“…to Serve The World-not To Dominate It”


Henry Agard Wallace grew up shy and reticent, dedicated to his studies, making few friends. At twelve he won a medal as “champion plowboy” of his district. And even at that age he was strongly influenced by George Washington Carver, the black chemurgist and botanist then working at Iowa State, who roused Wallace’s interest in civil rights and inspired his first experiments in plant genetics. From Uncle Henry and his father he inherited both his astuteness and his Old Testament passion. Years later, during political campaigns, he was still holding family hymn sings after Sunday supper.

Four years after graduating from Iowa State in 1910, he married a classmate, Ilo Browne. They had three children—Jean, and Henry and Robert, who were both eventually employed in their father’s Hi-Bred Corn Company. None of the children campaigned actively in 1948, but Jean was openly committed to the Progressive cause. His wife, who wanted the trappings of the Presidency but not the hurly-burly of politics, disapproved of the campaign. Although she appeared at occasional affairs, her attitude toward Wallace’s volatile associates was a mixture of provincialism and snobbery. She once commented that Congressman Vito Marcantonio of New York’s East Harlem was not her “husband’s kind.” After riding to a meeting with Paul Robeson and Zero Mostel, she exclaimed to a friend: “Where do they get these people!”

Wallace served as assistant editor and then editor of the family newspaper from 1910 to 1933 and, like his father, made it a slashing political weapon. Although a Republican, he supported Senator Robert M. La Follette, the Progressive candidate for President in 1924. Determined to unite farmers and eastern labor with the liberal middle class, he switched to Governor Alfred E. Smith and the Democratic Party in 1928. Campaigning tirelessly for Roosevelt in 1932 (though he still donated twenty-five dollars to Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate), he was appointed Secretary of Agriculture. He remained so nonpolitical that he didn’t bother to change his party registration until 1936. Even Truman, who had few kind words for Wallace, considered him one of the best Secretaries in the country’s history.

He became the cutting edge of the New Deal, soon a folk hero for labor and liberals but the target of endless scorn in the Republican press. His Agricultural Adjustment Administration, providing farmers with cash benefits to cut output and thus raise prices, resulted in the plowing under of ten million acres of cotton and the slaughtering of six million small pigs. His “ever-normal granary,” which controlled gluts and shortages through government storage, purchase, and sales, made the Department of Agriculture the New Deal symbol of production planning. He instituted crop insurance, mortgage relief, and the Rural Electrification Administration, which raised more conservative hackles by promoting publicly owned power plants in rural areas. His migrant-worker camps under the Farm Security Administration, and aid to poor farmers, both black and white, constantly angered southern legislators, who tried to withhold funds from his agencies.

Despite such radical blueprints, Wallace often trimmed his programs to immediate pressures. When Jerome Frank (later a federal judge) and other “young rebels” in AAA clashed with conservatives over contracts protecting small tenant farmers and sharecroppers, Wallace fired the rebels. His associates soon found he ruffled easily under criticism. Touring ah FSA housing development in the South, he luxuriated in the compliments of tenants until one woman complained she had been blocked from expanding her house. Wallace retorted that Rexford G. Tugwell (his Undersecretary) had been responsible for those regulations.

By 1940 Roosevelt was devoting himself almost exclusively to foreign affairs and the impending war, and he demanded that the Democratic convention nominate Wallace as his running mate. The new Vice President began to preach his vision of a postwar world that would wipe out imperialism and colonialism and replace them with global New Dealism—a concept that collided with the reality of increasing business dominance of America’s wartime economy. Instead of Henry Luce’s imperialist American Century, Wallace called for “The Century of the Common Man,” the title of his 1943 book.

Appointed head of the Economic Defense Board in 1941, Wallace struggled to unite his social evangelism with Keynesian economics, to make capitalist techniques achieve noncapitalist dreams. His theories, however, soon clashed with those of Jesse Jones, the conservative Secretary of Commerce, and the Republicans and southern Democrats in Congress, who generally sided with Jones, eroded Wallace’s position by cutting back the funds for many New Deal agencies.

When President Truman after Roosevelt’s death in 1945 appointed Wallace Secretary of Commerce, a tide of reactionary opposition in the Senate first stripped his office of the lending power Jones had controlled. Even then, Wallace’s appointment was barely approved by the Senate. The last New Dealer in the Cabinet, Wallace was rarely consulted by the President, who considered him a figurehead to hold the allegiance of labor and liberals.


Thus the battle lines had hardened long before 1948. The Wallace Presidential campaign was the climax of a split in domestic as well as foreign policy. All the simmering issues—a planned economy, civil rights, communism—would dominate debates in that critical year.