Antiquities Act of 1906 – A haphazard explanation
The Antiquities Act of 1906 was enacted by the US congress in reaction to profiteering easterners traveling out west and looting archaeology sites. The government of the USA did not take too kindly to its prehistoric spoils being removed from context and brought to such dubious institutions as the Peabody Museum.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 was initially a flop. Its maximum penalty of 9 days in jail and a $10 fine for the looters of antiquity did not round out the profit motive that drove the looting of the great archaeological resources of the western United States. But there was an off handed line written into the act that imbibed the president of the USA with the authority to declare as national monuments areas of the country that contained “objects of great antiquity.”
This proved to be the act’s saving grace.
Three years later President Theodore Rosevelt was the first to use this writ of authority. He pretty much declared the entire northern stretch of Arizona a national monument.
Congress questioned his power to do so: “What is of great antiquity in this area?” they asked.
“Well,” Roosevelt replied, “the Grand Canyon looks pretty damn old to me.”
Congress squirmed: “But this is not how we intended this act to be used!”
“Well this is how I’m interpreting it,” the president spoke with finality.
And thus it has become a tradition for American presidents to name a National Monument or two on their way out of office. Some go nuts with their last chance at legacy and name 16 national monuments, whereas others protect submerged mountain ranges in the middle of the ocean.