Skip to content

Senator George P. McLean, Birdman of the Senate – 10,000 Birds


    The Nice Egret was in breeding plumage and courtship posture–shiny lime inexperienced lores, head bending down after which snapping up, lengthy, impossibly delicate plumes waving over its physique as if possessed by impartial spirits. The guests alongside the boardwalk at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Florida had been taking images nonstop, we solely had a couple of minutes earlier than the wetlands closed, oohing and aaahing. I thought of these plumes and about how lucky we had been to be seeing this egret in all its glory. Plume looking raged supreme 150 years in the past, when egret feathers had been a part of a worldwide commerce in feathers and different hen components, used for ladies’s hats and different articles of clothes (however largely hats), delighting the higher lessons and virtually wiping out  hen species. I might see what all of the fuss was about, why they had been value, actually, as a lot as gold. “Thank goodness for the Migratory Fowl Treaty Act,” I mentioned to the photographer beside me, who simply checked out me quizzically earlier than returning to her digicam.

    ©2023, Donna L. Schulman

    The Migratory Fowl Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) is the legislative implementation of the Migratory Fowl Treaty negotiated with Nice Britain, on behalf of Canada, in 1916 (subsequent treaties with Mexico, Japan, and Russia have been included into the Act). Its objective was to restrict the grasping gathering of birds killed for the plume commerce, the hen meat commerce (as within the wholesale slaughter of the Passenger Pigeon), and for sport (once more, the Passenger Pigeon and declining numbers of waterfowl). It has turn out to be the cornerstone of U.S. conservation laws and regulation, a device used to guard birds from irresponsible looking, industrial intrusion and incidental take, habitat loss and air pollution, and to encourage finest practices by everybody, from birders to companies. And its passage was not simple.

    The MBT and the MBTA had been hard-won victories of years of lobbying by involved naturalists and ornithologists, newly shaped Audubon organizations, and some members of the U.S. Congress and Senate who acknowledged the necessity to shield the birds. Quite a lot of state legal guidelines, with restricted and problematic impact, and two main federal legal guidelines preceded the MBTA: (1) the Lacey Act of 1900, which made it unlawful to move or promote a hen in a single state when illegally hunted in one other state, and (2) the Weeks-McLean Act of 1913, which prohibited the spring looking and advertising and marketing of migratory hen and the importation of untamed hen feathers for ladies’s vogue, and which gave the Secretary of Agriculture the facility to set looking seasons nationwide. The Lacey Act nonetheless exists, however the Weeks-McLean Act was doomed as a result of it violated the idea, enforced by the courts, that birds belonged to the states, not the federal authorities. Realizing this, Senator George P. McLean, one of many sponsors of the act, really greater than a sponsor, a real believer, proposed and set in movement the concept of negotiating a treaty (an idea originated by politician Elihu Root). Treaties trump state legal guidelines.

    A Connecticut Yankee Goes to Washington: Senator George P. McLean, Birdman of the Senate by Will McLean Greeley is about George P. McLean, the Senator from Connecticut who was decided to save lots of our birds and who used a lifetime of hard-learned political maneuvering, collegial networking, and a worldview centered on the objective, not the glory, to make it work. The biography covers his life from childhood to demise (and even pre-childhood, because it reaches again to his Pilgrim/Puritan ancestors), October 7, 1857 – June 6, 1932, and his careers as reporter, lawyer, state governor, and senator. It’s set inside three vital intervals of our historical past, as Greeley writes: the Gilded Age, the Progressive Period, and the “Roaring Twenties.” (There was additionally a dip into the Nice Melancholy on the finish of his life.) McLean’s work on hen safety laws is described and analyzed in a single 30-page chapter, “Saving the Birds.” You’ll be able to learn simply that chapter and the ultimate chapter summarizing this achievement and study loads, however it actually isn’t the entire story, not the one Greeley needs to current.

    A fantastic-great nephew of Senator McLean, Greeley spent three years researching and scripting this ebook. His objective, he says within the Preface, is to meet a childhood need to study extra a few stern determine in a household {photograph}, a mysterious man with spectacular however largely undocumented achievements. However this isn’t a hagiography. Greeley has a historian’s instincts, maybe stemming from his coaching as an archivist (although he ended up, he says vaguely, in enterprise and market analysis). He has accomplished an infinite quantity of analysis, rigorously documented the textual content, and produced a bibliography 13 pages lengthy. He has consulted unpublished interviews and diaries, authorities paperwork, native newspapers, archival collections, and lots of of books and magazines, totally on historical past politics but in addition on different areas that impacted McLean’s life, like livestock farming. Greeley just isn’t afraid to level out the darker and never very flattering-in-today’s-light elements of McLean’s life–the melancholy which marred his final years as Governor of Connecticut, his failure throughout that tenure to rout out corruption, his later whole opposition to girls’s suffrage. And though there are occasions when Greeley tries a little bit too onerous to color McLean as a person of the individuals (the story taken from an area newspaper of him speaking to a black, aged caddy on a white Southern golf course actually jolts), he succeeds in portray a portrait of a posh, clever, modest man of nice ambition, a politician who walked a superb line between Progressive and conservative politics, and who realized tips on how to manipulate the system to do good.

    In all probability one of many supreme ironies described in A Connecticut Yankee Goes to Washington is that though McLean’s identify is hooked up to the primary piece of hen safety laws, the Weeks-McLean Act, he was not a sponsor of its successor, the Migratory Fowl Treaty Act. A change of president meant that McLean’s get together, the Republicans, had been now not in cost (that is when the Republicans had been a unique type of get together). The brand new president, Woodrow Wilson, supported the act, however as a Democrat he put Democratic leaders in cost. McLean, a pragmatist, gracefully accepted the change and, based on Greeley, spent extra time than another Senator ensuring the act handed, even when up towards the calls for of World Struggle I. At one level, Democratic Senator James Reed, his longtime enemy, opposed dialogue of the act, saying solely war-related points needs to be on the Senate flooring. Ready by the Audubon Society with statistics, Greeley was capable of hyperlink hen safety to crop safety, making it a meals conservation precedence and thus a struggle concern. The Migratory Fowl Treaty Act was not solely a bipartisan legislative triumph, it was a mannequin for legislative advocacy, how nonprofits can efficiently work with legislators and politicians.

    I believe birders will get pleasure from studying this political historical past of the MBTA. The conservation aspect, the story of the egrets and their aigrettes and Frank Chapman counting hen species on the hats of the ladies of New York Metropolis and Harriet Hemenway’s tea conferences turning into Massachusetts Audubon, is pretty well-known (and for those who’re not accustomed to this historical past, learn Scott Weidensaul’s Of a Feather (2007) or one of many wonderful articles showing on the Audubon and Smithsonian web sites). The political and legislative historical past and the function performed by an upper-class, reserved Republican Senator from Connecticut just isn’t. And it needs to be identified. It’s a historical past that enhances our appreciation for the Migratory Fowl Treaty Act, nearly gutted underneath the Trump administration, and in addition serves as a mannequin, as cited above, of bipartisan cooperation in direction of a typical, mutual good. Is that doable anymore? Perhaps. It’s good to have tales that encourage. I do suppose that only some birders, these inquisitive about United States historical past, would benefit from the biography as a complete. This isn’t a destructive criticism, it’s a reflection of the viewers for this weblog. I hope that Chapter 8, the chapter on the MBTA, could be excerpted and reprinted in considered one of our birding magazines. Or, that birders are capable of get A Connecticut Yankee Goes to Washington: Senator George P. McLean, Birdman of the Senate from their native libraries. Chapter 8 is well worth the learn.

    *Word: This assessment relies on a PDF copy of the ebook provided by the creator.

    A Connecticut Yankee Goes to Washington: George P. McLean, Birdman of the Senate
    by Will McLean Greeley
    RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press; March 2023)
    Paperback, ?350 pages
    ISBN-10 : 1939125995; ISBN-13 ? : ? 978-1939125996