Helen Goggins: Rural Electrification and the Tennessee Valley Authority

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. discussed the evolution of rural electrification in the United States during the early 1930’s in his book, The Politics of Upheaval. Schlesinger Jr. argued the positive and negative views revolving around the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA, created in 1933, fell under the  Public Works Administration and part of New Deal legislation. The purpose of the TVA  “was to produce and distribute electric power in the Valley as rapidly and as cheaply as possible,” (Schlesinger, 363). When the TVA attempted to aid in the expansion of electricity in rural areas, people declared it unconstitutional because it interfered with the vitality of private businesses (Schlesiger, 365).

Issues arose soon after after the creation of the TVA due to a fight between public and private interests revolving around electricity. Lawsuits were created an attempt to declare the TVA unconstitutional on the grounds that it was nationalizing a private business. The battle between the TVA and other southern electric companies, including Commonwealth and Southern, created a “grassroots fight” (Schlesinger, 367). The fight was not focused on whether or not rural areas needed power, on who would provide it and how much it would cost. Supporters of the TVA saw the government’s creation of lines as progress because it provided power to citizens that previously relied on gas, and power was going to be cheaper if it was were supplied by the government (Schlesinger, 363). The opposition saw the government expansion of electric power as an infringement on the separation of the public and private spheres, and asserted that private companies could not compete with the low prices set up by the TVA. On December 22, 1936, 19 companies won the suit against the TVA,which was prohibited from entering into new contracts for six months. David E. Lilienthal, a member on the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors described the defeat as a, “breach of faith with the Government,” (Schlesinger, 369). The purpose of the Tennessee Valley Authority was to stimulate areas that lacked power by providing loans to get lines built and power to the community and the controversy revolved around whether the government had the right to intervene in private enterprise (Schlesinger, 384).  

Total Count: 366

Schlesinger, Arthur, The Politics of Upheaval (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1960), 362-384  

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