Free sample on American Environmental History

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 0.00 (0 Votes)


This paper is an essay about the American history with regard to environmental issues. It discusses several issues that characterized the rationalization and standardization of nature of the United States following the American Revolution. Then, it further draws examples from the agricultural, industrialization and urbanization to support this. Further, the intended and unintended consequences are dichotomized.

The economic, political, and social ideas underpinning the attempts of the Americans to standardize and rationalize nature to better serve the interest of a nationalist economy

In order to get the US economy rolling forth again, particular strategic ideas were employed. The following are some of them. We shall begin looking at these ideas.


This is an ideology which encourages private profit which finally expresses as accumulated wealth or capital. In capitalist system, the capitalist is the one who owns all the means of production of a particular good. In this system human labor is sold much like any commodity would be.

Jeffersonian version of capitalism was based on the assumption that monopolization would be reduced due to the perceived reduction of divisions in the society. Additionally, it held that land, being the single variable that caused utmost social disparities, if distributed would help to preserve equality and promote a democratic republic. He also believed that farmers were to be promoted by the principle of free trade in which the market would be indiscriminately open to them so that their goods would find freely market. Through opening up 'space', they would find opportunities to grow rather than through 'time'.

The slave trade

The slave trade started with the first consignment from Africa arriving in early 17th century into Virginia. Slavery was mostly encouraged by shortage of human workforce and social unrest. The slaves involved in rough clearing of land, planted corn and beans initially, followed it by tobacco after around two or three years, rotated with food crops and left the land fallow. This was the typical Virginian type of cultivation and it required new land every three to four years.

The rationalization of nature

Due to the increasing demands that were imposed by capitalism, there arose the need to reorder nature so as to serve the emergent needs. At this time, there was a lot of land and it was generally distributed according to the laws which were newly introduced. In addition to land, water, another natural resource was also to be allocated. This would be followed by improvements in these natural resources through adjustments so as to serve the human population better. This includes the construction of railways, roads and canals which would then promote the transfer of natural capital. This strategy was meant to take unpredictability away from nature.

Politically, there was a stretch of the nation's borders and the new nation now spanned from the Atlantic all the way to Mississippi. Jeffersonian view was that actually it is the public and the citizenry and its domain that is responsible for the preservation of the republic. Thus policy was supposed to be favorable for the public. In this attempt he actually proposed that land was to be given to initially as long term leases. Afterwards the land was to be sold at low prices to the average Americans. He also pushed for tracts that were 1000-acre sizes. However, the final bill was only drafted after the departure of Jefferson.

In the land ordinance of 1975, the townships were to be 36 sq miles for every section of acreage of 640, measured in a grids pattern, with each acre selling for $ 1 or more. This rule did not put limits onto how much land an individual owned, and there were no demands for improvement of the parcels. School was to be established on a reserve on section 16. The western two-thirds of the United States would be spread over by a rectilinear survey.

However, there were certain provisions in the land ordinance that created a leeway for land speculation and there were particular special grants by the Congress which allowed vast tracks of land to be held by the private companies. This, together with other consequences caused the price of land to be able to rise and led to a precarious economic bubble.

There was another trend which resulted from this. A special group called squatters arose. These were generally those people who never gained from the land distribution laws and were therefore were not considered as legal settlers. They deemed their action as patriotic and the public opinion favored their argument. However, the speculators pushed for their forcible eviction and it remained a contentious issue for as long as the century spanned.

Ways in which Americans attempted to control nature

Americans decided to control nature through agriculture, industrialization and even urbanization. Each of these domains had specific areas in which they affected the environment.

Agriculture and its influence on environmental change

Generally, the homestead was such that the family unit was made of single families in an enclosure isolated from the neighborhood. The areas which were not generally to be used for pasture were hedged after clear demarcation. Areas for pasture included wooded areas, hay paddocks and open grazing fields. The way of life supported a patriarchal household economy in which the form of agriculture was family subsistence where the labor for the farms was provided by the members of the family and surplus sold for cash to supplement family budget.

Securing land for putting up a homestead and for agriculture meant clearing vegetation. This was done through cutting of vegetation using tools and also burning bushes. The result was massive deforestation leaving land bare of vegetation.

However, there was a wise practice of rotating leguminous plants like wheat with oat, rye, barley or other legumes. This had the benefit of keeping nitrogen levels in the soils high. Although this was the practice with subsistence farmers, those who concentrated on large commercial agriculture cultivated crops of single varieties with wasteful consequences in the soil. Corn was the major crop grown and it was one of the most soil-depleting crops. Another major problem with monocrop plantation farming is that plant catastrophes like pests or diseases led to massive crop failures.

Animal farming also had its own effect on the environment. They stepped the soils and compacted them. Additionally they led to the spread of traditional grasses and weeds. Swine threat to humans and also to crops in the fields because they were left to range free.

Early industrialization, urbanization and the environment

There were several factors which facilitated industrialization in antebellum America. They include large skilled population, pre-industrial economy, availability of markets, resources, entrepreneurial attitudes. Industrial revolution began with textiles, and then lumber industry became the second dominant industry. It was characterized by wasteland practices. The market for lumber was spurred by the growth of urban centers and movement of farmers to the prairies. Large companies bought up vast tracks of land for clearing and lumbering and this caused deforestation and damage to the environment. Forest fires were another peril to the environment as they were associated with lumbering forests.

Urbanization led to the movement of populations from the rural areas into the cities. This caused increase in sizes of towns, necessitating encroachment into the forest areas nearby. Additionally the population within the towns, as they became superfluous, led to the increasing problems of sanitation and improper disposal of waste products. These were major challenges to the environment.

Intended and unintended consequences

The advancement of human beings and associated results like civilization caused ripples in the environment. There were intentional consequences like abundance of food and better health, the ease of life and way of life and efficiency in performance of work due to industrialization.

On the other hand, there were superfluous undesirable effects on the environment. As already highlighted, the clearing of land led to deforestation, a precedent for low levels of rainfall. Tracts that were cleared through burning led to destruction of vegetation, property, and animal populations were reduced due to either death or emigration. Monocropping led to depletion of nutrients in the soil and the soil generally became nutrient depleted.

Industrial revolutions and urbanization also had their fair share of consequence. Lumbering led to deforestation and wild forest fires caused emigration and death of wild animals in the forests, thus interfering with ecological balance.