Who Was the Real Henry Wallace?

by Anita on January 31, 2013

Posted by Anita Folsom

Henry Wallace is a name that is recognized by few Americans today, even though he served as 33rd vice-president of the United States (January 1941 to January 1945), during Franklin Roosevelt’s third term.  Roosevelt dropped Wallace from the ticket for his fourth campaign for the White House, choosing Harry Truman instead. Why was Wallace a political hot potato?

Henry Wallace’s devotion to FDR’s New Deal wasn’t in question. Wallace wholeheartedly believed in the big government ideas of FDR’s administration, including the expanding role of government in telling farmers what they could grow, how much they could charge for their products, and even paying farmers not to produce on certain parcels of land. He faithfully served FDR for seven years as Secretary of Agriculture, then stepped up to become his number two man. Wallace was sure that he would be included on the ticket for FDR’s fourth term.

Of all the men who have served as vice-president, Henry Wallace was possibly the weirdest individual with views farthest to the left on the political spectrum. He graduated from Iowa State in 1910 with a degree in animal husbandry and became an expert on hybridized corn.  Of course, that isn’t what made him unusual. Wallace traveled widely in the Far East, studying plants and also indulging in what amounted to pilgrimages to speak with various gurus. He searched for truth in a series of oddball religions and for years followed the teachings of Russian mystic agronomist Nicholas Roerich. Wallace became a huge admirer of the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin and thought such a society could become a socialist utopia. (For more on this, see “Courting Stalin” in Chapter 11, FDR Goes to War)

Leaders of the Democrat Party became so concerned that Wallace was only a heartbeat away from the presidency that they maneuvered in 1944 to have Harry Truman added to the ticket instead of Wallace.  Bob Hannegan, chairman of the Democrat Party, said this: “I would like to have one thing on my headstone-that I was the man who kept Henry Wallace from becoming President of the United States.”

Now let’s jump to today. In a recent television series, filmmakers Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick have tried to portray Wallace’s fall from grace as one of the tragedies of modern American history. On January 10, 2013, in the Wall Street Journal,  Ronald Radosh had this criticism of the Stone/Kuznick film:

“One of the authors’ main goals is to tell Americans that the Cold War with the Soviet Union was unnecessary and avoidable: The Cold War happened only because President Roosevelt dropped the exemplary Vice President Henry A. Wallace off the ticket at the 1944 Democratic convention and replaced him with the villain of their series, Harry S. Truman.”

Such a proposition by Stone and Kuznick is pure poppycock with no foundation in the historical record. Even while FDR was still president, the Russian leader Josef Stalin had not only grabbed Poland from the Nazis but allowed hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to be slaughtered by the Germans, thus making the Russian take-over that much easier in the war torn vacuum of Polish society. Likewise, Stalin had moved his Russian troops into the Baltic states, where they would remain for decades.  The Cold War was well under way by the time of Roosevelt’s death in April, 1945.

By the 1950s, Henry Wallace admitted that his trust of Stalin and Russian communism had been sadly mistaken in his book Where I Was Wrong.  Wallace blamed his lack of information for this mistake, but perhaps he should have acknowledged that he was a dreamer who wanted to believe in utopias. That was the real Henry Wallace.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: