James G. Watt is a Republican politician who served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet. His words were controversial in the 1980s and would certainly cause a stir in the age of the internet. Nevertheless, they give insight into a period of American history and what was happening behind the scenes in the Reagan administration.
Watt’s comments on environmentalism and other policies often brought him into conflict with other politicians in Reagan’s cabinet and didn’t exactly earn him public favor.
“My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns.” - “Watt Finds Time to Hear Audubon Society,” The Washington Post (May 24, 1981)
“They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers.” - "Weinberger and the Press: Point, Counterpoint," The New York Times (March 4, 1982)
“I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It's liberals and Americans.” - quoted in “Words Cited by Watt Critics,” The New York Times (October 10, 1983)
“If the trouble from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used.” - quoted in "The Earth's Storm Troopers," Phoenix New Times (August 7, 1991)
“That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have: to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns; whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.” - Testimony before the House Interior Committee (February 5, 1981)
“We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber.“ - quoted in Media Transparency
“Everything Cheney's saying, everything the president's saying — they're saying exactly what we were saying 20 years ago, precisely … Twenty years later, it sounds like they've just dusted off the old work.” - “Watt Applauds Bush Energy Strategy," Denver Post (May 16, 2001)
“I was driven from my position as Interior Secretary, not because of my environmental record, but because of my Christian beliefs. That's the real struggle.”
“Early American speeches, from Washington’s to Patrick Henry’s, have been detheologized in history textbooks. No one has called it censorship.”
A popular quote that is commonly misattributed to Watt is “God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” The quote was attributed to him in The Guardian and other sources. In response to the question of whether or not he’d said it, Watt replied:
"I never said it. Never believed it. Never even thought it. I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error. The Bible commands conservation — that we as Christians be careful stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by the Creator."
They say history is written by the victors, but public perception often determines how figures, especially political leaders, are remembered. Nevertheless, it is important to learn from history and those who shaped it.