Henry Wallace: The Original #DemExit-er

Black-and-white image of the head and shoulders of man about fifty with upswept hair, wearing a gray suit and a dark tie

On this day 133 years ago, Henry Agard Wallace was born. Wallace would gain a very longstanding legacy in US Political History thanks to the ruling political establishments demonization of his politics.

Wallace began his career as the Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin Roosevelt, where he played a vital part in passing the Agricultural Adjustment Act, being an outspoken voice to Roosevelts Left. His actions as secretary earned Roosevelts favor to the point where he was chosen to replace John Nance Garner as his Vice President. A decision that angered the conservative Democratic establishment, who became fearful that Wallace would become the president if FDR died: so they pressured Roosevelt to give the 1944 Democratic convention the ability to choose his running mate, to which they coalesced around the more conservative Harry Truman. Wallace would then have a brief stint as a newspaper editor and helped found a progressive political group called the Progressive Citizens of America to continue the New Deal before the electoral bug would bite him four years later.

Wallace did not view Truman as the natural successor to FDR, and at the behest of many PCA members (one of which was FDR’s son Elliott), he translated the PCA into an independent political group known as the Progressive Party. He ran on a platform of expanding the New Deal, desegregation, a National Health Care Plan, and a peace based foreign policy with the USSR. That platform attracted the attention of a lot of people, including groups that wanted to help him like the American Labor Party and most prominently the American Communist Party.

While Wallace himself was not a communist, he did not turn away their support, stating “I’m not following their line. If they want to follow my line, I say God bless ’em”. As the Cold War was just starting to begin, many prominent individuals accused Wallace of being either a spy for the Soviet Union or an unwilling pawn of them, even getting to the point where Wallace supporters names were printed in newspapers in an effort to get them fired from their jobs.

While his efforts outside the administration did not end up having much impact, Wallace did push the dialogue and some of his allies (namely Vito Marcantonio) did have longstanding political careers. His story is a fascinating one.

 

15 thoughts on “Henry Wallace: The Original #DemExit-er

  1. SocraticGadfly

    Omits some of Wallace’s history.
    1. FDR named him as his fourth-term Secretary of Commerce.
    2. Truman eventually fired him.
    3. Wallace’s “New Agey” association with Theosophist Nicholas Roerich helped torpedo his 1948 run.
    3. Wallace later said he’d been naive at times about the USSR and eventually, after the start of the Korean War called it “utterly evil.” (This is not to justify all US Cold War activity.)

  2. SocraticGadfly

    Fernando … first, I oops and put up two No. 3s ….

    That said, calling the second No. 3 as No. 4? I’d say 2-4 were all at least partially relevant. Had Truman not fired him, he might not have run a third-party campaign. (Let’s not forget Norman Thomas and the original Socialist Party were there in 1948.) No. 3 is directly relevant to why he didn’t do better in 1948. No. 4 in renumbering ties back to 1948; the Socialists had originally considered co-nominating Wallace, but when he wouldn’t repudiate Communist backing, refused to do so.

    So, really, 2-4 are relevant to Wallace’s run.

    Per Wiki, a united Wallace Progressive-Socialist co-nomination probably would have swung California and Ohio from Truman to Dewey. That would have thrown the election to the House.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_United_States_presidential_election

  3. Fernando Mercado Post author

    Too be fair, the Socialist thing seems to be more speculation, doesn’t appear to have a source. Ant that speculation does not really align with the actual results of the race, CA was close as is, and the 3,459 Norman voters going Wallace would not have changed that. I would argue that the consistent bashing of his candidacy as a secret Communist were more prominent in him not doing so hot.

  4. Richard Winger

    Pollster and political scientist Sam Lubell wrote in his book “The Future of American Democracy” that Wallace caused Truman to beat Dewey in 1948. Lubell’s data showed that 2,000,000 anti-Communist Democrats had voted Republican for president in 1944 because they observed that in 1944, the Communist Political Association (successor to the Communist Party) had endorsed FDR and they were repelled by that. But in 1948 those voters came back to the Democratic Party because they observed that the Communist Party (having been re-created) was attacking Truman and supporting Wallace. Many of these voters were Poles.

  5. Gene Berkman

    As noted, Henry Wallace came to understand that Soviet communism was evil and expansionist. Wallace supported the United Nations in the Korean War, while the majority of the Progressive Party leadership sided with China and North Korea, as indicated in the resolution opposing the Korean war adopted by the Executive Committee of the Progressive Party. Only former FDR brain-truster Rexford Tugwell sided with Wallace. Like Wallace, Tugwell was a World Federalist who favored more power for the United Nations.

    In later years, Henry Wallace supported Eisenhower for President in 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960, finally voting Democrat for the mad bomber Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

  6. Darcy G Richardson

    A profound observation by Gene Berkman and an equally excellent follow-up comment by Ron Gunzburger of Politics 1.

    Like Richard Winger, Gene and Ron are two of my favorite commenters here…

    In any case, the Socialist Party’s Norman Thomas, waging his sixth straight and final campaign for the nation’s highest office that year, was arguably Wallace’s most acerbic and thoughtful anti-communist critic during the 1948 presidential campaign. Thomas had a lot of interesting things to say about the former vice-president that year. Wallace’s Progressive Party candidacy, in fact, was the primary reason Thomas — one of our country’s most decent public figures of all time — decided to give it one last whirl after vowing that his disappointing 1944 campaign would be his “last hurrah.”

  7. Darcy G Richardson

    For the record, the Socialist Party never seriously considered nominating Wallace for president in 1948. Wallace’s Communist-backed candidacy is precisely why Thomas — reluctant to run again — came out of semi-retirement to run one last time.

    Not sure where Socratic Gadfly read or heard that…

  8. Darcy G Richardson

    Norman Thomas was one of the greatest souls who ever walked this Earth, a truly selfless and patriotic American who loved this country with all of his heart and cared for all of this world’s inhabitants.

    He was a quintessential American. He was right on every issue, fighting segregation in the Deep South long before the Civil Rights movement — way back in the 1930s — fighting political corruption in Tammany Hall, warning about Hitler and the Nazis in the early thirties, and opposing the Vietnam War late in his life when he couldn’t see and could barely walk in the early to mid-sixties. He’s so little-known now — blind, frail and crippled — he stood and spoke out for the country’s better self until his final breath.

    And he did it all with an unusual wit, something badly lacking today.

    Virtually forgotten today, Norman Thomas was an American hero.

  9. Gene Berkman

    Darcy is correct that in 1948 Norman Thomas focused his last campaign on opposing Henry Wallace and his Communist supporters.

    Thomas included a critique of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian state at odds with the democratic aspirations of American socialists.

    Within the far left Socialist Workers Party – then still aligned with the Trotskyist Fourth International – there were two groups that wanted to back Wallace and the Progressive Party. The SWP National Committee members from Chicago headed by Arne Swabeck wanted to get behind Wallace. At the same time, the Global Class War Tendency headed by Sam Marcy favored a strategy of critical support for Wallace, despite what they saw were his “bourgeois” political views.

    The Global Class War Tendency later split to form the Workers World Party. Arne Swabeck led a Maoist tendency in the Socialist Workers Party til he was purged for violating party discipline.

  10. Fernando Mercado Post author

    From what I see, the Socialists considered simply not running someone in ’48 since Norman was (supposedly) not running, there was not a formal plan for joining the Progressive/Communist/American Labor Coalition.

    It wasn’t like 1924 where they formally coalesced with Fighting Bob.

    I like Thomas and Wallace despite then not liking eachother

  11. Tony From Long Island

    #DemExit isn’t a real thing, so the entire story is based on a false premise.

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