Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Chickamauga Dam Celebration, Near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

September 02, 1940

Governor Cooper, Governor Rivers, Members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, Chairman Morgan and Members of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and you, the good people of Tennessee and of the other six States that abut this great valley:

I am glad to come here today, especially because I took part in the laying of the cornerstone of this dam some years ago.

When I first passed this place, after my election but before my Inauguration as President, there flowed here, as most of us remember, a vagrant stream sometimes shallow and useless, sometimes turbulent and in flood, always dark with the soil it had washed from the eroding hills. This Chickamauga Dam, the sixth in the series of mammoth structures built by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the people of the United States, is helping to give to all of us human control of the watershed of the Tennessee River in order that it may serve in full the purposes of mankind.

This chain of man-made inland seas may well be named "The Great Lakes of the South." Through them we are celebrating the opening of a new artery of commerce, new opportunities for recreation—I see all these new power boats right here, almost at my feet as I speak. We are celebrating relief from the desolation of floods, and new low-cost energy which has begun to flow to the homes and farms and industries in seven American States.

This national holiday—Labor Day—has been appropriately selected, because in the miracle that man has wrought, labor has played a vital role. In all of these seven years, in heat and in cold, men have drilled and blasted through solid rock, they have poured ton after ton of concrete and they have moved mountains of earth. They have worked with the strength of their hands, and they have operated complicated machinery with every form of modern skill. Never once in these years, in this the biggest consolidated construction job ever undertaken directly by the national Government, has there been a substantial interruption to the continuance of your labors. This Dam, all the dams built in this short space of years, stand as a monument to the productive partnership between management and labor, between citizens of all kinds working together in the public weal. Collective bargaining and efficiency have proceeded hand in hand. It is noteworthy that the splendid new agreement be-. tween organized labor and the Tennessee Valley Authority begins with the words "The public interest in an undertaking such as the TVA always being paramount. . . .

It is appropriate, therefore, that we recognize this signal achievement on the day when the whole nation pays tribute to labor's contribution to the democracy that we are now preparing to defend. To all of you, therefore—all of you who have contributed to make these structures possible throughout this beautiful Valley of the Tennessee—I extend the Nation's thanks.

The only note of sorrow that can properly be sounded on a great day like this, perfect in its scenery, perfect in the crowd that has come here today, perfect in our weather, lies in the misplaced emphasis that so many people have put on the objectives of the Government in building up this great Tennessee Valley project. It was at a Press Conference that I held at Warm Springs, down in Southwest Georgia, back in January, 1933, after visiting the Valley with that splendid fighting American, Senator George Norris, of Nebraska, that I put his vision and my vision into words. For many years, in different parts of the Nation, I have been interested in what I had called, already in 1933, the problem of better land use, a problem that necessarily had to include existing facts relating to harmful land use.

In the watershed of the Tennessee River, therefore, I had come to consider the facts of devastating floods that had existed for many generations—floods that washed away houses and roads and factories, floods that took great tolls of human lives—floods that threatened the very security of Chattanooga itself and of many other communities on this river, on the Ohio River and even down in the lower reaches of the Mississippi River.

I had studied the washing away of the wealth of soil on the main stem of the river, on its many main tributaries, and up in the creeks and hills in the higher valleys. I had seen water commerce impeded by shoals and by winding variable channels. I had understood the waste of potential hydroelectric energy.

I had seen forests denuded or burned—but worst of all, I had seen the splendid people living in parts of seven states fighting against nature instead of fighting with nature.

Being of a practical turn of mind—some people say I am part Scotch and part Dutch and therefore ought to have a practical turn of mind—I asked for figures relating to losses and figures to show the cost of stopping these losses.

My memory is that the engineers told me that from floods alone the average annual damage in the Tennessee Valley was about $25,000,000; that the top soil carried to the sea by annual floods averaged another loss of $25,000,000 worth; that better farming and better forestry could produce at least $25,000,000 a year more; and, finally, that a saving of $25,000,000 could be made by providing for and insisting on cheaper electric rates and a wider distribution of power. In other words, the complete development of the objectives of the Tennessee Valley Authority would save or, in other words, gain for the people of the watershed $100,000,000 a year.

On the other side of the ledger—the cost side—I am going back to the figures of seven years ago that have proved pretty accurate—we would have to figure on a total final investment of about $500,000,000, including, of course, the taxes and amortization on the amount spent through a series of years—and including, incidentally, no watered stock. That total sum of dollars was to be spent for three major benefits. The first related to the control of the water for better navigation, for the building of lakes, for the prevention of erosion and for the development of power. The second objective we had was the building back of soil fertility through research into phosphate fertilizers, the use of nitrate plant life and the diversification of crops, and the reforesting of millions of acres of land. The third objective was to improve the social and the economic life of these citizens and, incidentally, improve it with their cooperation—to plan with them for a greater diversification of human effort, to make a richer farm life, to add new industries to our towns and villages, to give employment, and to bring a larger return in cash every single year to the average of our families.

Today you and I are seeing the progress that we have made, that we are still making, and, incidentally, the progress that we propose to continue to make. We have come very far along this particular road. In this Valley, as in the Nation, we do not propose to abandon the goal that is directly before our eyes, either by sitting down or by going back.

These fine changes we see have not come by compulsion—for thousands of farmers and thousands of townspeople have met together in the common effort. They have debated it and discussed it. Participating in the processes of their Government-State Government, local Government, Federal Government-they have altered the looks of their towns and their counties. They have added fertilizer to the soil. They have improved their industries. No farmer was forced to join this conservation movement. No workman was compelled to labor here under onerous conditions, or for less than a rightful wage. No citizen has lost a single one of these human liberties that we prize so highly in this democracy. This is a demonstration of what a democracy at work can do, of what a people uniting in a war against waste and insecurity can and propose to do.

There were and are those who maintain that the develop, ment of an enterprise that lies wholly in this State, is not a proper activity of Government. As for me, I glory in it as one of the great social and economic achievements of the United States.

Today, my friends, we are facing a time of peril unmatched in the history of the nations of all the world. Because we are undertaking the total defense of this Nation of ours, the Tennessee Valley region has assumed, in addition to its own domestic betterment, its share of responsibility for national defense.

Already, and several years ahead of our carefully planned schedule, we are creating new plants which of necessity will use more power. I am glad, indeed, that in spite of partisan opposition, the Congress of the United States has overwhelmingly voted the necessary funds. That money is now at work.

New defense industries are more safe from attack in this region behind the mountains than if they were located on our more exposed borders. It is therefore, good for our safety to develop further and to use the natural resources and the man power of this region. In that development, let us always remember that we must and shall retain the great gains that have been made for human social security in recent years. We propose, indeed, not to retain them alone but to improve and extend them. Most assuredly we are determined neither to repeal them nor weaken them.

We understand now what we did not understand in 1917 and 1918—that the building up of Army and Navy equipment and the training of men to use it ought not to result in a waste of our natural resources, and at the same time ought not to break down the gains of labor or the maintenance of a living wage.

We are seeking the preparedness of America, not against the threat of war or conquest alone, but in order that preparedness be built to assure American peace that rests on the well-being of the American people.

Let us therefore, today, on this very happy occasion, dedicate this Dam and these lakes to the benefit of all the people, to the benefit of the prosperity that they have stimulated, the faith they have justified, the hope that they have inspired, the hearts that they encourage—the total defense of the people of the United States of America.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Chickamauga Dam Celebration, Near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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