America’s Greatness ... Naturally

By JOHN M. IMPERIALE | Aug 29, 2018

There is no doubt that America is a great country. Our Constitution saw to that. But long before 1787, America was a great land. And for almost 300 years before our democracy was established, it was the natural wonders of the newly discovered continent that brought settlers here.

Throughout history, every culture was an evolution of what came before it. America, though, was destined to be unique because the earliest immigrants gave up almost everything they had known to start anew. They carried with them elements from their past culture, but these elements would be withered away, or at least radically altered, by the forces of the New World. And the most significant force that they were to encounter was the force of nature. They started with a trip into nature’s vast seas and continued into a wilderness that would shape them even as they tried to tame and shape it.

One principle was always supreme, though. The beauty and bounty of the land’s natural resources were the basis for America’s potential. Long before Teddy Roosevelt began to codify America’s natural treasures and long before Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, the people themselves treasured the land and all it held.

The “firm and stable earth” was, as William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, stated, their “proper element,” so much so that the Pilgrims kissed the ground when they arrived on this land. While we have many accounts of the Puritans and Pilgrims crossing the sea and expressing their amazement at this “good land,” as they termed it, we also know that all of the early settlers who followed them to America would be similarly affected and respectful of their new-found natural resources. The Puritans’ leader, John Winthrop, said America had the “smell of a garden,” clearly referencing paradise and the Garden of Eden.

The early Americans did find a land of plenty, and that land would become a foundation for a culture that used nature to prosper as was never possible before.

Gov. Bradford even said the water in America was “as wine or beer had been in foretimes.” Now that’s appreciation!

The cod, bass and other fish were plentiful and the fowl, beautiful. Wild turkey, venison and corn were so abundant that early Americans wrote to their friends in England to tell of the wonders here.

These stories of the land of plenty led to further immigration to American shores. While many came for religious freedom, none came for democracy, while countless more came for the riches of the land.

The new world was rich in streams, lakes, rivers and coastlines, which greatly aided its development. The new land could house great ports and those ports would give the fruits of the plow an avenue to Europe. Thomas Paine wrote that as long as “eating is the custom of Europe,” the New World would always have commerce.

So by the time the colonies were ready to declare their independence, America’s natural resources were treasured as a fertile land of rich soil, endless waterways and nurturing climates, requiring only the hard work of its people to provide richness. Nature could also be cruel to the earliest of Americans as they weathered violent storms just to get here, but they soon treasured what they found. Consider this line from St. Jean De Crevecoeur’s “Letter From An American Farmer”: “We are nothing but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit ...”

Which brings us to today.

When Scott Pruitt was named the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, every person who values America’s natural resources and who worries about the future of our land, our air, our water and every living creature was rightly in a panic.

Much attention was initially paid to the rollback of environmental regulations and Secretary Pruitt’s policies, until the attention shifted to the man himself. He abused his office and public trust, and in the process took attention away from his disdain for his own agency’s purported mission and put it on his disdain for ethics.

And then he was fired and the press moved on. His replacement, Andrew Wheeler, has none of the juicy stories of corruption that made Pruitt so newsworthy. He is just a former coal industry lobbyist now in charge of our environment.

But he is, if it is even possible, more anti-environment than Pruitt. So we can expect an acceleration of deregulation on matters such as auto emissions, asbestos, fracking, endangered species, clean air, clean water and, of course, coal. (Here’s an interesting and ironic fact someone should point out to Secretary Wheeler: The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum has switched to solar power. It’s cheaper and cleaner.)

Pruitt was news because who does not want to read about a top government official seeking out a used Trump hotel mattress or using his official position to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise, or any of a dozen other juicy scandals he brought on himself? Andrew Wheeler, on the other hand, has become quite adept at not being in the news. That is worrisome. It seems he can take actions such as rolling back parts of the Clean Water Act as long as he does not send out his security detail to find him special moisturizing lotion, as Pruitt did.

Let us remember Thomas Jefferson, in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, said the American people should assume their “separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them.”

Nature’s God. Not “their” God, or “the colonists’” God. Nature’s God.

Just because we human beings have become powerful enough to destroy nature, to make other species extinct, to alter the very land and water we possess, it does not give us the right to do so.

America’s natural beauty was here long before there was an America. If America ever ceases to exist as we know it, it just may be because we destroyed the gift we were given ... by nature’s God.

John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars can be reached at




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