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John Muir and Political Parties of 1870-1900, Essay Example

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Words: 386

Essay

What are the ways in which John Muir’s discourse on “The American Forests” might be described as “progressive” and “unlimited” rhetorically?  JohnMuir’s work was focused on the idea that American forests could be saved from rapid depletion only if managed scientifically – ‘used wisely’. Muir encouraged Americans to develop a greater respect for the environment; he founded the Sierra Club[1], which still functions as a prominent force in the green movement today.

The forests were seen as a form of capital to be invested for future return: trees could be cut for economic gain, and the forest preserved at the same time. Moreover, since forest trees were seen as a crop, they could theoretically be harvested, replanted, and harvested again indefinitely under ‘sustained yield’ management. Muir warned that this metaphor of the accumulation of forest capital appealed to the conservative interests of large forest landowners in contemporary America.

The inflation of the Civil War, the depression of the 1870s, and the national recession of 1873set the stage for the Greenback Party and its more important descendent, the Populists Party. GreenbackParty was formally organized in Cleveland, Ohio in March 1875. The political base of support for thisParty was farmers, upset with the rates the railroads were charging for shipping their goods. The Greenbacks demanded the unlimited issuance of U.S. legal tender notes. The bitter railroad strikes in the 1870s drew labor support to this party. The party did not fare as well in presidential elections: in 1876 they nominated Peter Cooper for president, who drew only 82,000 votes. In 1880 their nominee, James Weaver, collected 300,000 votes, and 1884 Ben Butler was nominated with 175,000 votes.

The Populists Party in particular shared similarities with the Greenback Party. In 1892, when the Populist Party held its first official national convention in Omaha, Nebraska, it formally put forth its ambitious national agenda. The party platform called for the dissolution of nationwide banks; the direct election of U.S. senators; a graduated income tax; an eight-hour workday for industrial workers; government management of railroads, telegraphs, and telephones; the initiative and referendum; and various civil services and electoral reforms. With former American Civil War brevet brigadier general and 1880 Greenback Party presidential nominee James B. Weaver as its first presidential candidate in 1892 elections.

[1] See, for example, Kevin Wehr, Green Culture: An A-to-Z Guide. SAGE, 2011, p. 244.

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