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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
He reserved the master stroke for July 20, timed three days before the opening of the Progressive Party convention so that no one could miss the connection. A federal grand jury handed down an indictment against twelve Communist officials, under the Smith Act of 1940, charging that they “did conspire” as the Communist Party of the United States “to teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence.” (The American Civil Liberties Union immediately branded the Smith Act unconstitutional, a position supported by the United States Supreme Court in 1957 when it ruled part of the act invalid.)
The pattern set by the White House unleashed anti-Communist hysteria nationwide. The Scripps-Howard chain and other newspapers printed long lists of Wallace petition signers, subjecting them to threatening community pressure and even loss of jobs. Firings became commonplace on college campuses. When Wallace spoke at Evansville, Indiana, in April, a hundred and fifty pickets crashed the coliseum, roughing up Baldwin and a number of ushers. Professor Curtis D. MacDougall, a candidate for the United States Senate in Illinois, was stoned and run out of West Frankfurt. “I told the mob that I now know what it was like in Hitler’s Germany,”MacDougall commented.
The Communist issue would decimate the Progressive campaign, keeping Wallace increasingly on the defensive. He insisted again and again that “the Progressive Party is not controlled by Communists nor was its convention or program directed by them.” His opposition to political violence was clear—“I do not accept the support of any person or group advocating the violent overthrow of the government of the United States.” Contrary to claims that he never criticized Russia, he condemned many aspects of Russian policy—thought control, slave labor, and the Cominform’s opposition to the Marshall Plan, which he thought “probably a propaganda mistake.”
Wallace believed he would have profited by excluding Communists from the Progressive coalition, suggesting it might lose him a hundred thousand votes but gain him three million. Still, he insisted that Communists had the right to vote for him or anyone else, and to force them out of the coalition would destroy his democratic principles.
Wallace could never escape fronrj the devouring pressures of the Cold War, and nothing hurt him more than the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia early in 1948. Wallace defended Russia’s security needs in a country interlocked with most of the eastern zone. But he went further. Because of his antipathy to the press and his habit of popping off at press conferences with any stray thought that entered his head, Wallace had been carefully briefed and rehearsed by his aides. However, such preparation rarely helped. In this case he suddenly announced that the Communist coup was a reaction to a right-wing plot fostered by United States Ambassador Laurence A. Steinhardt. Having no facts to link Steinhardt to the coup, Wallace appeared to be a clumsy apologist.
Except for such lapses, Wallace’s foreign-policy statements were constructive and imaginative. Seeking a formula that would break through the East-West confrontations, he appealed directly to Stalin in an “open letter” on May 11. Surprisingly, Stalin answered the appeal on May 17, calling Wallace’s suggestions “a good and fruitful basis for such an agreement and for the development of international cooperation. …”
The Wallace-Stalin letters seemed like a remarkable breakthrough, sending a thrill of expectancy around the country, offering Truman a firm basis for negotiation. Yet the President ignored the letters and refused the chance for a summit meeting.
The impact of Wallace’s vision was constantly thwarted. In late June, climaxing a jurisdictional squabble over four-power control of Berlin, the Soviets blocked all freight and barge traffic into the city, cutting off its food. By the time the Progressive Party convention opened on July 23, Wallace’s standing in public-opinion polls had dropped to its lowest point.
The delegates and alternates, over three thousand of them, rode special trains to Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Railroad usually designated its specials by color, but to avoid a “Red Special” the line renamed its trains the “Common Man” or “World Peace” specials.
With the average delegate no more than thirty years old, it was a boisterous, youthful convention, more reminiscent of a country hayride than a smoke-filled room. The delegates were mainly housewives, teachers, students, veterans, union officers, and black business and professional people. They chanted endlessly: “One, two, three, four, we don’t want another war.” They waved exotic signs: “Armenia to the Armenians.” They mocked other candidates in song. On Governor Dewey: “One thing I just cannot take—a mustache bigger than the candidate.”
At Shibe Park on July 24 thirty-two thousand packed the climactic rally. Wallace exhorted his followers to fulfill “the dream of the prophets and the founders of the American system.”