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George Wright Article: Robin Winks on the Evolution and Meaning of the Organic Act

What You’ll Find

The National Park Service was created by the Organic Act of Congress in August of 1916. The guiding statement to this massive undertaking states that the mission of the National Park Service is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein [within the national parks] and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”.

Since it’s inception, it has been argued that this mission contains a “contradictory mandate” in that it is not possible to both conserve natural resources and provide unimpaired enjoyment for future generations. Through the research of Congressional records, private papers of the authors, as well as rhetorical practices of the time, the author makes the case that there is not a contradictory mandate.

This article strives to:

  • Determine the intent behind the original written law
  • Research the records of Congress, private papers of people responsible for writing the act, rhetorical practices of the time to draw conclusions
  • Sustain the view that there is no inherent contradiction in the preamble to the Organic Act of 1916

From The Introduction

The Organic Act of 1916 is defined and explained in detail, as is the intrinsic argument introduced in that act. The author quickly establishes that his research and subsequent reporting is the “work of an historian, not a legal scholar.” He further states that the intent of the few people who wrote the act differs tremendously from the intent of the Congress that passed the act.

Section Headings within Article:

  • Introduction
  • Creating a NPS: The Act of 1916
  • Taft and Ballinger recommend a bureau
  • The hearings of 1912 and 1914: What is scenery?
  • The hearings of 1916
  • Olmsted’s statement of “fundamental purpose”
  • Congressman Kent’s views
  • A contradictory mandate?
  • National park acts of the 1970s and explication of text
  • Conclusion
  • Endnotes / bibliography

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