Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Oysters

Grab a lawn chair and pop a top America – we’re about to shed some light on one of the coolest pieces of American history (and likely something your high school history teacher forgot to tell you):

It’s the early 19th century. An apple-pie eating, beer drinking, American man by the name of Mr. Waddell heads into the New Jersey surf with aspirations of harvesting some oysters. Meanwhile, Mr. Martin (a real prick of a fella with ties to European nobility) finds out about Waddell and throws a fit. This European yahoo takes our patriotic brother to court on grounds that the oysters harvested, in water that adjoined Martin’s property line, were Martin’s property. Thus, Waddell is accused of being a no good, dirty rotten, thief.

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court in 1842 and a ruling was issued in favor of Waddell, clearing him of all accusations of tomfoolery on grounds that the nation’s natural resources belonged to the American people, not to a single person or social class. This case set the legal precedent for public trust doctrine in the United States and ultimately laid the foundation for the North American Model of Conservation.

Now let’s think about this for a moment. In 1842, the Declaration of Independence is still relatively new. The justices serving, and everyone else in that courtroom, likely had personal relationships with those who actually lived through the American Revolution. The disdain for the Crown is still very prominent (let’s not forget, the British tried to burn down the White House during the War of 1812, 28 years prior to this court ruling). Our young government was frothing at the mouth to prove that our nation would not fall in line with the status quo of European aristocracy and that America would be different.

For centuries, the European nobility had laid claim to the wildlife, forbidding the lower social classes from partaking in any forms of hunting. Martin v Waddell made it blatantly clear: the wildlife would belong to the American people, as a whole. What better way to stick it to the aristocratic ideals of the English Crown than to give the people ownership of the nation’s wildlife? Although this story isn’t quite as glorious as the defense of Bunker Hill, or as blatantly rebellious as the Boston Tea Party, it serves as a defining moment in American history, and outdoor recreation wouldn’t be what it is today without it. America wouldn’t be what it is today without it.

Suck it, King George. We’re going hunting, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.

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