December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
United States policy, Henry Wallace said in his spirited challenge to Truman and Dewey in 1948, should be
It was a one-man campaign from the start. Without Henry Agard Wallace there would have been no Progressive Party in 1948. He made it almost a religious revival. With his Calvinistic devotion to duty, his determination to bring the Lord’s work into politics, he gave his platform of planned economy the fervor of a camp-town meeting. He laced his speeches with biblical quotations, calling the wrath of the prophet Isaiah upon President Harry Truman’s get-tough policy with Russia: “Woe to those that trust in chariots.” His “Gideon’s Army” (as he called it after the Old Testament warrior) had to save the nation from its plunge toward war. It had to restore the dreams of the New Deal. And in doing so Wallace was convinced he had to rebuild the wartime “popular front” even though Communist support became the heaviest cross he had to bear.
There was a messianic exhortation to his language. “In Hyde Park they buried our President—and in Washington they buried our dreams,” he told one audience. There was a sense of destiny and showmanship in each appearance—the organized chants booming his name over the loudspeakers, the folk singers crying, “Be a real smarty, join the New Party,” the Crescendos of applause that often lasted ten minutes before the crowd allowed him to speak.
But beneath all the surface revivalism, a Chicago Daily News reporter concluded, “Wallace is an incurably simple soul. His belief in God and Christian doctrine is as real as his devotion to simple fare.” In 1944, after his rejection for a second term as Vice President, he campaigned for President Franklin D. Roosevelt sixteen hours a day through the summer and fall. Once he had to catch a crowded day coach to make his next speech and stood in the aisles from 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. No one offered him a seat or even seemed to recognize him. Associates often tried to argue him out of carrying his heavy suitcase from the station to his distant hotel. Was he trying to save a cab fare? Wallace admitted he liked to save money. But it wasn’t really that. “I need the exercise,” he insisted.
Above all, there was an energetic martyrdom about the 1948 campaign, particularly in his southern tours, where Wallace refused to speak to segregated audiences or stop at hotels or restaurants that turned away black members of his group. There were daily barrages of rotten fruit; there were smashed windshields; and a mob in Gadsden, Alabama, rocked his crowded car for five minutes and almost overturned it. His distraught associates begged him to call off the rest of the tour, but Wallace refused.
It was a campaign driven by the desperation of apparently impending war. At a Chicago dinner in January, 1948, Marshall Field, publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and New York’s PM , reported to the Progressive Party leadership that Pentagon officials expected war within six months. “We were convinced that if we got 5 million votes, we could stop the rush to war. We could have headed off the Korean war and perhaps the Vietnam debacle,” Albert Fitzgerald, president of the United Electrical Workers and chairman of the new party’s labor committee, concluded years afterward. James A. Parley, who had guided Roosevelt to his first two victories, predicted that Wallace would get those five million votes.
In hindsight the campaign seems flawed by Wallace’s ineptness. He was unable to prevent Truman from pinning the Communist label on his party and convincing the country that a Wallace vote would guarantee the election of Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican candidate. But at the same time Wallace gave the campaign a grandeur, an integrity, and a prophetic accuracy that were uncanny. Almost every speech rings startlingly true twenty-eight years later. His assault on the Truman Doctrine and each provocation in the Cold War pointed unerringly toward a constant line of confrontations, from Greece to the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and Cyprus. Decades later Wallace’s words seem incredibly prescient, humane, and logical. The tragedy is that his own political flaws, and his party’s, limited the impact of the campaign.
These flaws first damaged Wallace in his 1944 renomination campaign for the Vice-Presidency. Hating the crudities of politics, he failed to organize his liberal and labor support against the big-city bosses who had joined Robert E. Hannegan, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to block renomination. The Hannegan alliance, determined that Wallace’s extreme New Dealism would never control the White House, pushed hard for Truman, a border-state Democrat who had headed the Senate war investigation committee. Roosevelt shilly-shallied on his commitment to Wallace, and supported almost solidly by southern delegates, Truman won on the second ballot. Hannegan supposedly would boast afterward that the only epitaph he wanted on his gravestone was the credit for keeping Wallace out of the White House.
The problem all through Wallace’s career was that his bafflingly complex and introverted personality left him critically split in the fury of politics. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins praised his “nobility of character.” Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes disliked his consuming ambition. “No one could make deals with Henry,” an associate recalled. When politicians closed in on him, he would slump in his chair, a rumpled, baggy figure, his blue-gray eyes half-closed, almost as if he were dropping off to sleep.
He was aloof, morally austere, uncomfortable in smoke-filled rooms. His shyness, probably intensified by his rigid Calvinist upbringing, made him uncomfortable with small talk and disapproving of liquor and dirty jokes. “He liked the common man in mass, but couldn’t relate on a one-toone basis,” recalled another associate. In fact, many of his closest aides in the Progressive Party leadership were disturbed that after a year of collaboration, often living and eating with them on the road for weeks, Wallace still had not asked them to call him Henry.
Similarly, Truman noted caustically: “Why, hell, he’d been there presiding over the Senate for almost four years, and I’ll bet there weren’t half a dozen Senators who’d call him by his first name.”
There were similar contradictions in Wallace’s visionary economic programs that made him the boogieman of reactionary industrialists, and yet turned out to be surprisingly realistic. Although Wallace was treated by the anti-New Deal press as a crackpot, his doctrines of national economic planning and welfare-state financing became the core of dozens of government programs. His 1945 book, Sixty Million Jobs , advocating government social services and budgetary controls for full employment, was damned as “woolly-minded.” But the country achieved sixty million jobs in the short span of six years.
Even in his nonpolitical life, his experiments in hybrid corn—also thought to be visionary—turned out to be thoroughly realistic. The Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company, which he founded in 1926, paid off munificently. In fact, the stock he held in the company at the time of his death had a value of about $125 million at late 1974 market prices.
Paradoxically, Wallace was extremely tight about money. His Progressive Party associates recall that he almost never paid a taxi fare himself, always divided up a dinner check so that his share was figured down to the penny, and at a private fund-raising event that produced thousands of dollars borrowed a dollar to put in the plate.
The attacks on Wallace’s “woollymindedness” reached their peak in 1948 when Westbrook Pegler, a vitriolic conservative columnist, published the so-called guru letters. Born a Presbyterian and converted to Episcopalianism, Wallace was a lifelong student of Buddhism, Mohammedanism, various Oriental cults, mysticism, and numerology. Through his studies he met Nicholas Roerich, a Russian-born painter and mystic whose followers supposedly considered him a god.
A batch of letters from Wallace to Roerich, addressed “Dear Guru,” contained a jumble of harmless mystical allusions. At a press conference Pegler demanded that Wallace affirm or deny their authenticity and explain their meaning. Wallace handled his answers clumsily, losing himself in a maze of words and finally cutting off the discussion. (“His rule is never to use one word where ten will do the job,” the critic Dwight MacDonald commented. Besides, Wallace hated press conferences.) As a result he emerged for millions of readers in a vindictive press as a bumbling eccentric whose occult gropings could damage his mastery of national politics.
Like other paradoxes in Wallace’s personality, this mystical bent contrasted sharply with his earthy concentration on athletics. A robust, shambling man with unruly gray hair and shaggy eyebrows, whose slightly stooped shoulders made him seem shorter than his 5 feet 11 inches, Wallace exuded enormous energy. “An amazing gathering of the genes,” a prominent geneticist described him. After an exhausting day he liked to impress associates by performing twenty-five push-ups. He played relentless tennis—his form was poor, but he always seemed to get the ball back- as well as squash and Volleyball. He became an expert boomerang thrower, to the delight of press photographers, and at the age of fifty-six learned to fly his own plane. Wallace’s mania for physical fitness, in fact, strongly paralleled that of his boyhood idol, President Theodore Roosevelt, whose insurgent Progressive Party in 1912 was backed by Wallace’s father and whose party name Wallace borrowed in 1948.
Wallace, the first of six children, was born on an Iowa farm into a distinguished agricultural family on October 7, 1888. He would always look like a farmer—he could never fit a suit properly, a friend noted. Even during the 1948 campaign he couldn’t wait to get back to his farm in South Salem, New York. There were always flecks of dirt under the nails of his stubby fingers.
His grandfather, known as Uncle Henry, was the first of nine children, a Presbyterian minister and Civil War chaplain who gave up his pulpit in western Pennsylvania because of illness to become a prosperous Iowa farmer. A huge, bearded man, Uncle Henry looked like an Old Testament prophet. He preached religion and scientific farming through his popular column, “Sabbath School Lesson,” in the family newspaper.
Wallace’s father, Henry Cantwell Wallace, held a professorship at Iowa State Agricultural College and founded Wallace’s Farmer , the most influential farm journal in the Midwest. He used the paper to rally farmers behind Teddy Roosevelt, fight the railroads and monopolies, and advance himself to become Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.
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.
Part of Wallace’s antagonism to Truman was his conviction that the new President failed to fight seriously for the New Deal’s social goals. Part of it was caused by his bitter conviction that except for the machinations of Democratic politics, he would be occupying the White House himself. He always called Truman “that little fellow” or “the salesman.” Their paths crossed once in the 1948 campaign at the Dallas airfield. “Wallace got out of his rented DC-3, and saw the giant Presidential plane taxiing for a takeoff,” an associate recalled. “He looked away quickly. You could see the pain on his face.”
Wallace’s campaign really began on September 12, 1946, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, when he challenged President Truman’s gettough policy with Russia. Wallace had begged the President for months to repair the unity badly eroded since Roosevelt’s death. Denouncing Truman’s policy of “rolling back” Communist influence in Poland and eastern Europe, he concluded that “we have no more business in the political affairs of eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, western Europe, or the United States.” His vision for the two superpowers was a “friendly peaceful competition” that would make them “gradually become more alike”—a reasonable blueprint for the détente of the early 1970’s.
Two days before at the White House, Wallace claimed, Truman had gone over the speech “page by page” and “didn’t have a single change to suggest.” When a reporter asked whether Truman considered it in conflict with State Department policy, the President retorted: “I do not.” But Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Republican mainstay of the administration’s bipartisan policy, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes were furious. When Byrnes threatened to resign, the President fired Wallace on September 20. That same day Truman wrote his mother and sister: “Well, now he’s out, and the crackpots are having conniption fits.”
What had gone wrong in the few months since Yalta? In this drastic reversal of Roosevelt’s policy, pushed by White House advisers like Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal (who wanted “a showdown … now rather than later”), Truman agreed: “We have got to get tough with the Russians.”
What Truman conceived was a world in which the United States could force its “open door” democratic capitalism to the borders of Russia. On the other hand, devastated by a war that had cost them thirteen million lives, the Soviets were haunted by the specter of “capitalist encirclement.” They could never forget that after the 1917 revolution British, French, Japanese, and United States troops had invaded Russia and fought with the White and Czarist armies to destroy the Bolsheviks. Two days after the German invasion of Russia, in June, 1941, Senator Harry S. Truman had suggested: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”
All these nightmares had been calmed by Big Three unity during the war, and the Soviets were now taking a surprisingly conservative position. They sided with the United States and Britain against separation of the Ruhr from Germany. Stalin urged Tito to keep King Peter on the throne, and he not only withheld aid from the Yugoslav Communists in establishing their own regime but also ordered Tito in 1948 to cut his alliance with the Greek leftists.
In spite of all these moves Truman chose to make Poland a test case of Soviet-American unity, apparently ignoring its supreme role in Russian security. Stalin could yield in Iran and many areas, but friendly governments in Poland and the whole eastern bloc were fundamental to Soviet policy. As a result, “the Russians concluded that the West was resuming its old course of capitalist encirclement, that it was purposefully laying the foundation for anti-Soviet regimes in the area defined by the blood of centuries as crucial to Russian survival,” observed Professor Arthur W. Schlesinger, Jr., of Harvard.
Within two months of the September 12, 1946, attack on administration foreign policy, Wallace had cut deeply into Truman’s strength. Although 48 per cent of registered Democrats supported Truman as their next Presidential candidate, according to the Gallup poll, 24 per cent now backed Wallace. His blueprint for Soviet-American unity drew unprecedented crowds in his speaking tour that spring. Yet Wallace continued to insist that he and all “progressive forces” must work within the Democratic Party.
A group named Progressive Citizens of America, however, openly called for a third party to stop the bipartisan policy of Soviet confrontation. Headed by C. B. Baldwin, a Wallace associate from New Deal days, PCA was an amalgam of liberal and left groups that sought to maintain the old popular front.
The President intensified his containment policy in March, 1947, by establishing the “Truman Doctrine” of military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey, with inflammatory language implying that the United States offered a blank check to all anti-Communist governments, no matter how reactionary. Soon naval bases, airfields, and missile sites would perch near the borders of the Soviet Union.
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.
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.”
One unique product of the system was the Progressive Vice-Presidential candidate, Senator Glen Taylor of Idaho, who had made his living as a cowboy singer, and brought his troupe —his wife, his three small sons, and his brother—to Shibe Park with him. The son of an itinerant evangelist preacher, Taylor dramatized his rural background by riding his horse up the Capitol steps in Washington. “I am not leaving the Democratic Party,” he announced on joining Wallace. “It left me. Wall Street and the military have taken over.”
Considering the accusations of Communist domination hurled at the platform committee, the Progressive platform turned out to be amazingly moderate. The committee was chaired by Rexford Tugwell, a veteran of F.D.R.’s New Deal, with Lee Pressman, a former cio official, as secretary. Its planks on foreign policy included a disarmament agreement to outlaw the atomic bomb; internationalization of the Dardanelles, Suez, Panama, and other trouble spots; and control of the Ruhr by the Big Four.
On domestic policy the platform supported giving eighteen-year-olds the vote; national health insurance; federal aid to public schools; federal legislation to wipe out the poll tax, lynching, and racial discrimination in employment, in the armed forces, and in interstate travel; the closing of tax loopholes; public ownership of tideland oil; and “raising women to first class citizenship.”
The prime evidence of Communist domination at the Progressive convention centered on the so-called Vermont resolution. Presented on the floor by three Vermont delegates, it stated: “Although we are critical of the present foreign policy of the United States, it is not our intention to give blanket endorsement to the foreign policy of any nation.” It was an intelligent disclaimer, but it was defeated on the grounds that the point had been reasonably covered in a plank already accepted. Even if the resolution had passed, however, it would probably have had no practical effect in diluting the pro-Communist charges hurled at the new party.
The real controversy over Communist domination centers on John Abt and Lee Pressman. Abt, a soft-spoken lawyer, had been the chief legal adviser to union leader Sidney Hillman. Before joining the Progressives he made it clear that his wife was editor of Soviet Russia Today and that his sister was public-relations director of the Communist Party. Wallace still wanted him.
Pressman had secured enormous power at cio headquarters—the last link to the left-wing unions—before Murray fired him in February, 1948, at the start of the anti-left offensive. Pressman would later admit to brief Communist Party membership during government service in the igso’s. In the same testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee he named three Communists, including John Abt.
Progressive leaders later denied that either Abt or Pressman ever controlled Progressive policy or pushed it to the left. While the Communists had considerable influence on a local level, in areas of New York, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Colorado, they were organizers and local functionaries, not master planners.
That summer, as anti-Communist hysteria increased with charges that Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, had belonged to a prewar Communist cell in Washington, Wallace invaded the South. He became the first Presidential candidate to insist on unsegregated audiences and to campaign personally for black voting rights. No other party since Reconstruction had placed so many blacks on its slate. If it accomplished nothing else, the Progressive Party gave an urgency and dignity to the civil-rights struggle that prepared the way for later advances.
The Progressive campaign in the South was actually a continuation of the registration and voting drives of the igSo’s. In North Carolina alone, Wallace needed petitions signed by thirty-five thousand registered voters just to get on the ballot. In New Orleans a black professor at Dillard University had tried to register fourteen times. The Progressives brought hundreds of students to stand in line and disrupt the office until the professor was accepted.
Senator Taylor first tasted violence on May i in Birmingham, Alabama. When Eugene “Bull” Connor, the public safety commissioner, ordered segregation for a black youth conference, Taylor entered through a door marked “colored” and was seized by police. Identifying himself as a United States senator, he was still dragged to a police car, found guilty by a police-court judge, and fined $50 with a i So-day jail sentence that was eventually suspended.
Wallace toured seven southern states from August 29 to September 3, speaking to thirty unsegregated meetings in twenty-eight cities and making twelve radio broadcasts. In North Carolina, where the governor opposed violence, a National Guard sergeant with drawn revolver and four plainclothes police escorted Wallace to a Durham meeting. Afterward, it took almost an hour for the escort to get Wallace through a howling mob to his car. At Burlington, pelted with eggs and tomatoes on Main Street, he could never give his speech. Forbidden to use any unsegregated halls in Memphis, Wallace drew two thousand people outdoors at Bellevue Park, where his car was rocked, his windshield smashed as he left. “Am I in America?” he asked.
Wallace returned to a triumphant rally at New York’s Yankee Stadium on September 10. “Fascism has become an ugly reality—a reality which I have tested,” he announced.
In Los Angeles on October 2 Wallace addressed a paying audience of twenty-two thousand, while only sixteen thousand had come to hear Truman—without charge—at the same stadium the week before. Such figures, however, were illusory and represented hard-core support in strongholds like New York and California. All polls showed that Wallace had slipped badly.
The President had succeeded in exploiting Wallace’s most vulnerable point—that a Wallace vote would ensure a Republican victory. “Don’t waste your vote,” Truman urged, insisting that Communists had “lined up solidly to put a Republican President in the White House.” Later surveys showed this approach had cut deeply into the Progressive vote, that even devoted Progressive workers at the moment of reckoning in the voting booth had pulled the Truman lever in terror of placing Dewey in the White House.
Truman achieved another climactic stroke, virtually stealing the peace issue from Wallace. Although rejecting a summit meeting after the Wallace-Stalin letters in May, the President asked Chief Justice of the United States Fred Vinson on October 3 to head a peace mission to Moscow. Suddenly the announcement of the mission, for which the White House had booked all networks, was cancelled. The State Department had supposedly persuaded the President to ban all direct negotiation until the end of the Berlin blockade. Further, conservative Republicans branded it Democratic appeasement. At the moment, the abrupt cancellation seemed like an administration blunder. But in the next month Truman turned it to his advantage, posing as an aggressive peace-seeker whose efforts had been thwarted by the hardliners.
Meanwhile the Progressive command, desperate to- eradicate the image that its Congressional candidates were “spoilers” intent on defeating liberal opponents of the Marshall Plan, announced that in twenty-six out of thirty-five marginal districts they would pull out their candidates and either endorse or not oppose the Democrats. In Minnesota, for example, the Progressives pulled out of the Senate race against Hubert Humphrey.
But nothing seemed to help at this point. The returns on Election Day were a devastating blow to Wallace, who received only 1,157,140 votes nationwide. Truman was re-elected in a startling upset, winning 49.51 per cent of the votes to Dewey’s 45.13 per cent. Senator Strom Thurmond on the States’ Rights line even outpolled Wallace, 2.40 to 2.38 per cent.
No important Progressive candidate survived except Vito Marcantonio of New York, who won in a threecornered race. Further, Marcantonio’s American Labor Party accounted for over a half million votes in New York State, about half of Wallace’s national total.
In many key states, like California and Massachusetts, the Progressive organization had simply fallen apart. Legal and technical obstructions denied Wallace considerable numbers of votes. In Ohio, where the courts allowed only an “independent electors” list with no Wallace identification, the resulting confusion probably invalidated about 150,000 votes. The worst thefts probably occurred in the South—Georgia, for example, with 80,000 petition signatures recording 1,600 votes. If all Wallace votes had been tallied, the total would probably have run about 2.25 million.
Was the Wallace campaign with all its agony worthwhile? On the prime issue of peace, Baldwin contends, “We won for the world that precious gift of time.” His estimate may be exaggerated, just as the threat of a Russian war was probably exaggerated. Yet Wallace undoubtedly forced Truman in the last months to reshape his image into that of the peace candidate, to soften his confrontation policy through numerous compromises like the settlement of the Berlin blockade.
Wallace’s main impact was to goad the country into more radical programs. His southern campaign was an impressive breakthrough. In New York the following year, the American Labor Party would run a black candidate for Manhattan borough president and establish a precedent that would soon give black candidates a monopoly on that office. In civil rights, in labor policy, in government economic planning, Wallace pushed Truman into postures he had long evaded. “The men who see eye to eye with Mr. Wallace on domestic, economic and social questions are among those who can rightfully claim a share of the credit for Mr. Truman’s victory,” the Wall Street Journal concluded.
By the time of the second Progressive Party convention in February, 1950, Wallace had grown increasingly skeptical of Soviet peace policy. He insisted that the convention announce bluntly that “we are not apologists for Russia” and that Russia and the United States (“the two big brutes of the world,” he called them) had “both made mistakes in foreign policy.” When left-wing delegates demurred at such sharp treatment of Russia, Marcantonio forced them to accept Wallace’s demands for party unity.
The unity was short-lived. When the Korean War erupted in June, Wallace immediately supported United States armed intervention and announced: “Undoubtedly the Russians could have prevented the attack [by North Korea] and undoubtedly they could now stop the attack any time they wanted.” He had just signed the Stockholm Peace Petition but requested that his name be removed. When the Progressive Party’s national committee called for an immediate cease-fire without pinpointing the blame for hostilities, Wallace refused to join the statement and resigned from the party on August 4.
Wallace retired to “Farvue,” a rambling white three-story farmhouse set on 115 acres in New York’s Westehester County, where he crossbred leghorns to increase their egg yield and experimented with improved strains of gladioli and strawberries. Supporting Eisenhower for the Presidency in 1956, he complained bitterly in an article in Life magazine that he had been duped by the Communists in 1948 and that “in their fanatical way they ruined my campaign and destroyed the efforts of a great many truly patriotic Americans …”
This flash of bitterness evaporated in his enthusiam for President John F. Kennedy. He mellowed both politically and personally, inviting former Progressive associates to his farm—“he even had drinks with us, something he never did before,” one recalled.
Still vigorous at seventy-six, he was climbing the ancient pyramids of Guatemala when he developed sharp pains in his legs, diagnosed on his return as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare disease of the nervous system. He lost coordination of his muscles and even his power of speech, and had to communicate by writing on a blackboard. Baldwin visited him, expecting to stay only a few minutes, but was kept for an hour by Wallace’s ceaseless questions, particularly his concern over United States policy in Vietnam. Baldwin remembered the last thing Wallace scrawled on the blackboard: “We’re like Icarus, flying into the sun.” Wallace died on November 18, 1965.
The principles Wallace forced the public to confront have gained new stature since the 1948 campaign. He was a poor politician, but with his humanity, vision, and identification with global suffering, he grasped what other politicians ignored. His conception of United States foreign policy touched the core of almo.st every problem that has arisen since. On the night of his defeat he scribbled a penciled message to President Truman: “The destiny and salvation of the United States is to serve the world- not to dominate it.”