to speak just briefly in this historic room on this very special occasion of the swearing in of a new Secretary of the Interior, because I think it is appropriate to point out how the position now has far more meaning even than it had then during the period of Theodore Roosevelt's bringing such great interest in this subject to all of the American people.

Theodore Roosevelt was known as the man who was the great conservationist, and he was a great conservationist because he deeply believed in conserving the natural resources of this country, the beauty of America.

He was a man of the outdoors; he loved the outdoors. He was a man of the West; he traveled extensively through the West. And some way his spirit was contagious. Americans who never got to the West, and most didn't, Americans who never visited a park, and the great majority never did or never have even today, some way were inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, the great conservationist of 70 years ago.

Now we are swearing in a new Secretary of the Interior. I could refer to him, too, as being a man of the outdoors, which he is. I can refer to him, too, as one who loves the West, which he does, and he travels much through the West.

But the position is different. The charge that I give to the new Secretary of the Interior is not just conservation. That is perhaps a part of the job, a very important part, conserving what we have. But the charge is restoration, restoration of the beauty of this country which has been so marred by what we have done to it in these recent years.

Restoration and also relevancy; and by relevancy--this is something that I touched upon very briefly in the State of the Union. Having those magnificent parks in the West, which I have been to, and many of us have had the privilege of visiting, means very little to people in the great cities of the East and the West and the others who never have been to Yellowstone, and perhaps will never have a chance to go, or to the Grand Canyon, even to Yosemite.

And that is why we have a program which is imaginative and novel, and one that I think is quite exciting, of bringing parks to the people, conserving and developing those that we have in the West, the great beauty of this country, but also bringing them to the people so that the people, the majority of the people, will have an opportunity to know, just a little, how beautiful this country is.

And it is truly a beautiful country. And we have a chance to make it more beautiful.

One little personal anecdote: Some of you in the press, I see, were here when I took a little walking tour in New York a few months ago. And I went by the apartment house where I used to live. I looked for an elevator operator who was one of my very good friends there. One of the reasons was we were born on the same day in 1913, January 9.

He had lived all of his life in New York, except for one brief period just before World War II when he had gone across the country. He used to speak almost wistfully of how beautiful that country was and how much he wished that he could afford to take his family out to see the parks, the real beauty of America out across this country.

I realized that he was one of millions of people in this country living in great cities, but who never really have the chance to enjoy the beauty of America, not simply because of the smog, not simply because of the crime, not simply because of the noise and the traffic, and all of the other things that make city life more and more unbearable, but because we have not thought enough about our responsibility not simply to conserve those beautiful places in America where a few of us who can afford it can go to see them but to bring that beauty very close to people, so that the great majority, all the people of America, could have just a little chance to enjoy it, to appreciate it, to get the lift, the inspiration of being outdoors and then of coming inside and feeling a little better about that task, that sometimes very dull and routine task, that we have to go on day after day, year after year.

It is because I think Rogers Morton has this feeling in his heart, because he loves the outdoors, because he spoke to me about the environment very feelingly long before I became a candidate for President in 1968, because he is committed to not only restoring the environment of this country, but to the renewal of this Nation throughout its natural beauty, and because he wants to bring the beauty of America to the people, make it relevant; it is for this reason that I think he has the greatest opportunity of any Secretary of the Interior in history.

And I think Theodore Roosevelt in this historic room, if he were here today, would say, "This is a great time. This is an exciting time." And I believe it is a time that requires a big man for a big job.

We have a big man, big in every way.

Note: The President spoke at 10:22 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

Stewart L. Udall was Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969.

Secretary Morton's response to the President's remarks is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 7, P. 129).

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Swearing In of Rogers C. B. Morton as Secretary of the Interior. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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