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Henry Agard Wallace (October 7, 1888 – November 18, 1965) was the 33rd Vice President of the United States (1941–1945), the 11th Secretary of Agriculture (1933–1940), and the tenth Secretary of Commerce (1945–1946). In the 1948 presidential election, Wallace was the nominee of the Progressive Party.

Early life

Wallace was born on October 7, 1888 at a farm near Orientmarker, Adair Countymarker, Iowamarker. He graduated from Iowa State Collegemarker at Amesmarker in 1910, where he was a brother in the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. His father was Henry Cantwell Wallace. He worked on the editorial staff of Wallace's Farmer in Des Moines, Iowamarker, from 1910 to 1924 and edited the publication from 1924 to 1929. He experimented with breeding high-yielding strains of corn (maize), and authored many publications on agriculture. In 1915 he devised the first corn-hog ratio charts indicating the probable course of markets. With an inheritance of a few thousand dollars that had been left to his wife, the former Ilo Browne, whom he married in 1914, Wallace founded Hi-Bred Corn, which later became Pioneer Hi-Bred, a major agriculture corporation, acquired in 1999 by the Dupont Corporation for approximately $10 billion.

Wallace was raised as a Presbyterian, but left that denomination early in life. He spent most of his early life exploring other religious faiths and traditions. For many years, he had been closely associated with famous Russian artist and writer Nicholas Roerich. According to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "Wallace's search for inner light took him to strange prophets.... It was in this search that he encountered Nicholas Roerich, a Russian emigre, painter, theosophist. Wallace did Roerich a number of favors, including sending him on an expedition to Central Asia presumably to collect drought-resistant grasses. In due course, H.A. [Wallace] became disillusioned with Roerich and turned almost viciously against him." Wallace eventually settled on Episcopalianism.

Political career

Secretary of Agriculture

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Wallace United States Secretary of Agriculture in his Cabinet, a post his father, Henry Cantwell Wallace, had occupied from 1921 to 1924. Wallace had been a liberal Republican, but he supported Roosevelt's New Deal and soon switched to the Democratic Party. Wallace served as Secretary of Agriculture until September 1940, when he resigned, having been nominated for Vice President as Roosevelt's running mate in the 1940 presidential election. During his stay as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture he had to order a very unpopular strategy of slaughtering pigs and plowing up cotton fields in rural America to drive the price of these commodities back up in order to improve American farmers' financial situation. He also advocated the ever-normal granary concept.

Vice President

Vice President Henry Wallace
Wallace was elected in November 1940 as Vice President on the Democratic Party ticket with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His inauguration took place on January 20, 1941, for the term ending January 20, 1945.

Roosevelt named Wallace chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW) and of the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board (SPAB) in 1941. Both positions became important with the U.S. entry into World War II. As he began to flex his newfound political muscle in his position with SPAB, Wallace came up against the conservative wing of the Democratic party in the form of Jesse H. Jones, Secretary of Commerce, as the two differed on how to handle wartime supplies.

On May 8, 1942, Wallace delivered his most famous speech, which became known by the phrase "Century of the Common Man", to the Free World Association in New York Citymarker. This speech, grounded in Christian references, laid out a positive vision for the war beyond the simple defeat of the Nazis. The speech, and the book of the same name which appeared the following year, proved quite popular, but it earned him enemies among the Democratic leadership, among important allied leaders like Winston Churchill, and among business leaders and conservatives.

Wallace spoke out during race riots in Detroit in 1943, declaring that the nation could not "fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home."

In 1943, Wallace made a goodwill tour of Latin America, shoring up support among important allies. His trip proved a success, and helped persuade twelve countries to declare war on Germanymarker. Regarding trade relationships with Latin America, he convinced the BEW to add "labor clauses" to contracts with Latin American producers. These clauses required producers to pay fair wages and provide safe working conditions for their employees and committed the United States to paying for up to half of the required improvements. This met opposition from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Wallace believed that both the American and the Russian revolution were part of "the march to freedom of the past 150 years." After having met Molotov, he arranged a trip to the "Wild East" of Russia. On May 23, 1944, he started a 25-day journey accompanied by Owen Lattimore. Coming from Alaska, they landed at Magadanmarker where they were received by Sergei Goglidze and Dalstroi director Ivan Nikishov, both NKVD generals. The NKVD presented a fully sanitized version of the slave labor camps in Magadan and Kolyma to their American guests, convinced them that all the work was done by volunteers, charmed them with entertainment, and left their guests impressed with the "development" of Siberia and the spirit of the "volunteers". Lattimore's film of the visit tells that " a village .. in Siberia is a forum for open discussion like a town meeting in New England." The trip then continued to China.

After Wallace feuded publicly with Jesse Jones and other high officials, Roosevelt stripped him of his war agency responsibilities and entertained the idea of replacing him on the presidential ticket. The Democratic Party, with concern being expressed privately about Roosevelt being able to make it through another term, chose Harry S. Truman as Roosevelt's running mate at the 1944 Democratic convention, after New Deal partisans failed to promote William O. Douglas. Wallace was succeeded as Vice President on January 20, 1945, by Truman. On April 12, 1945, Vice President Truman succeeded to the Presidency when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Henry A. Wallace had missed being the 33rd President of the United States by just 82 days.

Roerich controversy

During the 1940 presidential election, a series of letters that Wallace had written in the 1930s to Nicholas Roerich was uncovered by the Republicans. Wallace addressed Roerich as "Dear Guru" and signed all of the letters as "G" for Galahad, the name Roerich had assigned him. Wallace assured Roerich that he awaited "the breaking of the New Day" when the people of "Northern Shambhalla" - a Buddhist term roughly equivalent to the kingdom of heaven — would create an era of peace and plenty. When asked about the letters, Wallace claimed they were forgeries. According to Ruth Abrams Drayer's book, Nicholas & Helena Roerich, The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists & Peacemakers, Wallace had been a devoted supporter of N. Roerich and his work from the middle 1920s. With the nod from F.D. Roosevelt, Wallace had lobbied Congress to support Roerich's Banner and Pact of Peace which was signed in Washington, D.C. by delegates from 22 Latin American countries in 1935. However, when Roerich and his son George were in Central Asia (sent on expedition by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to search for drought resistant grasses to prevent another Dust Bowl situation), Roerich so severely embarrassed the U.S. government politically that Wallace dismissed him and even in Wallace's memoirs, attempted to conceal the fact that the two men had ever been associated. When the Republicans threatened to reveal his "eccentric" religious beliefs to the public, the Democrats countered by threatening to release information about Republican candidate Wendell Willkie's rumored extramarital affair with the writer Irita Van Doren. The Republicans subsequently agreed not to publicize the "Guru" letters. In the winter of 1947, however, independent columnist Westbrook Pegler published extracts fron the letters and promoted them thereafter as evidence that Wallace was not fit to be President.

Secretary of Commerce

Portrait of Henry Wallace
Roosevelt placated Wallace by appointing him Secretary of Commerce. Wallace served in this post from March 1945 to September 1946, when he was fired by President Harry S. Truman because of disagreements about the policy towards the Soviet Unionmarker.

The New Republic

Following his term as Secretary of Commerce, Wallace became the editor of The New Republic magazine, using his position to vociferously criticize Truman's foreign policy. On the declaration of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, he predicted it would mark the beginning of "a century of fear."

The 1948 Presidential election

Wallace left his editorship position in 1948 to make an unsuccessful run as a Progressive Party candidate in the 1948 U.S. presidential election. His platform advocated friendly relations with the Soviet Union, an end to the nascent Cold War, an end to segregation, full voting rights for blacks, and universal government health insurance. His campaign was unusual for his time in that it included African American candidates campaigning alongside white candidates in the American South, and that during the campaign he refused to appear before segregated audiences or eat or stay in segregated establishments.

As a further sign of the times, he was noted by Time as ostentatiously riding through various cities and towns in the South "with his Negro secretary beside him." Many eggs and tomatoes were hurled at and struck him and his campaign members during the tour, while at the same time President Truman referred to such behavior towards Wallace as very un-American. Wallace was quoted as saying, "There is a long chain that links unknown young hoodlums in North Carolina or Alabama with men in finely tailored business suits in the great financial centers of New York or Boston, men who make a dollars-&-cents profit by setting race against race in the far away South." State authorities in Virginia sidestepped enforcing its own segregation laws by declaring Wallace's gatherings as private parties.

The "Dear Guru" letters reappeared now and were published, seriously hampering his campaign. Even more damage was done to Wallace's campaign when several prominent journalists, including H.L. Mencken and Dorothy Thompson, publicly charged that Wallace and the Progressives were under the covert control of Communists. Wallace was endorsed by the Communist Party , and his subsequent refusal to publicly disavow any Communist support cost him the backing of many anti-Communist liberals and socialists, such as Norman Thomas. Christopher Andrew, a University of Cambridgemarker historian working with evidence in the famed Mitrokhin Archive, has stated publicly that he believed Wallace was a confirmed KGB agent, though evidence for this was never produced. Students in Eastern Europe demonstrated in support of Wallace, chanting "long live Wallace, death to Truman."

Wallace suffered a decisive defeat in the election, to the Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman. Gaining 2.4% of the popular vote, he ended up third runner-up behind Republican Thomas Edmund Dewey and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, but virtually tied with Thurmond. He did not carry any states (unlike Thurmond, who carried several states in the Deep South).

Later career

Wallace resumed his farming interests, and resided in South Salem, New Yorkmarker. During his later years he made a number of advances in the field of agricultural science. His many accomplishments included a breed of chicken that at one point accounted for the overwhelming majority of all egg-laying chickens sold across the globe. The Henry A.marker Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Centermarker, the largest agricultural research complex in the world, is named for him.

In 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, Wallace broke with the Progressives and backed the U.S.-led war effort in the Korean War. In 1952, Wallace published Where I Was Wrong, in which he explained that his seemingly-trusting stance toward the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin stemmed from inadequate information about Stalin's excesses and that he, too, now considered himself an anti-Communist. He wrote various letters to "people who he thought had traduced (maligned) him" and advocated the re-election of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.

In 1961, President-elect John F. Kennedy invited him to his inauguration ceremony, though he had supported Kennedy's opponent Richard Nixon. A touched Wallace wrote to Kennedy: "At no time in our history have so many tens of millions of people been so completely enthusiastic about an Inaugural Address as about yours.".

He died in Danbury, Connecticutmarker, in 1965, of Lou Gehrig's disease. His remains were cremated at Grace Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticutmarker, and the ashes interred in Glendale Cemetery, Des Moines, Iowamarker.

See also

  • Honeydew , apparently first introduced to Chinamarker by H.A. Wallace and still locally known there as the "Wallace melon"
  • Bailan melon, one of the most famous Chinese melon cultivars, bred from the "Wallace melon"


Secondary sources


  • Agricultural Prices (1920)
  • New Frontiers (1934)
  • America Must Choose (1934)
  • Statesmanship and Religion (1934)
  • Technology, Corporations, and the General Welfare (1937)
  • The Century of the Common Man (1943)
  • Democracy Reborn (1944)
  • Sixty Million Jobs (1945)
  • Toward World Peace (1948)
  • The Price of Vision - The Diary of Henry A. Wallace 1942-1946 (1973), edited by John Morton Blum

External links

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