John Wesley Powell and State Expansion

Powell Survey, Colorado River, 1871

The concept of the welfare state edged into the American consciousness and into American institutions more through the scientific bureaus of government than by any other way, and more through the problems raised by the public domain than through any other problems, and more through the labors of John Wesley Powell than through any other man. In its origins it probably owes nothing to Marx, and it was certainly not the abominable invention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Brain Trust. It began as public information and extended gradually into a degree of control and paternalism increased by every national crisis and every stemp of the increasing concentration of power in Washington. The welfare state was present in embryo in Joseph Henry's Weather Bureau in the eighteen-fifties. It moved a long step in the passage of what Henry Adams called America's "first modern act of legislation," when the King and Hayden Surveys were established in 1867. . . . it would assume almost its contemporary look in the trust-busting and conservation activities of Theodore Roosevelt at the dawn of the next century. But what Powell and the earlier Adams and Theodore Roosevelt thought of as the logical development of American society, especially in the West, was by no means universally palatable by 1890 -- or by 1953. It looked dangerous; it repealed the long habit of a wide-open continent; it recanted a faith.

-- Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (Lincoln, Neb.: Bison Books, 1982 [orig. pub. 1953]), 334.