Character: J. Sterling Morton

Character J. Sterling Morton


Brief Personal History Sterling Morton was born in Adams, New

York, the son of a prosperous produce

commission businessman. He attended the

University of Michigan but received his B.A.

from Union College in Schenectady, New

York. He married Carolina Joy French in

1854 and moved to Nebraska City to start

the Nebraska City News. He served as

secretary of the Nebraska territory and

acting governor. He was an

uncompromising conservative Democrat

from a section of the country that was more

comfortable with Republican radicals.

When he ran for Congress, he lost the


Turning his attention to politics to his

quarter section of tall grass Nebraska

prairie, Morton experimented with tree

planting, evaluating the best forest and fruit

trees for the climate. Morton believed the

Nebraska prairie would benefit from trees

because they would provide lumber, fruit,

windbreaks and soil moisture. In 1872, he

presented a resolution to the State Board of

Agriculture recommended that the 10th day

of April be “set apart and consecrated for

tree planting” in the state. The state

proclaimed Arbor Day which Morton dubbed

“the battle against the treeless prairies.” The

first Arbor Day proved unexpected popular

and well over a million trees were planted.




Essence of Environmental


“Other holidays repose upon the past; Arbor

Day proposes for the future.” Morton’s

legacy is in the area of agriculture, where he

was one of the earliest conservationists,

even before the term was known.

Publications/Accomplishments Newspaper Editor (1954)

Secretary of Nebraska Territory (1858)

Acting Governor of Nebraska (1860)

Put forth Arbor Day resolution (1872)

President of the American Forestry

Association (1893-1896)

Secretary of Agriculture under Cleveland


Fallacies of the Free Silver Arguments


Illustrated History of Nebraska (Editor,


Spirit of the Times Post Civil War

Westward Expansion

Technological Revolutions Train transportation, Telegraph,


Condition of the Air, Water, Soil

and Biodiversity

The tall grass Nebraska prairie was newly

empty of buffalo but otherwise a thriving

ecosystem of deep soil, rich diversity, and

clean water.