Representative John Saylor was one of the driving forces behind critical environmental legislation in post-World War II America. This absorbing biography probes Saylor's shrewd, sometimes blunt, maneuvers to defend wild places and enact legal protection for some of our most treasured landscapes, from the Allegheny Mountains to the Grand Canyon. With this compelling biography, Thomas G. Smith restores John Saylor to his rightful place in the annals of American environmental history.
Green Republican chronicles the life of Congressman John Saylor and his personal legacy as an environmental champion. Saylor believed the wilderness was intrinsic to the American experience-that our concepts of democracy, love of country, conservation, and independence were shaped by our wilderness experiences. Through his ardent protection of national parks and diligent work to add new areas to the parks system, Saylor helped propel the American environmental movement in the three decades following Word War II. At the height of the federal dam-building program in the 1950s and 1960s, Saylor blocked efforts to erect hydroelectric dams whose impounded waters would have invaded Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, Saylor denounced attempts to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. He was the House architect of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Because Saylor represented a coal-mining district, he doggedly promoted the use of coal, instead of atomic or hydropower, to generate electricity, and repeatedly won the support of his constituents over thirteen terms between 1949 and 1973. But he also fervently supported legislation to purify the air and water and redeem stripped lands. Considered both a maverick and a pioneer, John Saylor won respect on both sides of the aisle because he was direct, hardworking, and passionate about conservation at a time when the cause was not popular. Environmental leaders dubbed him “St. John” because he tenaciously advocated their proposals and battled resistance by resource-use proponents. Based on extensive research and numerous interviews with Saylor’s colleagues and members of the conservationist community, Thomas G. Smith assembles the remarkable story of John Saylor, arguably the leading congressional conservationist of the twentieth century, and a major force in the preservation of America’s wilderness.
In our own time members of Congress are typically not seen as environmental leaders. From the 1950s until the 1970s Representative John Saylor from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was just that: a defender of national parks and monuments, an advocate for new wilderness areas, and a spearhead of the all-important Land and Water Conservation Act. Smith has given us a meticulously researched and carefully crafted biography of Saylor's life and work. It makes a fine addition to the literature of the environmental movement since World War II.
Thomas G. Smith does a fine job arguing for the importance of Saylor in the dawn of the environmental age. As much a history of major conservation events as a pure biography, the book provides sufficient context to see Saylor as the maverick he was. Saylor emerges as a man who genuinely cared for nature, before it was popular politically, someone strong enough to stand up to powerful interests and smart enough to emerge victorious. . . . Smith's research is superb. . . . It stands as first-rate scholarship.
With great zeal and tremendous admiration, [Smith] winds through each of Saylor's political battles on behalf of the environment. . . . Ultimately, it is the very incongruity of his political views that demonstrates Saylor's importance in issues ranging from the construction of the Alaska Pipeline to the construction of the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania. . . . Through Smith's fine retelling of these political stories, readers learn that John Saylor is a most deserving member of Pennsylvania's pantheon of environmental heroes.
The only in-depth study of Saylor, fills a noticeable gap in the historiography of the modern environmental movement. The breadth of Smith's research on Saylor is impressive.
Both inspirational and practical, this book is a valuable resource for all who wish to continue the quest to conserve America's wilderness.