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“…to Serve The World-not To Dominate It”
United States policy, Henry Wallace said in his spirited challenge to Truman and Dewey in 1948, should be
December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
In June, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had succeeded Byrnes, announced an ambitious plan of economic aid for Europe, henceforth known as the Marshall Plan. Obviously aimed at making West Germany a bulwark against the Soviets, its humanitarian objectives were soon overshadowed by its military arm, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Soviets heightened the confrontation by refusing to join the Marshall Plan and forcing Czechoslovakia to pull out.
Determined to halt the rush toward “preventive” war, PCA called a meeting of state executives in late November. Almost unanimously they favored establishing a new party, and Wallace, too, was gradually becoming convinced that it was necessary.
Later it became popular to call the Communist Party the organizing force behind the Progressives. The evidence, however, is weak. Although Baldwin had been pushing for a new party for two years, Communist support wavered throughout 1946 and 1947. Then at the December 2 meeting of PCA, Wallace gave his commitment to run as a third-party candidate. On December 29 he announced his decision publicly from Chicago over a radio network, insisting that the dominant issue was peace.
At first Wallace held his own against the big-city bosses. A special House election was called in February, 1948, in New York’s Bronx County, the long-time preserve of Ed Flynn, the kingpin of the Democratic machine. After Wallace stumped the district for the American Labor Party, the Progressive wing in New York State, its candidate scored a startling upset. Appalled, the Democratic national chairman pleaded for Wallace to return to the fold. Wallace saw no basis for reconciliation.
Wallace’s fund-raising spectaculars produced almost $90,000 in January and February alone. The real money, however, came from a few wealthy individuals, particularly Anita McCormick Blaine of Chicago, heiress to the Cyrus H. McCormick reaper fortune, who was said to have donated $800,000. But by spring the flood began to dry up. Progressive headquarters nationally reported only $1.5 million in total contributions (with at least another million raised in the states). The minuscule union contributions were especially disappointing.
The worst aspect of the campaign was its organization at state and local levels. Wallace’s headquarters staff had few experienced professionals. Only Congressman Marcantonio of New York’s American Labor Party controlled a functioning state machine. California, with almost a half million Progressive petition signatures collected for the spring primary, failed to build a local club system. In Illinois, a potential anchor state with over three hundred thousand Progressive votes in Chicago the year before, the courts ruled Wallace off the ballot for lack of enough valid petition signatures in each county—a restrictive system later outlawed by the United States Supreme Court.
Above all, the Wallace campaign failed to build a union base. The cio quickly rejected a third-party drive. Big labor was not only fearful of a Republican victory but also won over to the administration by the booming production, full employment, and rising wages of the Cold War.
Even the more radical cio unions failed to build a block-by-block organization for Wallace. For instance, although Albert Fitzgerald chaired the Progressive labor committee, his giant United Electrical Workers Union never voted an official position on Wallace. The Progressives were no more successful in the farm bloc. The National Farmers Union, headed by Wallace’s long-time friend James Patton, backed the campaign only in scattered regions.
Meanwhile, Truman was struggling against both the commanding lead of Republican Governor Thomas E. Dewey and the internal dissensions of the Democratic Party. Buoyed by the Republican sweep in Congress in 1946 and overwhelming statistics from every poll that his election was a foregone conclusion, Dewey campaigned like an automaton, his speeches as carefully trimmed to middle-of-the-road Republicanism as his mustache. His staff and program were efficient and glacial. One public official, in fact, characterized Dewey as “the only man I ever met who can strut sitting down.” The Republican chiefs were so confident of a landslide that one paid an exorbitant price for a crumbling old hotel near the governor’s home at Pawling, New York, in order to convert it to the summer White House.
Even the cio bosses and the liberal Americans for Democratic Action searched for an alternative to the floundering Truman candidacy by pressuring General Dwight D. Eisenhower to take the nomination. But Ike issued an irrevocable No on July 9. If they couldn’t have a winner, the ADA fought doggedly for a strong civilrights platform, which turned out to be one of Truman’s best campaign assets. Still, it cost him the support of hard-core southern segregationists, who walked out of the convention after Truman took the nomination on the first ballot, and formed the States’ Rights Party.
Truman soon turned the Wallace campaign to his advantage by fastening onto the Progressives the Communist label that the Republican right had long sought to pin on him. In effect, the President stole the Republicans’ most flamboyant technique.
“I do not want and I will not accept the political support of Henry Wallace and his Communists,” Truman announced on March 17. “He [Wallace] ought to go to the country he loves so well and help them against his own country if that’s the way he feels,” Truman added twelve days later.