An Individual is molded by environment and honed by challenges encountered. A legacy is the historical scorecard that measures success.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd United States president, was a rare breed in the world of politics. He was a charismatic and influential leader, as well as a compassionate thinker.
An affluent family provided the foundation for Roosevelt’s brilliant mind. He was a three-year history graduate from Harvard and passed the bar exam before completing law school at Columbia.
Though FDR never fully recovered from the polio he contracted in his thirties, he was instrumental in establishing the March of Dimes fundraising organization that led to a successful polio vaccine. Perhaps his weakened legs allowed him to remain grounded when confronted with the critical events he faced in the White House.
During the Great Depression and throughout World War II, Roosevelt tackled immense crises with a depth not often found at his position. While some Presidents have schools named for them, Roosevelt built schools, roads, and infrastructure that enriched the public good long after he was gone. Had he survived the war, there were already blueprints in the works to rebuild the globe, as well.
The primary theme in his works was not the biggest return gained, but the greatest service provided to those affected the most by his programs. One of these ventures was the Tennessee Valley Authority, initiated in 1933, to create environmental stability and provide affordable electricity for seven disadvantaged Southern states. In 1939, there were over 300,000 customers receiving electricity from this effort, many of whom were in agricultural areas.
Along with floodwater control, land preservation, and improved navigation on the Tennessee River, this program supplied cheap power to a neglected market segment. The project began with an area of unused government land in Alabama, the purchase of an existing dam, and the construction of nine more to become the nation’s largest producer of electricity by 1941.
The greater good is never achieved without controversy, and this endeavor proved to be no exception. The chief opponents to the TVA were the owners of private utility companies that viewed government encroachment in the power industry as an unfair trade practice. They feared the cheaper electricity provided by the TVA would affect their profit margins, and the existence of the federal competitor restricted plans for future expansion in the market.
Like many of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, this one was decided by the Supreme Court. The justices ruled in January of 1936 that the Agricultural Adjustment Act and National Recovery Act were unconstitutional. In a surprising twist, the Court returned a favorable ruling supporting the TVA, both in 1936 and 1939.
Today the Tennessee Valley Authority remains a leading United States producer of electricity, serving more than eight million customers. Furthermore, it represents another vision of President Roosevelt that has delivered far-reaching benefits for the citizens that he served.