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Portrait of a Diarist

In The Price of Vision - The Diary of Henry A. Wallace 1942-1946 (*)


By John Morton Blum


Henry Agard Wallace wanted to be Vice President of the United States, mounted no campaign to secure or retain that office, disliked many of its duties and limitations, and yet desired renomination and resented those who prevented it. Those attitudes reflected predictable responses by the kind of man Wallace was to the nature of the vice-presidency, especially under the conditions that Franklin D. Roosevelt imposed upon the conduct of business during his administrations. The President could prescribe political snake oil even to so practical an intelligence as Wallace’s. At his ebullient best, Roosevelt could engage Wallace’s transcendental faith in progress and brotherhood. Within the privacy of his person, as his diary disclosed, Wallace recognized with bemused skepticism his own accepting vulnerability to the combination of guile and greatness that characterized his chief. In that privacy he also conceded nothing, though officially he had continually to yield, to those decisions of Roosevelt’s that bore adversely on policies to which Wallace attached some personal and larger public importance.

During the portentous years of World War II, the relationship of the President and the Vice President of the United States, their common objectives and their intermittent disagreements, deeply affected their party, their country, even the world. In considerable measure those relationships also forecast the more bitter and ominous conflicts that were later, at a critical time, to force Wallace out of public life and deprive American government of his humane sensibilities. 

Wallace’s path into and out of the vice-presidency began in the Middle Border, in the Iowa of the late nineteenth century, where the determining roots of his being grew out of his family, the soil it nurtured, and the culture it both shaped and absorbed. Always a man of that west, Wallace brought to Washington the perspectives and commitments that his western experience fostered continuously from his childhood to his middle life.

John Morton Blum was born in New York City in 1921. He received his B.A. summa cum laude from Harvard in 1943, and served from 1943 to 1946 in the U.S. Navy, where he was for the last few months of his term on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. After receiving his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard, he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was there associate professor of history until 1957. Mr. Blum`s previous books include Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era, The Republican Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality, Yesterday`s Children, and The National Experience. He is also author of The Promise of America and From the Morgenthau`s Diaries, published by Houghton Mifflin Comapny. In 1957 he became professor of history at Yale University. During the academic year 1963-1964 he was Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge. He returned to Yale in 1964, where he is now Woodward Professor of History. Since 1970 Mr. Blum has been a Fellow of Harvard College. (From the jacket of the 1973 edition.)   

He was the third Henry Wallace, the son of Henry Cantwell Wallace and grandson of the first Henry Wallace, “Uncle Henry,” who had grown up on the farm of his Ulster-Scot father near West Newton, Pennsylvania. The first Henry Wallace began his westering in search of a seminary that offered a liberal Calvinist training. After ordination he continued west to Iowa to find a parish comfortable with his own reformist views. Soon he had to escape the tensions of his over-conscientious pastorate by turning to work the good ground of Winterset, Iowa, where he taught his neighbors about the scientific farming he practiced. Believing, as did thousands of Americans – all spiritual heirs of Thomas Jefferson – that farmers were the special agents of the Lord on earth, Wallace believed, too, that they had a duty to preserve the bounty of the earth. Christian faith, agrarian pride, and a conservationist practicality provided the foundations for the secular sermons that Uncle Henry contributed to his local newspaper during the 1880s. Those doctrines made him, too, a devoted Granger whose editorials attacked industry and the railroads – “the trusts” – that seemed to arrogate hard-won earnings of Iowa husbandmen to monopolistic profits of remote eastern capitalists.

Those messages were the texts also of the ablest farm leaders of his generation, Wallace’s friends Seaman Knapp of Iowa State College and James Wilson (“Tama Jim”), another Iowan who was in time to serve the longest term (1897-1913) as Secretary of Agriculture in American history. Together, in sundry ways, they promoted scientific agriculture, sound farm management, and government policies favorable to their constituents. Uncle Henry counseled his constituents primarily through the newspaper he edited, Wallaces’ Farmer, a farm weekly purchased in 1895 by his eldest son and published first in Cedar Rapids and later in Des Moines. He and his two friends, with others of similar mind, took their texts to the entire nation in their “Report of the Commission on Country Life,” prepared in 1908-09 at the instigation of President Theodore Roosevelt. A persuasive summation of the program of agrarian progressives, the report called for redressing the grievances of rural America so as to preserve a “scientifically and economically sound country life.” For Uncle Henry, that objective would ensure the future of the nation. “Good farming,” he believed, “is simply obedience to natural law, just as good living is obedience to moral law.” In 1916 his last will and testament encapsulated his creed: “Religion is not a philosophy but a life.“[1]

No one influenced Henry A. Wallace more than did Uncle Henry. Born in 1888, Wallace as a small child lived in Ames, where his father was teaching at the state agricultural college. In 1895 the family moved to Des Moines where the boy began to spend hours almost daily with his devoted grandfather. From Uncle Henry, who delighted in his grandson’s quick mind and serious manner, young Henry learned about his family, about pioneering, about the land and plants and beasts. He learned, too, to recognize God in nature and man, and to serve him through work – work at the chores that sustained the land and its tillers, and work at the services that profited mankind. “Be sure,” his mother often told her sons, “that you have clean hands. And remember that you are a Wallace and a gentleman.”

Those lessons reached young Wallace from every point of his boyhood compass. His mother, a dedicated gardener, showed him the satisfactions of cultivating flowers, which he always loved. “Become gardeners,” he recommended to his associates many years later. “Then you will never die, because you have to live to see what happens next year.“[2] His father guided him through the laboratories at the college and introduced him to a student he had befriended, a lonely, young black genius, George Washington Carver. The boy, habitually a solitary individual, eschewed his contemporaries to follow Carver, always an encouraging tutor, on botanical excursions. Carver “made so much of it,” Wallace recalled, “...that, out of the goodness of his heart, he greatly exaggerated my botanical ability. But his faith aroused my natural instinct to excel... [and] deepened my appreciation of plants in a way I can never forget.“[3] And like Uncle Henry, Carver saw a divine force in all living things.

The boy’s father encouraged his son’s emerging interests. Henry C. Wallace, “H.C.” or Harry to his friends, eldest of Uncle Henry’s children, had a professional competence in breeding livestock and improving grains. From one of his friends, his teen-age son received some seed corn to test for productivity. With the seed, in 1904, Henry A. Wallace proved that the contours of an ear of corn did not correlate with its propensity to yield. The shape of the ear did not matter; what did was the genetic quality of the kernel.

At sixteen Wallace had discovered that the symmetry of a plant in no way assured its utility; indeed that in all life appearances could deceive. His characteristically tousled hair and rumpled clothes attested to his own indifference to appearance, as did his vigorous but conspicuously inelegant tennis. More important, he had learned from Carver as well as from genetics the lesson that he was later to label “genetic democracy,” a doctrine by no means prevalent in the Middle Border or elsewhere in the United States in 1904.

His other lessons, some yet fully to be absorbed, had similar vectors. The experience of westering, for Uncle Henry and through him for his grandson, was an experience of cooperation, of a mingling of strangers in a common land where essential collective efforts gave individuality a chance to thrive and permitted groups of individuals to bargain with aggregates of distant economic power. The brotherhood of man, an article of Christian faith, was a palpable necessity as a means for surviving the rigors of the receding frontier and for controlling the threatening circumstances of contemporary life. So, too, the application of intelligence to environment, the employment of science to improve the products of nature, the utilization of economic data to manage the otherwise uncertain fluctuations of the market – those acts of mind and will guaranteed an abundance ample for the comfort of all men, truly a land of milk and honey, a new Jerusalem.

At Iowa State College and then on the family newspaper, Wallace refined his understanding of those conclusions. Sober, diligent, ascetic, he made few friends, studied hard, and conducted his experiments with genetics and with techniques for hybridizing corn. His Bachelor’s essay demonstrated the importance of soil-building, one form of conservation, for raising livestock. Problems of land utilization were to interest him for the rest of his life. Though uninvolved in politics, he was, like his father and grandfather, an enthusiastic supporter of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party in 1912. The regulatory state that Roosevelt advocated, Wallace believed, would ultimately prevail even though the Bull Moose failed. Indeed for the sake of a prosperous agriculture, it had to prevail.

Wallace’s studies in economics and mathematics convinced him of that. After college he undertook to educate himself in those subjects, as well as to exploit the other resources of the Des Moines Public Library. His children remember him arriving home at night always with a stack of books in his arms. Soon an expert on statistical correlations, Wallace used that method to derive accurate indices of the cost of production of hogs. He began publishing those indices in the family newspaper in 1915. On the basis of other data, he suggested in 1919 that productivity cycles in livestock had a seven-year pattern – higher productivity followed rising prices until the saturation of the market led to falling prices that induced lower productivity. Further study, now of census figures, persuaded Wallace that with industrialization and urbanization, the average size of families diminished. With the domestic market consequently curtailed, farmers would need larger markets abroad for their crops. His book summarizing his work, Agricultural Prices (1920), was, in the judgment of one leading economist, “perhaps the first realistic econometric study ever published.”[4] Later Wallace mastered even newer techniques for computing multiple correlations and regressions. With a mathematician as his collaborator, in 1925 he published Correlation and Machine Calculation, an early venture in the creative march toward computer technology. Statistics, mathematics, genetics, scientific husbandry, economics, demography, all those skills impinged upon the future of his Iowa neighbors, the men and women throughout the state who lived on the farms they worked.


Those men and women could control some of the variables that affected them. Wallace proved as much by putting into commercial use his knowledge about hybridization. With some business associates, he founded in 1926 the Hi-Bred Corn Company (later the Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company) to produce and sell hybrid corn. Characteristically, he also realized that the establishment of two competing concerns would help to supply the market, which would need all they could furnish. That act of faith in science, abundance, and competitive capitalism refiected no lack of business acumen. Wallace intended his company to make a legitimate profit. More, he intended his customers to profit from the use of his superior product, and in profiting to improve the quality and reduce the price of corn, to the advantage of all who purchased it. During years of agricultural depression the company shrewdly built the market for its seed by offering it to customers without demanding payment in cash on the condition that they plant half their acreage in hybrid, half in ordinary corn, and then repay a portion of the value of the higher yield on the acres growing the hybrid variety. By 1966, the higher yield from hybrid seed accounted for one quarter of the total national corn crop.

That innovative method for selling seed drew upon the example of Wallace’s grandfather’s friend, Seaman Knapp, who had devised the system of demonstration farming to persuade cotton growers to improve their methods of cultivation. Wallace’s readiness to promote hybrid corn by inducing others also to enter the business revealed in some measure his intellectual debt to Thorstein Veblen, the powerful critic of American capitalism whose books Wallace read with enthusiastic reward. Veblen provided a systematic analysis to support the suspicions of monopoly that Wallace had absorbed from his family and their adherence to the old Granger program. In industries dominated by a few large firms, Veblen argued, management could adjust production to demand in order to sustain prices and profits. That process, administered pricing in the vocabulary of a later generation, held production below capacity. In Veblen’s words, it involved the sabotage by managers of the abundance which engineers were capable of creating. It inhibited productive potentialities which, if realized, would assure plenty for all Americans. Veblen imagined a solution in a revolution that would transfer industrial authority to a soviet of technicians, men committed to maximum production and equitable distribution.

Wallace, educated also by other economists, was moving toward a less dramatic formulation, but one from which he expected similar results. Like other western progressives, he advocated a vigorous application of the antitrust laws and other federal controls to limit the size and power of industrial concentrations, and to prevent them from restricting production or retarding technological advances that increased productivity. Like Veblen, he envisaged a technologically dynamic society dedicated to the efficient making and sharing of industrial and agricultural commodities, a society that would need scientists and managers to fashion an abundant life for the common man. In its agricultural sector, that society – capitalistic but not beholden to laissez-faire doctrines – would function according to the model he had created for marketing hybrid corn. Through management, science and technology would overcome poverty and hunger, “Science,” Wallace later wrote, “...cannot be overproduced. It does not come under the law of diminishing utility... It is perishable and must be constantly renewed.“[5] It was for him the continuing frontier, the limitless source of new plenty and leaping hope.

The selfishness of industrial practices, in Wallace’s view, had its political equivalent in the selfishness of economic nationalism, of protective tariffs and other artificial restraints on international trade. That trade, he believed, if unfettered, would provide the avenue to sharing abundance throughout the world. Wallace had grown up with the “Iowa Idea,” a plan that called for removing or reducing the protection afforded products manufactured by larger corporations, including many products farmers bought, like barbed wire and harvesters. Confronted by European competition, American manufacturers would have to reduce their prices or lose some of their market. In either case, farmers would benefit. Just as important, as Europeans gained access to the American market, they would earn dollars which they could then spend to purchase American agricultural commodities.

Reduction of tariffs, as Wallace saw it, also related to the preservation of peace. In the absence of restraints on trade, nations would become more dependent upon each other and therefore less able to embark upon war. To that issue Veblen also spoke. Imperial Germany, he believed, constituted the greatest threat to peace, for the Prussian autocracy and the military elite formed a combination of purpose and power committed to domination and conquest. For Wallace, that grim potentiality could mark the United States if an industrial plutocracy and an ambitious military combined to direct national policy.

Accordingly Wallace anguished over the future of his country when he observed during the years of World War II that Standard Oil of New Jersey, part of a cartel controlled by I. G. Farben, had manipulated patents to prevent the American development of synthetic rubber; that oil companies in general came to foster that development but to oppose increasing natural sources of rubber in Latin America, sources on which the United States would be partially dependent; that industry and the military combined to dampen, almost to eliminate, federal prosecution of firms violating the antitrust laws; that the American cornucopia, sufficient to feed a devastated world, was to be confined, according to the preferences of the same men of money and of arms, to helping only those peoples, whatever their need, whose politics followed American prescriptions; and that the findings of American science were to be similarly contained. Those developments made profits and even plenty the handmaidens of politics. Yet for Wallace politics was only a necessary means for setting policies that would put both profits and plenty within the reach of every man.


Wallace disliked politics in all its aspects. Never gregarious, he was uncomfortable alike in smoke-filled rooms and noisy halls. Shy but candid and sometimes blunt, he lacked small talk. He detested both the manipulation of men and the prolonged conniving it demanded. He learned to campaign, but his speeches, while often effective, made only clumsy concessions to the harmless blarney that ordinarily punctuated political oratory. “Farmer Wallace,” he was called by Alice Longworth, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter and Washington’s social doyenne. She did not mean it as a compliment, but as usual her description had some substance. In her salon, in her world of genial conspiracies, Wallace was never wholly at ease.

Yet Wallace entered politics, first as an editor supporting compatible candidates, later as a holder of high office, ultimately as a candidate himself, because he had no alternative except to abandon the public policies he urged upon the nation. Like his Iowa neighbors, as a private citizen he could control only some of the variables affecting his life and theirs. The others fell to the control or misdirection or indifference of the government.

Both major political parties continually disappointed the Wallaces. The Republicans during the Taft years did nothing to help agriculture. The Democrats under Woodrow Wilson proved to be rather stingy benefactors. Congress did reduce the tariff and ease conditions for agricultural credit. Further, the Food Administration under Herbert Hoover during World War I stimulated the production of corn and hogs. But, as Wallace’s father continually demonstrated, Hoover – Iowa-born but otherwise bred – paid Iowans meanly for their efforts.

In 1921 Henry C. Wallace accepted appointment as President Warren G. Harding’s Secretary of Agriculture. His son, now editor of the newspaper, had also a close view of the operations of his father’s department. H.C. recruited a staff of experts who brought unprecedented technical talents to their tasks. He was able, too, with Harding’s support, to persuade Congress to enact legislation to assist agricultural marketing and to curb speculation in commodities. But the senior Wallace failed in his program to reach markets overseas. His successful antagonist was again Herbert Hoover, now Secretary of Commerce, whose relentless opposition to promoting agriculture contrasted with his vigorous efforts in behalf of industry. Hoover, so Henry A. Wallace believed, contributed inadvertently to the frustration and fatigue that taxed his father’s strength and reduced his resistance to the operation from which he was unable to recover in 1924.

Before his death, H. C. Wallace had endorsed a plan for agriculture for which his son helped thereafter to organize increasing support. Incorporated in a succession of bills sponsored by Senator Charles L. McNary of Oregon and Representative Gilbert N. Haugen of Iowa, that plan proposed a two-price system for commodities. Government purchases were to sustain the domestic price at the level of “parity” – the ratio between agricultural and industrial prices that had prevailed during the years 1910-14, good years for farmers. The government would sell its purchases abroad at a lower price while taxing farmer-beneficiaries to cover any losses. There were shortcomings to the plan. European tariffs, rising to compete with American protection, would impede the necessary sales. Europeans were in any case short of dollars because of the drain of repaying the United States for debts incurred during the war. More important, the McNary-Haugen plan placed no limits on production, which would increase to unmanageable proportions if the government guaranteed farmers a high price on all their crops. President Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover both opposed the plan, which Congress twice passed and Coolidge twice vetoed, primarily on other grounds. They contended that it would destroy individualism, establish artificial prices, and create a dangerous federal bureaucracy to administer it. Those objections ignored the artificial prices, large bureaucracies, and collective rather than individualistic nature of American corporate enterprise.

A registered Republican, Wallace condemned the GOP for its callousness toward the farmer, whose share of national income was steadily falling, and for its acceptance of the business creed. He urged his readers in 1924 to vote for Robert M. La Follette and his new Progressive Party, and in 1928 to vote for Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic nominee who had endorsed the latest McNary-Haugen bill. Yet so unpolitical was Wallace that he neglected to change his party registration until 1936.

From 1924 forward, he consulted continually with some of the economists his father had employed in the Department of Agriculture, in particular Henry C. Taylor, at one time chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, and two younger men, Mordecai Ezekiel and Louis H. Bean, who were to continue fruitfully to advise the department and its head throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He also came to know the two leading academic experts on agricultural economics, John D. Black of the University of Minnesota and later Harvard, and M. L. Wilson of the University of Montana. After the onset of the Great Depression, with its devastating consequences for markets at home and abroad, Black and Wilson worked out the Domestic Allotment Plan, the program that Wallace and like-minded farm leaders endorsed in 1932 as a preferred substitute for the defeated McNary-Haugen proposals. The new plan, the basis for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration of the New Deal, looked to the federal government to pay farmers to withdraw acreage from cultivation and thus curtail their production of crops. The withdrawal of marginal land and the rotation of cultivation of fertile soil applied the principles of conservation. More immediately, reduction in supply to the domestic market would lift commodity prices, while government payments would enlarge farm income, with parity in purchasing power again the goaL

Especially after the crash of 1929, farmers had other crushing problems. Land values had fallen during the 1920s and now shrank further, while the interest payments on mortgage debts incurred during the prosperous war years remained cruelly high. The deflation in commodity prices made the weight of debt intolerable, led to more and more foreclosures, and embittered the countryside. Wallace came to advocate federal action for mortgage relief and controlled inflation. Influenced by Irving Fisher, the foremost American economist of his generation, Wallace served as vice president of Fisher’s Stable Money League. It demanded a commodity dollar, a dollar valued not on a fixed ratio to gold but by a constant relationship to purchasing power, in itself elastic. Wallaces’ Farmer educated its readers in those ideas, while Wallace became a familiar figure at conferences concerned with preserving a healthy rural America.

Like his father and grandfather, Wallace became a reformer without becoming a radical. He saw the need for strong federal action and for a large federal establishment to protect the existence of the independent farmer. Price supports, mortgage relief, and managed money were adventurous departures from past policy. As their advocate, Wallace contemplated major institutional change. But he did not approve farmer strikes to withhold crops from market, or the sudden liquidation of mortgages, or an undisciplined recourse to printing paper or coining silver money. Those more radical measures had their many champions by 1932, for an angry impatience naturally flowed from the desperation of American farmers. But Franklin D. Roosevelt, ihe successful aspirant for the Democratic nomination that year, by temperament a moderate, found the reforms with which Wallace was identified compatible with his own sense of proper remedy. Wallace, one of the experts whose advice Roosevelt solicited, supported him both before and after his nomination. Once elected, Roosevelt decided, after reviewing several other possibilities, that Wallace had the confidence of the farm leaders and the qualities of mind and purpose that he wanted in his Secretary of Agriculture. Wallace accepted the position. Now, in spite of himself, his commitment to agricultural reform had drawn him into politics, both the politics of decision-making within the federal government and the politics of competition between the parties.


There was a part of Henry Wallace that Franklin Roosevelt recognized but never criticized, Some of his less sympathetic associates worried about what they considered Wallace’s mysticism, a quality they considered disturbing and unpredictable in its consequences. Yet Wallace was not a mystic, unless that description, as he once said, applied to any man of Christian faith. What made him seem a mystic to those who called him one was primarily his indomitable curiosity, a curiosity that led him to explore everything that caught his interest, religion not the least.[6]

Essentially Wallace’s religion was the Christianity common in the Middle Border. It had its foundation in faith rather than theology. Like Uncle Henry, Wallace concluded that the rigid tenets of orthodox Calvinism clashed with his generous belief in the pervasive goodness of God. Those tenets were at variance, too, with his sense of the presence of God in nature and life. He did not use the vocabulary of transcendentalism, but he shared the convictions of that creed about the immanence of God in man. Still he also tried continually to find God, not palpably but spiritually, whether in the beauty of growing things, in the symmetry of genetic patterns, or in the evocations of religious rituals. Consequently he experimented with religion, just as he experimented with corn, seeking the most satisfying yield.

Wallace tested his responses to various churches. He was conscious of the spiritual excitement that Methodism could stir but too private a man to find continuing fulfillment in collective rhapsody. The gorgeous rituals of Catholicism also moved him, but Catholic dogma and hierarchy put him off. He tried to feel what the saints had felt by practicing one kind of ascetism or another, but for him deprivation of the flesh or spiritual removal from the world divorced religion too much from life, which he was resolved to serve. He was at times fascinated by the occult and he studied oriental faiths, but they, too, faded to answer his needs, though his reading led him to a concept of Confucius, a “constantly normal granary,” a phrase he adapted for his own use. He settled in the end for membership in the Episcopal church, which he attended regularly during his years in Washington. Here, particularly in the communion service, he received as much as formal religion could offer him. He interpreted the Lord’s Supper his own way. “It is the function of the church,” Wallace said at one communion breakfast, “to emphasize the ties which draw men together no matter how much finite differences may appear to separate them ... Weak as is the church ... it is a synthesizing, centripetal force ... on behalf of the sacredness of the individual and the unity of humanity.“[7] It was the symbol and the agency of the brotherhood of man.

That brotherhood had a special psychological importance for Wallace. Just as he was not a hail-fellow, so, outside of his immediate family, he was not an intimate man. His aloneness in life fostered his need for brotherhood in spirit, a need he recognized in other men, particularly those who lived on the soil. He put it best, perhaps, in discussing the people of Soviet Asia: “All of them ... were people of plain living and robust minds, not unlike our farming people in the United States. Much that is interpreted ... as ‘Russian distrust’ can be written off as the natural cautiousness of farm-bred people... Beneath the ... new urban culture, one catches glimpses of the sound, wary, rural mind.“[8] Those wary men and women Wallace discovered everywhere he went, in Siberia, China, throughout Latin America, as well as in the countryside of the United States and beneath the skins of Americans in labor unions or military regalia or governmental suites. Not their spiritual comfort only, but also, in the shadows of an awful war, the prospects for a genuine peace depended upon a centripetal force that would assure the sacredness of every one of them and the unity of mankind.

Essential though it was, the church was not enough. Always a Calvinist in part, Wallace had a sense of duty, even of mission, to accomplish the work of the Lord. His continual recourse to biblical metaphor was more than the rhetorical habit of a minister’s grandson. He was an austere moralist, impatient less with impiety than with sloth, deceit, selfishness, and materialism. More, he cast himself often as prophet or witness, now in the role of Joseph husbanding his people’s resources, now as Micah beating swords into ploughshares, now as Gideon attacking a wicked citadel. That last role he assumed in 1948, in his predictably futile campaign for the Presidency as the candidate of a disorganized new party, against the advice of his family and his loyal friends, indeed against his better judgment. He had, he felt, to bear witness against the policies he had attacked and for the beliefs he had broadcast.

Yet the compulsions of mission that inhered in Wallace’s religion were balanced by a contemplative gentleness. It was not just that he loved his family, which he did, deeply though undemonstratively. It was also that when he crossbred corn or strawberries, he had more at stake than productivity. He loved the plants, just as he loved grasses – grasses, as he described them, growing quietly taller, silently dropping their seeds onto the earth and into the winds, full fields of grasses bending with the prevailing breeze, full fields observed from the air in huge patterns of contrasting greens and browns. He loved the soil, the way it felt between the fingers, its pungent darkness. Without direct contact with growing things, he lost touch with the universe and its creator. His Washington victory garden, planted in his sister’s yard, provided a useful crop, but more important, gave him when he worked in it a serenity he could capture no other way. In the soil he found his ultimate communion. His was strongly a Social Gospel, but he tempered that gospel with a tenderness that displayed his natural charity. Joseph he could emulate, or Gideon, but at the core he was more akin to Paul.

To the secular mind, Wallace’s faith seemed outmoded, his witnessing quaint, his spirituality incomprehensible. To the urban mind, his affinity with nature appeared irrelevant and distracting. As for his inquiries into the occult, secular and urban Americans took them for an eccentricity. Washington was filled with the polished, the urbane, and the fashionable, so in Washington Farmer Wallace, spiritually as well as culturally uncomfortable, felt often bored and out of place. As Roosevelt realized, that did not matter. He needed Wallace to manage the Department of Agriculture and its programs, and for that task, Wallace, practical scientist and progressive reformer, was admirably equipped.


During his eight years as Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace accomplished more than did any one else who has ever held that office. Each of the many programs the department initiated, as one of its officers later attested, “had Wallace’s close attention and support.“[9] Each profited, too, from the support Wallace solicited from the President and from the skills of the administrators, lawyers, economists, and agronomists to whom the Secretary delegated responsibilities for the detailed supervision and the technical research without which the department could not have functioned. They were impressive men, several of whom became Wallace’s lifelong friends. Among the most effective were Rexford G. Tugwell, Wallace’s first Under Secretary, one of Roosevelt’s original brain-trusters, who, like Wallace, had studied Veblen; Mordeeai Ezekiel, senior economic adviser, and his talented associate, Louis Bean; Paul Appleby, chief administrative officer, and Milo Perkins who ran various special programs like the Food Stamp Plan for the distribution of surplus commodities to impoverished Americans; Chester Davis, who for some years managed the Agricultural Adjustment Administration; and, for a brief period, Jerome N. Frank, a brilliant young New York lawyer.[10]

The Agricultural Act of 1933, a keystone in Roosevelt’s recovery program, made national policy of the various proposals with which Wallace had been identified before the election. Among the provisions of the act, one founded the Agricultural Adjustment Administration within the Department of Agriculture to manage the Domestic Allotment Plan. In developing policy under that plan, Wallace confronted two major crises which he resolved with a practical opportunism that revealed both a disciplined toughness and a political sensitivity surprising to his critics.

The earlier episode arose because the Domestic Allotment program was established too late to affect planting or husbandry in the spring of 1933. Farmers in the south had already started their cotton, farmers in the west had already bred their hogs, before the Agricultural Adjustment Administration could begin to make payments for the withdrawal of acreage or the limitation of production. Yet cotton and hogs, glutting the market, were selling at historically low prices. To remove the glut, to prevent it from carrying over to 1934, to raise prices and to increase farm income, Wallace deliberately violated his own profound belief in abundance and its distribution. He mobilized the Extension Service of the department to enlist cotton farmers, in return for bountiful payments ($100 million in all), to plough up a quarter of their crop. Less drastic measures assisted grain farmers. As for hogs, on the advice of local committees throughout the west and of the Farm Bureau Federation, the department purchased and slaughtered six million little pigs. Much of the baby pork was given to the hungry on relief, but Wallace deeply regretted the conditions that had forced his hand. “The plowing under ... of cotton ... and the slaughter of ... pigs,” he said, “were not acts of idealism in any sane society. They were emergency acts made necessary by the almost insane lack of world statesmanship ... from 1920 to I932. He had to play, he explained, the cards that were dealt him; industry had limited production artificially for many years, and “agriculture cannot survive in a capitalistic society as a philanthropic enterprise.“[11]

The unavoidable destruction of crops in 1933 prepared the stage for the successful operation of AAA and in later years for new directions of policy, but a second crisis intruded before Wallace could embark on those new directions. Recourse to the Extension Service, as Wallace knew, reinforced the position within the department of one of its most conservative sections, for the Service had long fostered the interests of the Farm Bureau Federation, an organization dominated by large commercial farmers, whose needs often conflicted with those of small, independent farmers, tenants, and farm laborers. Further, Wallace had had temporarily to accept as head of the AAA George N. Peek, a father of the McNary-Haugen scheme, who remained committed to dumping surpluses abroad rather than controlling production at home. Soon able to get rid of Peek, Wallace replaced him with Chester Davis who, like his predecessor, had the confidence of the Farm Bureau Federation. Wallace felt he needed that group’s large infiuence in Congress, but the price proved high. In 1935 Davis and Jerome Frank clashed over AAA contracts which Frank and his young associates had written to protect farm tenants and sharecroppers in the South. Either he or Frank, Davis told Wallace, would have to go.

Wallace regretfully fired Frank and most of his group in the General Counsel’s office. Frank was shocked, as was Rex Tugwell, for they believed they had been following the Secretary’s wishes. Years later, others believed Wallace had acted to purge the department of communists, of whom a few were in Frank’s office. The latter issue simply did not occur to Wallace. The former pained him, for, as with the little pigs, he realized that he had departed from principle in order to preserve his ability to move ahead, albeit with reduced speed, toward larger goals. He had already concluded that the habit of dissent, typical in his experience of the western Democrats who had jointed La Follette in 1924, obstructed a practical approach to solving urgent problems.

“It seems,” Wallace wrote in 1935, “as though ... Progressives are splendid critics but very poor builders.“[12]

The episode of the purge, perhaps especially Tugwell’s angry disappointment with the Secretary’s expediency, had a double impact on Wallace. It persuaded him, under the tutelage of Will Alexander of his staff, more thoroughly to examine the wretched circumstances of southern croppers, white and black, and of the displaced and miserable migrant farm laborers of the west. He proceeded then more aggressively to seek effective remedies for their problems. He added his own support to the efforts to create the Resettlement Administration (under Tugwell and later Alexander) and the Farm Security Administration (under Alexander, Milo Perkins, and C. B. Baldwin). Those agencies began, though belatedly, to help the downtrodden in American agriculture. Wallace had earlier sponsored the Rural Electrification Administration that carried inexpensive electricity to farm homes, an objective first dered by the Country Life Commission. As Ezekiel wrote, REA “revolutionized the face of rural America.” Further, Wallace’s growing concern for eradicating rural poverty and his growing suspicions of the Farm Bureau Federation sensitized him to the problems of urban poverty and of American blacks, and rekindled his apprehensions about big business and its privileges. By the time of World War II, he had become the champion of the common man alike on the streets and on the land. He had become, too, an opponent of the demands not only of arrogant industrialists but also of the equally arrogant Farm Bureau.

The episode of the purge had also a more personal effect on Wallace. Because he had to decide between Davis and Frank, he had no escape from the politics of allocating power. Because he accepted a short-run loss in order to try to win long-run gains, he had to bend principle to expediency. In so doing, he had to wound an able and trusting subordinate. Later, during World War II, Wallace may have recalled the pains of 1935 when Roosevelt in effect fired him first from the chairmanship of the Board of Economic Warfare and later from the vicepresidency. In both cases the President sacrificed some principle to more expediency; in both he sacrificed a valued colleague to his own assessment of political exigencies. In both instances, Wallace, though gravely wounded, remained loyal to Roosevelt, whom he still preferred to any other chief. The problem, Wallace realized even in 1935, grew out of the New Deal’s style of administration. “In this administration,” he wrote, “the objectives are experimental and not clearly stated; therefore, there is certain to be, from the White House down, a certain amount of what seems to be intrigue. I do not think this situation will be remedied until the President abandons ... his experimental and somewhat concealed approach. There are ... many advantages to this approach but it does not lead to the happiest personal relationships and the best administration.“[13] Roosevelt never abandoned his approach. In the politics of the New Deal, as Wallace discovered, one had on occasion to dish it out, and on other occasions to take it.

The game was worth the anguish if the stakes were high enough. For Wallace they were, for during the middle 1930s he succeeded in advancing his most cherished objectives. The Supreme Court’s invalidation of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 forced the department to devise a constitutionally acceptable alternative. The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936 and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 preserved the practice of managing production. „Those measures also put a new emphasis on conservation, on withdrawing acreage not only to reduce crops but also to follow a rational system of land utilization. From 1936 forward, as Wallace said, “the Department launched a positive attack on the dual problem of soil destruction and unbalanced cropping.“[14]

The dreadful dust storms of the years immediately preceding had attested to the indispensability of protecting the “voiceless land.” Those disasters also reminded Americans of the vulnerability of agriculture to nature and of the possibility of shortages in food stuffs. The act of 1938 gave Wallace the opportunity he had long sought to create an „ever-normal granary,” to employ government purchases, storage, and sales so as to assure adequate supplies without future gluts or shortages. The resulting program provided food for Americans and their allies during the extraordinary years of World War II and the early postwar period. As Wallace admitted, he had not foreseen the war when he formulated his program, but his success led him to hope, as he wrote in 1942, for the establishment of an ever normal granary on a world-wide scale. That concept underlay the plans recommended in 1946 by Sir John Boyd Orr, Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, plans Wallace energetically endorsed. He had earlier adopted comparable policies to build up American strategic reserves through the Board of Economic Warfare.

Just as the accumulation of reserves depended upon sources abroad, so, as Wallace saw it, did the efficient functioning of the American economy. Contending during the 1930s, as he long had, that “America must choose,” he related the choice to national prosperity. The option lay between domestic self-sufficiency, which would inhibit and distort economic growth, and open international trade, which would encourage the United States to produce and export what it did best and to import goods produced more efficiently elsewhere. Wallace took the side of maximum growth, for it would provide employment for men and capital and permit the elimination of want. The New Deal’s reciprocal trade treaties took a limited step toward freer trade, hut Wallace envisaged much more dramatic changes that would open all markets and all shipping and air routes. The war spurred him to urge even more insistently interrelated policies to promote free trade, economic growth, and full employment.


Wallace’s objectives, accomplishments, and expanding sympathies marked him by 1940 as one of the country’s outstanding statesmen. He had demonstrated the personal loyalty to the President that John N. Garner, Vice President since 1933, so stubbornly withheld. Wallace had, too, the liberal credentials that Roosevelt wanted for his running mate in 1940. And during the first six months of that year Wallace had taken a position on the war in Europe that answered Roosevelt’s political needs.

The President, in the view of his isolationist critics, was leading the nation too close to the conflict abroad. ln the view of those, still a minority, who wanted at once to join the endangered British cause, the President had delayed too long in taking steps to supply Great Britain and to develop American armed forces for employment overseas. Privately Roosevelt may have shared the latter assessment but politically, he believed, he could not afford either to increase his pace or to give the isolationists further cause for complaint. Wallace stood about where the majority of Americans did after the Germans had overrun most of western Europe. He detested Nazism, which he continually attacked, as he always had. He saw potential danger to the Americas in Germany’s advance. He therefore preached hemispheric solidarity and national preparedness – the mobilization of the economy and of a strong and balanced military force. “We must,” he told Roosevelt, “be in a position to command fear and respect.“[15] Yet Wallace also opposed American entry into the war and resisted the thought that it was inevitable. Further, he believed that mobilization need not entail a surrender of policy to generals and financiers, and that a good neighbor should sponsor democratization along with friendship in Latin America. Indeed with the spread of fascism in Europe, the new world more than ever before had to provide a persuasive example of effective democracy.

Wallace, as Roosevelt insisted, suited his needs, but few of the President’s counselors or of the party leaders agreed. Wallace had always ignored the powerful captains of the great Democratic city machines. He disliked and distrusted, perhaps even despised, men like Kelly of Chicago and Hague of Jersey City, who felt the same way about him. His increasing zeal for civil rights for black Americans and for relieving the poverty of the sharecrpppers of the South, many of them black, offended most of the influential senior southern Democrats in the Senate. Like many of their northern colleagues, they considered his ideas radical, his religion puzzling, and his manner remote.

Wallace also lacked the confidence of Roosevelt’s circle of immediate advisers, particularly those whom Felix Frankfurter had recruited. They knew he was learned, but he was not one of them, and by their standards he had none of the polish the White House required. For his part, Wallace did not quite trust them. He called them “connivers” and considered them preoccupied with power, though he knew they had made significant contributions to reform. Even Ben Cohen, perhaps the gentlest and ablest man in the group, operated too guardedly for Wallace’s taste. Cohen, along with some others, feared for a time in 1939 that Paul McNutt, a handsome but vacuous Indiana Democrat, might be Roosevelt’s choice for the vice-presidency. Against that chance, Wallace observed that “the New Dealers” – he used the phrase pejoratively – resisted taking a “position of too great an opposition against McNutt... The New Dealers... don’t like the McNutt possibility but feel they must prepare for it as a contingency.” Wallace did not feel that way, nor did he have any enthusiasm for a Vice President selected from the inner circle of the White House or from its outer fringe, perhaps Harry Hopkins, the President’s eminence grise, or William O. Douglas. They were little to be preferred, he felt, to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, a favorite of conservative Southerners, or National Chairman James A. Farley, whom the city bosses liked.

Farley, an active candidate, felt that Roosevelt was blocking his ambitions. Always on pleasant terms with Wallace, Farley early in 1940 complained to him about the President. “Farley was incorrect,” Wallace judged, “in calling the President a sadist although there is a certain amount of that element in his nature. The predominant element, however, is the desire to be the dominating figure, to demonstrate on all occasions his superiority. He changes his standards of superiority many times during the day. But having set for himself a particular standard for the moment, he then glories in being the dominating figure along that particular line. In that way he fills out his artistic sense of the fitness of things.“[16]

In spite of that insight, in spite of the opposition he knew he provoked, Wallace was a completely receptive, though never an active, candidate for nomination. He organized no movement on his own behalf because, as he told a cabinet colleague, “I did not look on myself as very much of a politician.“[17] He did not think that nomination as Vice President would lead to the Presidency, for unlike Farley, he expected Roosevelt to live out a third term. “The President,” Wallace observed, “is more likely to maintain his vitality by being President than by retiring.“[18] Nor did he expect Roosevelt to retire. One of Wallace’s Iowa friends asked him if he “was interested in having my name presented to the national convention in case the President did not run. I told him that it was scarcely worth thinking about because I was so certain the President was going to run. I said, of course, if the President did not run, I would be interested.” As for the vice-presidency, “I said that would depend altogether on what the powers that might be might think would best insure victory.“[19]

Roosevelt was the power that was. To a reluctant convention he dictated the choice of Wallace as his running mate. He even contemplated withdrawing himself if the convention should reject his selection. It almost did, but Roosevelt’s adamancy, the energetic politicking of Harry Hopkins, the President’s emissary on the floor, and the timely appearance of Eleanor Roosevelt as her husband’s special ambassador for Wallace brought the unhappy delegates around.

Roosevelt made Wallace Vice President in 1940. Four years later, when Wallace had far more support within the party, Roosevelt dumped him. He announced his personal preference for Wallace but he also expressed his satisfaction with several other possible candidates and then let the party leaders move the convention to a decision he had previously approved. That change in Roosevelt’s tactics, as Wallace realized, constituted a complete reversal. The President again had been the dominating figure, filling out, now to Wallace’s disadvantage, “his artistic sense of the fitness of things.”


Receptive though he had been to nomination as Vice President, Wallace discovered little satisfaction in that office when he entered it in January 1941. Usefully busy almost every day for the eight preceding years, he now had almost nothing to do. Presiding over the Senate’s meandering debates bored him. Often he appeared to doze in the chair. More often he turned the chair over to a colleague. The democratic Majority Leader, Alben Barkley, an engaging Kentuckian, ran the business of the Senate. Most of the members of that body respected Wallace but few welcomed him to the informal gatherings, the Senate’s club, which by temperament he had no desire to join. He had, Wallace said, more time for tennis than ever before in his life, but seldom had the nation faced more urgent issues. For their resolution Roosevelt intended to harness Wallace’s talents, but he was slow in finding an appropriate role for him, for he was slow in establishing offices properly geared first for mobilization and then for war. While the President procrastinated, Wallace educated himself in the problems of national defense and of the defense economy by discussing them regularly with experts on the staffs of the White House, the departments, and the defense agencies. At Roosevelt’s initiative, he was among the few originally to learn about S–1, the then infant project to develop an atomic bomb. In July 1941 the President gave him a first assignment as chairman of the Economic Defense Board, established at that time as a “policy and advisory agency” to deal with “international economic activities” including exports, imports, preclusive buying, shipping, foreign exchange, and similar matters.[20]

That mandate, as it turned out, was as broad as the agency’s actual authority was narrow. Power over its supposed functions remained dispersed among the executive departments, and decisions, when they were made, remained the prerogative of the White House. So, too, with the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board that the President created in August 1941 with Wallace as chairman. In characteristically Rooseveltian fashion, it was superimposed upon the Office of Production Management, which had been crippled by friction within its staff and by its rivalry with the War and Navy departments. SPAB was to serve as the coordinaung center for defense mobilization. It failed for the reasons that had vitiated the Economic Defense Board and OPM.

Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, those responsible for mobilization chafed at Roosevelt’s reluctance to delegate and centralize authority. The advent of war forced the President to act. At least in theory, real authority over the domestic economy was granted in January 1942 to the new War Production Board under Donald Nelson, a former vice president of Sears, Roebuck who had been executive director of SPAB. Wallace was to sit as chairman, along with various Cabinet officers as members, of WPB’s governing committee. He liked and admired Nelson, but he did not, as one friend observed, “find it congenial to work with the big businessmen who dominated that organization, nor with the admirals and generals who were their military counterparts.“[21]

Far more satisfying to the Vice President, Roosevelt had also made him chairman of another new agency, established by executive order on December 17, 1941, the Board of Economic Warfare. It was to assume the responsibilities of the Economic Defense Board but with strengthened authority – as it turned out, less than enough – to deal directly with foreign governments in the procurement of strategic materials and related functions. Wallace now had a mandate, one he believed he could use both to abet the war effort and to influence postwar policy.

As he had in the Department of Agriculture, Wallace in the Board of Economic Warfare devoted himself to questions of policy and delegated responsibility for daily administrative and technical decisions. The major weight of that responsibility he assigned to his executive director, Milo Perkins, an old friend and associate and an energetic promoter of Wallace’s own purposes. Under Perkins were the three sections of BEW: the Office of Imports, charged with procuring strategic materials and with preclusive buying all over the world, but especially in Latin America where neither the Germans nor the Japanese had become a military threat; the Office of Exports, which was to use its licensing authority to prevent goods from reaching Axis nations; and the Office of Warfare Analysis, which selected targets of economic importance for strategic bombing. The first of those sections commanded most of Perkins’s and Wallace’s attention, and its operations were the bases for the controversies that were to mark the history of the agency.

About two months after the establishment of BEW, with those controversies in their first stages, Wallace resumed keeping a diary. Twice before he had initiated and abandoned that practice, on both occasions initiating it when political events in Washington especially involved him. He had kept a diary briefly during the Davis-Frank episode, and he had again for the months preceding his nomination for Vice President. Now he began once more, with few lapses until he left public office. The content of the diary revealed his continual engagement in political developments within government and in the policies that politics affected. More than an outlet for reflection, it served, as its author intended, as a record of his activities. Such was also the case with the diaries of so many of Roosevelt’s Cabinet, Henry Stimson, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Harold Ickes, and James Forrestal in particular. With varying degrees of self-consciousness, they recorded an account of what they had said and heard and done, an account to which they could refer should some colleague challenge their consistency or veracity. Such challenges emerged from the personal frictions engendered by Roosevelt’s style of administration. As Morgenthau, speaking from experience, warned Wallace, relationships with Jesse H. Jones especially imposed on a prudential man the self-protective task of keeping a full record. Like the diaries of his colleagues, Wallace’s diary, while incidentally convenient for history, had a more contemporary and expedient use.

While he kept the diary for himself, Wallace in 1942 also took his thoughts to the American people with greater frequency and moment than ever before. No member of the administration except the President made more public speeches or attracted more continual attention. Roosevelt probably planned it that way. In the interests of national unity and of harmony within the Grand Alliance, the President during the war years moved with more than his customary caution. But Roosevelt typically was less cautious privately than he appeared to be in public. By no means averse to examining bold policies for adoption once the war had been won, he needed a scout to test the responses of both national and international audiences, a semiofficial spokesman whose proposals he could embrace if they were well received or repudiate if they were not.

The President did not have to cast Wallace in that role, for the Vice President without prompting seized every occasion he could to publicize his hopes for the postwar world. Indeed Wallace was restless with the failure of the American government to set forth in clear detail a plan for the future that would lift the spirits and galvanize the wills of men everywhere. He fretted not the least because the relative silence from the White House permitted other voices to seem louder and more persuasive than in his opinion they should have. So, for one example, though he shared many of the sentiments of Wendell Willkie’s One World, he distrusted Willkie’s instincts in domestic policy. So, for another, he detested the confident chauvinism of Henry Luce’s “American Century.” Like Archibald MacLeish, the eminent poet who served for a short and unhappy season as the head of the Office of Facts and Figures, Wallace believed that Roosevelt was forgoing a commanding opportunity to define the war as a vehicle for practical idealism. The President, preoccupied with military problems and the conflicts among the nation’s major allies, emphasized victory above all other considerations. After victory, he told MacLeish, he would speak more concretely about the nature of the peace. Wallace, for his part, while always committed to the eradication of Nazism as a first priority, was determined, too, to stir the blood of democrats everywhere, to prophesy, as he did, the coming century of the common man.

His rhetoric in that cause gave a testamental cast to the sundry objectives that engrossed him. As his diary disclosed, his activities on the Board of Economic Warfare aroused the quick opposition of two of the most powerful conservatives within the administration, both noted for their irifluence on the Hill, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones, who was also head of the federal lending agencies. Both men had a long record of defending any apparent invasion of what they jealously considered their personal domains. Now Hull resented any independence from State Department supervision of BKW representatives negotiating with foreign governments. Jones was even more indignant over Milo Perkins’ efforts to arrange loans for the development abroad of sources of strategic materials without proceeding through the dilatory, sometimes obstructionist, lending agencies. Enlisted by Perkins, Wallace tried to persuade Roosevelt to grant BEW independence from Hull and Jones, but the President, under pressure also from Wallace’s antagonists, gave BEW more the semblance than the sinew of what it sought.

The bureaucratic struggle merely clothed fundamental disagreements about policy, particularly in Latin America. There Wallace and Perkins had two large goals. “International trade,” Wallace had earlier written, “has always been closer to economic warfare than the American people have been trained to think.“[22] Through international trade he endeavored in Latin America to develop sources for essential materials of war – rubber and quinine for two – which the United States had previously obtained from areas the Japanese had conquered. Preclusive buying also denied those and other materials to the Germans. The procurement of adequate supplies, Wallace believed, depended upon increasing the productivity of Latin American workers, whose physical strength and morale suffered from malnutrition, disease, miserable sanitation and housing, and skimpy wages. Efficiency demanded social reform, as did the first step toward a decent future for the laborers. BEW tried to take that step by writing into procurement contracts abligations on the part of Latin American governments or entrepreneurs “to furnish adequate shelter, water, safety appliances, etc.,” to consult with BEW “as to whether the wage scale is such as to maximize production,” and to cooperate “in a plan to improve conditions of health and sanitation,” a plan for which the United States would pay half the costs.[23]

Hull attacked that policy indirectly. The State Department endorsed some of BEW’s conditions for contracts, but it also complained that the conditions as a whole constituted interference in the domestic affairs of a foreign nation, a course the department claimed to eschew. Noninterference, as practiced by the State Department, had special connotations. The doctrine served for several years as Hull’s excuse for protecting pe pro-Nazi but officially neutral government of Argentina from the disciplinary measures of economic warfare recommended continually by Army Intelligence and the Treasury Department. Too, the State Department helped to arrange shipments of Lend-Lease arms to Latin American governments, non-fighting allies against the Axis, that were openly repressive toward workers and peasants. Hull knew that Wallace welcomed social change in Latin America. Indeed Wallace had identified that change with peaceful revolution. The Board of Economic Warfare did not demand that Latin American states alter their laws; it attempted only to write contracts to help Latin American markers. But that was too much revolution for Hull, and therefore by his standards too much interference.

Like Wallace, Hull was a dogged proponent of freeing international trade from artificial restraints. Like Wallace, he was eager to enlarge American markets abroad in the postwar period, temporarily by advancing generous credits. But the Secretary of State and most of his colleagues equated that objective with the spread of American institutions, political and economic. They expected their trading partners to be or to become capitalistic republics in the model of the United States. When the war ended, they attached political conditions to commercial negotiations. Wallace did not. He sought postwar trade with any nation, whatever its system of government or pattern of property ownership. And, during the war, he wanted American credits, trade, and eonuacts to turn the calendar toward the century of the common man. He lost.

As much as Hull, Jesse Jones contributed to that defeat. The delays and the parsimony of Jones’ lending agencies retarded procurement, as Wallace and others demonstrated and Jones self-righteously denied. Wallace found just as aggravating the political objections to BEW contracts, which Jones claimed were needlessly costly. Preoccupied with prices and interest rates, Jones never grasped the greater importance, during the crisis of war, of productivity, one of Wallace’s goals. He did understand and reject Wallace’s long-range social concerns, which he scoffed at as an international WPA. He scoffed, too, at Wallace’s worries about the postwar implications of American policy on synthetic rubber. Wallace feared that federal assistance for the synthetic rubber industry, which he knew was essential for wartime supply, would lead to postwar tariff protection for that industry, and consequently inhibit postwar natural rubber developments which BEW was nurturing in Brazil and elsewhere. As ever, Wallace argued that without a market in the United States, those natural rubber producers would be unable to survive, and unable, too, to purchase American products. Jones fixed his interest on the postwar profits of the domestic rubber industry.

Jones had the sympathy and support of like-minded senators, including senior southern Democrats like Kenneth McKellar and Harry Byrd, who chaired powerful committees. They gave him a platform from which to attack BEW, its policies, and the concessions to it that Roosevelt had made. Where Hull ordinarily expressed his negative opinions in colorful but private invective, Jones habitually broadcast his vitriol. He both offended and infuriated Milo Perkins, who regrettably struck back in kind. Provoked largely by Perkins, so did Wallace, with little more circumspection. After several public skirmishes, the open warfare between two of his subordinates, a circumstance Roosevelt would not tolerate, led to the President’s decision in June 1943 to abolish BEW. He transferred its functions to a new superagency, the Office of Economic Warfare, and appointed to the chairmanship of the body Leo Crowley, whose ability to flatter the President and to placate Congress considerably exceeded his taste for reform or his personal probity. Perkins left the government. Wallace remained, his authority and status severely diminished, his spirit undeterred.


(*) Edited and with an introduction by John Morton Blum, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company 1973


To be continued in Part II

[1]Quoted in Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier, Henry A. Wallace of Iowa: The Agrarian Years, 1910-1940 (Ames, 1968), p. 15. For the period it covers, the Schapsmeiers’ thorough work has been continually an important source for this introduction. Also useful for that period were Russell Lord, The Wallaces of Iowa (Boston, 1947) and Mordecai Ezekiel, “Henry A. Wallace, Agricultural Economist,” Journal of Farm Economics, Vol. 48, No. 4, Part I, November 1966, pp. 789-802.

[2]Henry A. Wallace, “The Department as I Have Known It,” Ms., Wallace Papers in the possession of his family.

[3]Quoted in Schapsmeier and Schapsmeier, Wallace: Agrarian Fears, p. 19.

[4]Ezekiel, “Wallace.”

[5]Wallace, “The Department as I Have Known It.”

[6]For a somewhat contrary but informed and incisive view of the questions covered in this section of the introduction, see Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Coming of the New Deal (Boston, 1959), pp. 28-34.

[7]Wallace Diary, February 22, 1940.

[8]Henry A. Wallace, Soviet Asia Mission (New York, 1945), p. 21.

[9]Ezekiel, “Wallace.”

[10]The best account of the agricultural policies of the early New Deal, an account on which I have relied heavily, is in Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, Ch. 1. Also helpful and sometimes of a contrasting interpretation were the works of the Schapsmeiers and of Ezekiel, cited above.

[11]Quoted in Schlesinger, Coming of the New Deal, p. 63.

[12]Wallace Diary, January 26, 1935.

[13]Wallace Diary, February 3, 1935.

[14]Wallace, “The Department as I Have Known It.”

[15]Wallace Diary, May 22, 1940; see also January 2, 1940, on hemispheric policy.

[16]Wallace Diary, January 18, 1940.

[17]Wallace Diary, May 24, 1940.


[19]Wallace Diary, June 27, 1940.

[20]Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier, Prophet in Politics: Henry A. Wallace and the War Years, 1940-65 (Ames, 1970), p. 9.

[21] Ezekiel, “Wallace.”

[22]Wallace Diary, June 6, 1940.

[23]Quoted in Schapsmeier and Schapsmeier, Prophet in Politics, p. 45.