Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Louis Marshall and Forever Wild

Paul Schaefer

Thirty-three years ago, that champion of the Adirondack wilderness, Paul Schaefer, then aged 78, first introduced me to his Adirondack library. Among the first volumes he brought to my attention – because he valued it and had read it repeatedly since he was a younger man – was the transcript of the 1894 New York State Constitutional Convention in Albany – the one that, after weeks of debate, by vote of 122-0 approved the “forever wild” provision protective of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.


The 54 words of Article XIV, Section 1 (the original numbering Art. VII, Sect. VII was altered in 1938) are that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”

These words have never been amended and remain highly relevant. Schaefer liked to impress upon me the fact that three of the five members of the 1894 Committee on Forest Preservation, the committee responsible for introducing the article at the convention, came from Adirondack counties. Their names were McLaughlin, McIntyre and Mereness. Later in 2020 the NYS Court of Appeals may hear a rare high court appeal brought by the state challenging an interpretation of some of those words decided by a lower court in 2019 (by a 4-1 margin against the state). The case is related to the extent of tree-cutting by the state in order to create a system of community connector snowmobile trails.

To my knowledge, this would be only the second test of Article XIV to reach the Court of Appeals. The other one is the famous “bobsled decision,” McDonald v. Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, which was reached by the Court in 1930. That decision blocked the state from constructing the Olympic bobsled run on the public’s Forest Preserve in North Elba near the village of Lake Placid. It did more. It upheld the lower Appellate Division 1929 decision blocking the bobsled run which echoes to the present day through the consequential words of Justice Hinman:

“Giving to the phrase ‘forever kept as wild forest lands’ the significance which the term ‘wild forest’ bears, we must conclude that the idea intended was a health resort and playground with the attributes of a wild forest park as distinguished from other parks so common to our civilization. We must preserve it in its wild nature, its trees, its rocks, its streams. It must be a great resort for the free use of all the people, but it must be a wild resort in which nature is given free rein. Its uses for health and pleasure must not be inconsistent with its preservation as forest lands in a wild state. It must always retain the character of a wilderness.”

Paul Schaefer occasionally liked to bring that 1894 convention transcript off its shelf and have me read sections of it. The convention came to life for me – those men, exclusively men, who took trains, horses, wagons, buggies, maybe even canal boats to Albany, dressed in their best attire that hot, late 19th century summer.

In 1989-90, Paul and I worked with the staff at the new Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers (VIC) at Paul Smith’s and Newcomb to create an audio-visual exhibit of the 1894 convention. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp, the Hochschild family, and members of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks funded the exhibit. Its producer was the Fred Brink’s Company out of Boston who came up with the actors and the studio to record certain passages from the 1894 transcript chosen for their dramatic effect. For instance, this portion of a speech by the 1894 delegate from Lewis County, Charles Mereness, was included in the audio exhibit:

“I have traversed this great forest with my boatman and skiff, and a pack on my back from Long Lake and Blue Mountain Lake on the southeast to Paul Smith’s on Lake St. Regis on the north; from the Fulton chain on the southwest to the lower Saranac on the north, and have frequented the places inhabited for centuries and, until recently, by the denizens of the forest; where the deer, the moose, the black bear, the beaver and many smaller animals flourished. The screech of the locomotives can now be heard, and time is fast approaching when the whole region will be made desolate and barren unless the hand of the despoiler is stayed. I implore you, do not longer hesitate to take measures to stop this outrage.”

Steve Horne and others at the APA’s Visitor Center program pulled the final exhibit together allowing the public to put on earphones and listen to those words uttered by 19th century men like Mereness of Lowville and David McClure of New York City. The exhibit lasted about a decade. The digital age dawned, the tape recorders wore out, a digital conversion was not made and the exhibit’s life came to an end.

Of the 1894 speeches featured at the VIC, none were of delegate Louis Marshall. Yet Paul Schaefer impressed upon me his knowledge that Louis Marshall acted behind the scenes at that convention to motivate and to help draft Article XIV, Section 1. That always seemed a great puzzle to me. If Louis Marshall was so instrumental to the article’s creation, why didn’t he make lots of speeches that summer and get more credit?

Louis Marshall

Louis Marshall

New York City attorney Louis Marshall was Bob, George and Jim Marshall’s father. All the Marshall children were brought up on Lower Saranac Lake to come to experience, love, value and eventually fight for the protection of wildness in America, each in their own unique ways. During their youth, their personal guide through the Adirondack mountain wilderness was Herb Clark. Bob founded the Wilderness Society in 1935. Bob may be better known than his father from the perspective of wilderness preservation, but practically everyone aware of the plight and persecution of Jews around the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries knew the name Louis Marshall (1856-1929). He proved himself one of the world’s great civil rights activist-attorneys. Albany attorney, Marshall scholar and author Hank Greenberg told an Adirondack audience in 2007 that newspapers around the world reported daily on Louis Marshall’s health as he fell ill, rallied, and then succumbed in 1929. His health status was literally front-page news.

Part of my work for the organization Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve (Schaefer founded Friends in 1945) is to promote, champion and defend Article XIV.  Paul Schaefer gave me his two-volume set of Louis Marshall: Champion of Liberty, Selected Marshall Papers and Addresses, 1957, edited by Charles Reznikoff and published by the Jewish Publication Society.

In Volume 2 of Champion of Liberty is found a partial answer to the mystery I sensed about Louis Marshall’s role in 1894. In the months before he died in 1929 Marshall wrote a letter to a member of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in which he describes his role in 1894 and urges the Association not to give in to the state’s desire in 1929 to construct the bobsled run on the Forest Preserve:

“The Association years ago adopted the policy in regard to Section 7 of Article VII of the Constitution, that its strict enforcement was absolutely necessary if the Adirondack and Catskill forest were to be preserved. My own views on this subject date back to 1894 , when, as a member of the Constitutional Convention held in that year, I was most active in formulating the amendment and in securing for it what was practically a unanimous vote of the members of the Convention. Every word in the provision was carefully weighed and numerous efforts were made to make the language more elastic, but those who had given the subject careful study…were of the opinion that this was not a subject to be trifled with and that a rigid rule should be laid down and rigidly enforced.”

Also included in Volume 2 of Champion of Liberty were Louis Marshall’s words at the 1915 Constitutional Convention in Albany. Several weakening amendments to allow sectioning off some parts of the Forest Preserve for lumbering and “scientific forestry” were up for debate that year and delegate Louis Marshall was determined to stop them from passing. He succeeded. None of the amendments passed.  In his 1915 speech to fellow delegates he said:

“If I were asked to state what the most important action of the Convention of 1894 was, I should say without the slightest hesitation that it was the adoption of section 7 of article VII…which preserve in their wild state the Adirondack and Catskill forests….And it is as certain as anything on earth can be that if we in any way relax the limitations which we are now seeking to place upon the Adirondacks, our waterways are doomed and our agricultural lands are doomed. The value of these forest preserves lies in the fact that they constitute great reservoirs for our water. They are, as it were, huge sponges which hold the water as it flows and allow it to flow away as it is required. We have been guilty of the grossest carelessness and neglect in our past history. …millions of acres were sold at a price of five cents an acre, so that in 1872 the State owned no more than 40,000 acres of forest land…Now there is no middle course with regard to this question. It is not a question merely as to preserving a section of these forests. It is a question of preserving them in their entirety. It is  not only a question of preserving what we have, but it is a question of adding to our forest domain, not slightly but largely, so that it will cover the entire region, in order that the Hudson River may not run dry, in order that the Mohawk may not run drier than it is, in order that our streams may not subside, in order that the subterranean flow of water shall not fall more than it has. ..And there is but one thing to reserve us from such a fate, and that is to preserve the forests as a pristine forest, as a wild forest, and not to allow lumbering to be carried on within it.”

By his own words, Louis Marshall had acknowledged his critical role in formulating the “forever wild” clause.  Then, when the article was under severe attack in 1915 he forcefully defended it against powerful advocates for opening portions of the preserve to lumbering and road building. Louis Marshall’s fame spans civil rights and wilderness preservation. Professor Nicholas A. Robinson, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law at the Pace University School of Law, addressed the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 2007 this way:

Article XIV, Section 1, NYS Constitution, in calligraphy ordered by Paul Schaefer

“Surely Louis Marshall must have known (or at least hoped) that his own love of nature
and his love of justice and the rule of law would flow through to his children. It evidently did.
Just as his example has inspired his children, so their examples inspire us. It was my privilege to
share time and a common conviction with Jim Marshall, which he had had with his Father, that
the laws of nature and the laws of humans are ultimately but one and deserve to be united.

The fate of Article XIV and the Forest Preserve are still at risk today, and will be tested
again as the effects of climate change force our legislators to remake State policy and law.
Conservationists need to anticipate these new challenges, and to assist this rethinking, I have
taken the time to spell out my ideas in writing, hoping to entice you to read the arguably dry and
dull words that follow. Climate change is changing all our conservation benchmarks, and
organizations like the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks will need to guide the
meaning of “forever wild” to hold fast to its core values, and implant them firmly in the new
conditions that are emerging” (from his paper “Forever Wild”: New York’s Constitutional Mandates to Enhance the Forest Preserve by Nicholas A. Robinson, February 15, 2007).


Late 19th century legislative meeting in Albany

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

17 Responses

  1. Really excellent article. There is a recent biography (2013) of Louis Marshal, “Louis Marshall and the rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America” by M.M Silver which is very good. Much of what is good in America and the original legal advances made in Native American and Black legal rights, the legal status of Jews around the world and the origins of the ALCU and several of the major National environmental groups and modern forestry practices even the later national wilderness acts were all due to his and later his sons funding and energy. The idea of roadless Wilderness as a necessary counterbalance to the existential hazards of humans living in densely packed cities originated with him and his son Bob. Marshall and Apperson and Schaefer would be horrified and actually find sacrilegious the whole idea of extending snowmobile highways in the Adirondacks in furtherance of tourism, “sustainability” or so-called “economic development”.

    • toofargone says:

      The truth matters Jim. Existing snowmobile trails were closed and removed from many parts of the forest years ago with the promise that they would be relocated and restored “mile for mile” by the State. That never happened. The real horror here is your myopic view that the ADK park is somehow, if only in your mind, untouched by human hands, while systematically ignoring the fact that there are countless hiking trails with markers and endless signage, boat launches, ranger cabins, JBL and the Loj, lean to structures, horse trails, ski trails, roads and highways. Why single out snowmobiles unless it is your cause celebre of the day? Did you cry when the Northway was built, and if you did would anyone have cared? Truth is there are so many places in the ADKs that a foot has never touched and are still there to be explored in the vast wilderness that will always be “forever wild.” Sharing is important; being selfish is rude. Try not to be quite so rude and condescending Jim. Perhaps if we can manage to all row together we’ll get much further as a community that recognizes snowmobilers and others have legitimate concerns and rights to use and enjoy public lands, just like everybody else, in balance. I think that’s exactly what the State has been trying to do recently despite the bluster, and it’s about time.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        My take on snowmobile is this: It’s not the existence of snowmobile trails that’s at issue. It’s their location within the Forest Preserve including unnecessary, basically parallel duplication of existing routes and the [recent] nature of their construction and width. Just as there is and should be extensive areas within the Forest Preserve without trails [or herd paths I might add], the same is valid for snowmobiles. Let’s be honest. Snowmobiles are loud, noisy machines that impact the experience of others in ways that no other form of recreation creates. The machines have only gotten faster and louder, compounding the effect on other users of the Forest Preserve. To compare [especially the newer] snowmobile “trails” to hiking trails is like comparing the Tooley Pond Rd. to the Northway.
        FYI: developed ski areas are Intensive Use lands and thus the comparison is flawed. Also, JBL and Adirondack Loj are private lands.
        Again, before you call me rude or whatever, please note. Whether or not I like snowmobiles, I support their [your] right to be part of the recreational spectrum in the Forest Preserve! It’s about appropriate location, construction and use. Same with hiking, biking and other trails and roads and anything else in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    Excellent re-cap of the early struggles to maintain the power of Art. XIV.

    The motorsports lobby should not prevail in this battle!

  3. Bob Meyer says:

    As a Jew and an environmental activist and lover of the Adirondacks, Louis Marshall is one of my uber heros! His lifelong activism for the dignity, safety and rights of ALL people and his unwavering work for conservation of our wildlands [particularly the NY State Forest Preserve] AND his understanding that the 2 are intrinsically the SAME thing was [and unfortunately still is] ahead of its [our] time…
    I only hope his legacy gets more recognition going forward.

    • Yes you have sumarized this well, to L. Marshall, civil rights, human rights, democracy futherance, freedom of speech and roadless wilderness protection are one – a unity. He worked on all these things simultaneously. Also he Apperson and Schaefer were grassroots organizers although Schaefer organized voters particularly downstate ones while Apperson and Marshall grassroots organized the thought leaders, politicians bankers, lawyers and the super-well connected.There is a biography “Louis Marshall 1856-1929,A life devoted to justice and Judaism” which covers his devotion to the law and “applied” Judaism – the latter he essentially reformed worldwide pretty much by force of his his will.

  4. Bob Meyer says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the compliment.
    I am curious about your last sentence, “Judaism – the latter he essentially reformed worldwide pretty much by force of his his will.” Please elaborate. I am familiar with the history of progressive Judaism and this sentence is a bit confusing to my understanding of that history.
    To those looking for strictly Adirondack subject matter on this platform, please excuse my digression.

  5. Before WW1 Jews in Europe conceived of their relationship to kings and heads of state as a personal negotiation between the king or Emperor and chief rabbi of each country. This is how Jews negotiated claims for protection as they had no enforceable legal rights in most countries. After WW1 LM was involved with the reforming of governments in Europe at the peace conference and insisted on writing legal rights for Jews into the constitutions of all European countries and this gave them formal legal rights and (on paper) the ability to enforce their rights as citizens. He educated Jews to use their group’s political power collectively and that was why he was revered by Europe’s jews. He was in charge of European Jews rights/protections in the negotiations for peace after WW1 and this gave him the power to demand legal rights for them by the US government. At that time in the aftermath of WW1 Jews began to be persecuted all over Europe and he basically stopped it. In his biographies his work on the Adks and wilderness is sort of a footnote to his other accomplishments for example in Black and Indian rights and Forestry. See the two books above. BTW I am not Jewish but believe you cannot understand roadless wilderness unless you understand its sister-related issues like fighting anti semitism. Reading LM and about LM will make you realize that we conceive of Roadless wilderness today in a narrow simplistic primitive manner – very differently from the way it was conceived as a necessary precondition of – or an aspect of human rights.

  6. Bob Meyer says:

    Hi Jim,
    You are basically correct in what you say above, though unfortunately LM was not able to fully or really stop the anti semitic wave in post WW I Europe, only slow it down. He WAS the legal genius who formulated and advised other Jewish leaders world over how to act.
    Whatever the details, he IS one of my most revered heros for ALL of the reasons stated above; in the same league with Ghandi, King, Buber, Einstein etc.. May his memory always be a blessing and his great accomplishments be a guide post for all of us.

  7. His great camp Knollwood in Saranac Lake should be turned into a national monument or used for a residence for people involved with Freedom of speech/democracy furtherance studies/writer’s retreat. Right now no one can set even foot on it no matter who you are or who you ask unless you are one of the owners. it would be open to the public to show respect to LM if his descendants/owners had any appreciation or understanding at all for the man or his accomplishments or his central position in mankind’s continuing effort to be more free, humane and civilized.

  8. I am pleased to read here about Louis Marshall, and glad to see that others share my interest. I believe that John Apperson drew his inspiration from Louis Marshall, and eagerly absorbed his knowledge of the law. Apperson was there at the Constitutional Convention in 1915, and fought to prevent the state from leasing campsites in the Forest Preserve. In 1922, Apperson delivered a minority report to the newly forming Adirondack Mountain Club, asking them to take a stand against logging of the high peaks. At the end of his speech, Apperson encouraged everyone to buy copies of the organization’s first publication, by young Robert Marshall. I expect that Louis Marshall observed with interest and appreciation, as Apperson put up such an energetic and sustained fight to defend forever wild. Paul Schaefer acknowledged Apperson as his mentor and teacher, and both of them learned the effective legal arguments from Louis Marshall. Nice that David Gibson has called outrattention to the source of so much wisdom. Hope everyone will heed his advice!

  9. Ellen Apperson Brown says:

    For those of you who feel that snow mobiles (and trails) have every right to be enjoyed in the forest preserve, I would encourage you to take an interest in the long list of legislative battles fought during the first half of this century, and of strenuous efforts to uphold the protections of forever wild. These battles included 1) the Hewitt reforestation amendment (which would have allowed the state to get into the lumber business), 2) the Closed Cabin Amendment (which would have allowed the state to build hotels, dance halls, parking lots, and lots of other tourist facilities),3) Truck trails (developers wanted the state to allow the construction of truck trails into the preserve, ostensibly to help fighting fires, etc, but were seen by others as a way to weaken the protections and set bad precedent, knowing that, once built, there was no way to prevent the further expansion of such roads), 4) widened trails for down hill skiing (again, setting a precedent that would allow further weakening of forever wild). The list goes on and on… John Apperson built a very effective preservation lobby, and was responsible for enlisting help from 55 clubs and organizations, to keep the language of forever wild unchanged in the Constitutional Convention of 1938. He formed an organization named the New York State Forest Preserve Association, in 1934, and it published pamphlets, gave speeches, and played watchdog for three decades or so. Many of the people today who are still fighting today for the same causes, got their initial indoctrination and education through this band of enthusiastic environmentalists.

  10. David Gibson says:

    These are all informative, substantive comments re. Louis Marshall from Bob and Jim, re. John Apperson from Ellen, thank you…and from toofargone, also. Managing to row together as a community is an important quality in and of the Adirondacks.

  11. Ellen Apperson Brown says:

    David, Thanks for your response. By the way, I have been transcribing virtually all of the Apperson letters that I have obtained during my research over the past 20 years, and I’m am hoping to launch some sort of digital archive, and make these important documents available to researchers, thus overcoming the obstacle for most of us – of how to spend time at the Kelly Center, doing research. I hope people will reach out to me and let me know if you’d like to help in some way… I have a website and a really talented web designer who has been helping me, but I’d love to get this project under the umbrella of some sponsoring organization.

  12. Bob Meyer says:

    Well said David. Thank you.

  13. Dave, I’m glad that we tied to make the important moment in NYS history come alive. Good luck to you in the continuing effort!

  14. David Gibson says:

    Steve Horne, great to see your comment. Thank you. That project you took on for the APA VIC – 1894 – was very satisfying because it was a natural fit for all of the parties at that time – or at any time.

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