The Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy

The Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy
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  • 0:01 Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy
  • 0:41 Progressive Republicans
  • 1:02 Ballinger & Pinchot
  • 2:17 Party Split
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy that took place during the Taft administration. It will highlight how this controversy not only affected Alaska and the environment, but the entire Republican Party.

Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy

Although recent generations may think they're the first to take up the banner of environmentalism, this supposition is really not true.

To prove this, let's take a look at the Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy of the early 1900s. Often called a scandal, the controversy centered on Alaskan land deals made by Richard Ballinger during the Taft administration.

Although it began as an environmental issue, the controversy's most lasting legacy is the split it helped form in the Republican Party. To understand this, let's get some background information.

Progressive Republicans

For starters, William Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt as president. Both Taft and Roosevelt claimed to be Progressive Republicans. For today's purpose we'll define this by saying they supported environmental issues and tried to curb the power of big business. Not only were they both Progressive Republicans, they were close political allies.

Ballinger & Pinchot

However, this all changed when Taft became president and started making decisions that seemed to favor big business. One of these decisions was the appointment of Richard Ballinger as Secretary of the Interior.

As Secretary of the Interior, Ballinger opened Alaskan land to private companies. In other words, he opened the doors for industry to mine in Alaska. Using some alliteration, this made Progressive conservationists see Ballinger as bad!

One such conservationist just happened to be Gifford Pinchot, the Head of the Forestry Division. Using some more alliteration, Pinchot was passionate about protecting the environment!

To put it mildly, when Pinchot and his department got wind of Ballinger's land deals, they were none too happy! He ordered the concerns to be taken to President Taft, but Taft dismissed them. But Pinchot and his group refused to be ignored, and some believe that someone in the department leaked the information to the press. Loving a juicy story, the press had a field day calling Ballinger a bad guy making money off of Alaska. Not only did Ballinger take the hit, the press also implicated Taft in the shady land deals.

Party Split

Denying any impropriety, Taft supported Ballinger and fired Pinchot. Unfortunately for Taft, this move dumped him out of the frying pan and into the fire.

First, it made him look even guiltier in the eyes of the public. Second, when Roosevelt and the other Progressive Republicans heard of Taft's actions they accused him off turning his back on conservation and the Progressive platform. With this, the controversy became very political.

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