Green Legislation — Lincoln Administration

President Abraham Lincoln - 1863
President Abraham Lincoln

Readers may, or may not, be surprised by some of the green legislation that was passed in the midst of the Civil War during President Abraham Lincoln’s Administration (1861-1865). I was.

In honor of President’s Day, initially I wanted to write about which were the “greenest” presidents. I quickly realized although there are records of legislation, executive orders, and presidential proclamations that occurred during each president’s tenure, documentation about presidential environmental beliefs and specific actions is more difficult to ascertain, especially for the earlier presidents. In addition, some of the environmental accomplishments they are known for, occurred before or after they left the presidency.

So I decided to select several presidents and write a series of posts about green legislation that was enacted during their tenure, starting with President Abraham Lincoln.

Agricultural Act of 1862

The Agricultural Act of 1862, entitled, “An Act to Establish a Department of Agriculture”, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 15, 1862. This act established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Seal of U.S. Department of AgricultureAt that time, more people were engaged in farming than any other occupation. The original purpose of the USDA was to acquire and disseminate agricultural information to help farmers maximize the productivity of their land and farms, and to collect and distribute valuable seeds and plants. The USDA began with two employees, the Commissioner of Agriculture and a clerk.

Over the past 150 years, the USDA has expanded it’s staff and services to include marketing, inspection, food safety, nutrition, risk management, and encompasses the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Morrill Act of 1862 (Land-Grant Colleges)

Originally vetoed by President James Buchanan, the Morrill Act of 1862, officially titled “An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts”, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 8162.

Vermont Congressman, Justin Smith Morrill, sponsored the bill whose purpose was “…to establish at least one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught…”.

Under the Morrill Act of 1862, Union states and territories received federal land grants to use as grounds for a college or sold and the proceeds used to found a college elsewhere. Thus the term land-grant college. After the Civil War, the Act was extended to include former Confederate states and eventually to every state, including those created after 1862.

Kansas State Agricultural College - 1914
Kansas State Agricultural College

The Morrill Act of 1862 created a foundation for public secondary education in the United States. The first land-grant college was Kansas State University, originally named Kansas State Agricultural College, founded on February 16, 1863. There are currently 76 land-grant institutions. With 7 billion people and counting in the world to feed, U.S. land-grant colleges will continue to play an important role in agricultural education, research, and innovation.

Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove Grant Act of 1864

On June 30, 1864, President Lincoln signed legislation that granted Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove of giant sequoias to California “ upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation”.

Galen Clark, John Muir, and California Senator, John Conness, were influential in promoting the bill. It was the first time the federal government had set aside land to be protected for the enjoyment of the public, thus setting the stage for the later development of the national park system.

In 1890, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. California retained control of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove until a bill signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 returned it to the federal government.

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley – Photo: Christine White Loberg

Yosemite is world-famous for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoias, biodiversity, and vast wilderness area. Yosemite provides a beautiful place for people from all over the world to learn about and connect with the natural environment.