The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991 Page: 491
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for opening the public domain to developers who would get America
moving again, utilizing all available energy sources and furthering na-
tional progress through enhanced production. To achieve these goals,
the governor of Nevada in 1979 launched the Sagebrush Rebellion by
calling for turning federally owned lands over to the states. Others
called for privatization, selling off the public domain. With Reagan's
election the stage was set for the emergence of James Watt, the Secre-
tary of the Interior, the man who could reverse the prevailing consen-
sus and open the public domain to private development. He could do
this merely by exercising the power of his office. No new legislation was
Watt launched his tenure with a rhetorical barrage that quickly gal-
vanized all environmental groups into opposition. They gained new re-
cruits, filled their depleted coffers, and lobbied extensively. And thanks
to outrageous gaffes, Watt soon became a liability to the Reagan admin-
istration and the New Right. He served the same function for environ-
mentalists that "Bull" Connor in Birmingham served for the cause of
civil rights. Under pressure on all sides, Watt in 1983 resigned his post.
His successor immediately assured environmental groups that no sig-
nificant changes in public land policy would occur. A surprising theme
C. Brant Short notes throughout his monograph is that the Sagebrush
Rebellion, privatization, and Watt's proposals did not find widespread
approval in the West. Most residents were satisfied with federal man-
agement. Developers-oil and mining interests, realtors, promoters of
all kinds-endorsed the loosening of federal control in the name of
growth and progress. But most people found themselves in general ac-
cord with programs provided by federal management.
C. Brant Short, in this well-written monograph that is a revision of
his doctoral dissertation at Indiana University, examines these contro-
versies from a rhetorical perspective. He analyzes the arguments of
participants through a comprehensive review of speeches and articles
on all sides of this great debate. He places them in context and defines
various stages within the time frame of his study. Whether his analysis
will have to be modified when the papers of participants become avail-
able remains to be seen. For the present, however, Short has written a
significant monograph that tells us much about the recent conservation
movement, an important program of the Reagan administration and
the New Right, while providing an insight into the recent history of the
American West. The volume reflects credit upon the distinguished En-
vironmental History Series that Martin Melosi is editing for Texas
A&M University Press.
Iowa State Unverszty
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991, periodical, 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/m1/555/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.