Studienbanner_klein Studien von Zeitfragen
36. Jahrgang InternetAusgabe 2002
Camp David
Wallace I
Wallace II
Abs London
Suche / Archiv

USA 1942 - 2002



Portrait of a Diarist / Part II


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



By John Morton Blum



Wallace’s “Century of the Common Man,” a major address he delivered in May 1942, set forth themes which he repeated and elaborated for the next several years. They grew out of his previous ideas, some partially formed even in his youth, and they foreshadowed the disagreements between him and others in government during his last year in office. Yet his speeches, book, and articles said less about his precise objectives than did his diary, and his written words communicated his purpose only in the context of the actual issues to which he adverted daily. Each theme he associated with the century of the common man had hard correlatives in the questions that occupied wartime Washington.

Peace, the essential first condition for the future of mankind, meant different things to different Americans during World War II. For Wallace, the establishment and preservation of peace demanded a true internationalism, a world community of nations and peoples linked economically and politically through the agency of a United Nations. His vision included his familiar convictions about trade and economics, and his expectations for the economic development of underdeveloped areas along the lines that BEW drew. As he saw it, with the end of the war the United Nations would assume the bulk of that task. It would first have to concentrate on the restoration of areas devastated by war, a function which devolved before the end of hostilities to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. An enthusiast for that agency, Wallace recognized that it had to rely in its early work primarily on American resources, for the United States alone of the great nations was emerging from the war with an ebullient economy. But Wallace believed that American wealth should not give the United States a proportionate influence either in UNRRA or within the United Nations. Those agencies, in his opinion, had to bend to multilateral direction and to serve multinational interests.

The internationalizing of responsibility for providing nourishment, relief, and development throughout the world depended upon political internationalism, which Wallace stressed. It could eventuate only with the end of European imperialism and with the abandonment of balance-of-power politics. On that account, he was especially critical of the British, particularly Winston Churchill. Continued British domination over India, in Wallace’s understanding, violated the whole purpose of the war, as did Churchill’s impulse for empire, his unabashed belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority, his disdain for China and distrust of Russia, his preference for secret negotiations, and his manifest intention to hold the reins of world leadership, whatever the semblance of world government, in British, American, and, unavoidably, Soviet hands.

Roosevelt, too, expected the great powers to dominate the UN and enjoyed and exploited his secret conferences either alone with Churchill or in the larger company that included Stalin. But the President seemed to Wallace to share his anti-imperialism and even some of his other doubts about the British. So also, Roosevelt was determined to get along with the Russians. Further he was as emphatic as was Wallace in calling for the withdrawal of British arid European, as well as Japanese, political influence in East and Southeast Asia. They looked forward there not to American encroachments but to the independence, in most instances after a period of transition, of the various Asian peoples. In the case of China, as they both realized, Chiang Kai-shek could expect to rule only if he cleared out the corruption of the Kuomintang, embarked upon major social reform including distribution of land to the peasantry, and reached a modus operandi with his communist opponents, whose growing strength fed on the discontent his policies fostered.

Still, Roosevelt’s concern for victory first and victory as fast as possible resulted in wartime decisions that struck Wallace as ominous for the future. The United States, Wallace believed, had to align itself unequivocally with the forces of democracy everywhere. On the ground of military expediency, Roosevelt did not. He authorized the negotiations and arrangements in North Africa and Italy that made notorious fascists the approved local agents of Anglo-American occupation. The State and War Departments nurtured those policies which Wallace came privately to oppose.

Wallace also parted with the President, though without public or private acrimony, over the question of the peace-keeping role of the United Nations. Roosevelt talked in general terms about a postwar international police force to prevent aggression, but while the fighting continued, he deliberately postponed serious consideration of the nature and structure of such a force. Indeed he seemed often to regard it as a convenient substitute for the positioning of American units abroad. Further, he was too busy with grand strategy to give time to detailed postwar planning. More important, he did not want predictable British, American, and Russian disagreements atiout postwar policies to impede the functioning of the wartime alliance. He sensed, too, that the Congress and the American people were loath to approve much more than the principles of international organization, and he dreaded a divisive domestic debate that might generate the kind of opposition to a United Nations that had defeated Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. Roosevelt had not wholly decided about his course. He did expect after victory rapidly to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia. He had no apparent sympathy for postwar Ameiican military adventures overseas. Yet his announced descriptions of postwar world organization, at best opaque, appeared to presume a political stability founded on a balance of influence among the strong.

Wallace for his part advocated wartime planning for a United Nations that would exercise responsibility for peace and for disarmament. Like Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, he saw regional agreements as a necessary foundation for the larger mandate of the UN. Regionalism, as he later admitted, could provide a cloak for spheres of influence – of the United States in the Americas, of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe, and of the British, French, and Chinese in areas of their traditional concern. But he counted on the United Nations to prevent regionalism from becoming colonialism. Further, to estop aggression of any sort he advocated endowing the United Nations with an own army and air force, and with authority to impose economic sanctions.

He contemplated a degree of surrender of national sovereignty to an international body larger by far than was acceptable to any but an insignificant few in high offices in any of the governments of the major partners in the war against the Axis. Indeed few Americans who understood Wallace’s purpose fully supported it. The senior members of the State Department especially looked upon his proposals as fanciful. So did the senior Democrats in the Senate, while the Republican leadership was even more chary of international commitments. For those critics, as for most of their constituents, peace, in whatever international garment, implied primarily “freedom from fear” – from threats to the security of the United States. That security was to be assured essentially by American power alone or in willing alliance with demonstrably trustworthy friends. As Wallace realized, from that position the step was short to unilateral American adventurism undertaken in the name of peace.


As in international, so in domestic policies, Wallace by 1944 had advanced well beyond the consensus of the American people and their congressional representatives.[24] That gap reflected their conservatism, for Wallace, by no means alone in the forward sector, had not departed from the traditional objectives of American reform movements or the growing body of economic doctrine of the time.

The bases far the political democracy that Wallace associated with his century of the common man were so conventionally American that he did not need to spell them out. The nuances of his speeches and the thrusts of his activities indicated that he meant by political democracy representative government, universal suffrage, and the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Those conditions did not wholly obtain during the years of World War II. He worried particularly about the distortions of representation that resulted from the disfranchisement of blacks in the South, from the power of Democratic machines in the North (Chicago especially bothered him), and from the influence that wealthy individuals and corporations exerted on Congress and on some executive agencies. He also despised the redbaiting techniques of the Dies Committee in the House and the McKellar Committee in the Senate. Obsessed with fears about radicals, those committees, reckless in their accusations, bullied the witnesses they disliked. Again and again in his diary Wallace expressed his own reservations about “Communists” or “reds,” but in his distress about the tactics of the witch-hunters in Congress and the FBI, he constantly also expressed a discriminating opposition to professional anticommunists.

Only men with the truncated mentality of Dies or McKellar could discover, as they did, sinister and radical tendencies in Wallace’s ideas about economic democracy. Wallace simply incorporated his understanding of wartime developments into his long-standing proposals for promoting and distributing an economy of abundance. The experience of the war provided a telling verification of the theories of John Maynard Keynes and his American interpreters and disciples. The enormous federal deficits of the war years spurred private investment and employment, and achieved at last the full recovery that had eluded the New Deal. To Wallace, as to the Keynesians he regularly saw, it was patent that properly managed federal fiscal policy could sustain prosperity in the postwar years. Accordingly he believed, with Roosevelt, in the ability of the government to establish and preserve the conditions that would provide sixty million jobs, a figure that seemed outrageously high in 1944 to the adherents of conventional economics. In order to achieve that goal, as Wallace understood, the government had systematically to employ experts to study the economy and its performance, and to make continual recommendations about federal fiscal and monetary policies to sustain maximum employment. To that end he supported each of the series of bills introduced by Senator Murray of which the last was passed, after revisions, as the Employment Act of 1946.

The long years of depression had whetted the interest of all Americans, however much they disagreed about means, in achieving an economy of plenty. Americans, however, disagreed profoundly about how and to whom to allocate shares of prosperity. Debates about the particular aspects of that general question proceeded through the war years. After the Democratic reverses in the elections of 1942, a coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats controlled congressional decisions. While that coalition tried, with considerable success, to roll back the New Deal, the President accepted most of the defeats his policies suffered without more than token protest. Eager for the support of the conservative coalition for his military and foreign policies, he deferred battle over domestic issues. “Dr. New Deal,” Roosevelt told the press, had been succeeded by “Dr. Win-the-War.” Depressed by the resulting situation, Henry Morgenthau commented that he could put all the remaining New Dealers in his own bathtub. He exaggerated. There was in Washington a group of young liberal Keynesians who were eagerly planning a new postwar New Deal. They had the significant cooperation of the leadership of the CIO and the Farmers’ Union. In the Senate they had influential friends like Claude Pepper of Florida and Robert Wagner of New York. And they had visible champions in high office, of whom Wallace was the most senior in rank and most articulate in speech. His program for economic democracy reflected their thinking, as well as his own.

As he had for so long, Wallace during the war combated the power of big business. In the continuing struggle for control of the War Production Board, he sided with Donald Nelson, a protector of small industry, against Ferdinand Eberstadt, the ingenious investment banker who represented the preferences of the armed services and their corporate allies.[25] Increasingly in 1943 and thereafter, Wallace also consulted the lawyers in the antitrust division of the Justice Department, serious young attorneys who were frustrated by the President’s suspension of antitrust proceedings at a time when bigness was growing rapidly. With them, Wallace attacked American corporate giants that had been (and would again be) associated with international cartels, and, like them, he searched for ways to revise the patent laws so as to prevent monopolies based on patent rights, especially patents developed at large cost to the federal government. He was not anti-business but anti-bigness; he was not an opponent of capitalism but a proponent of competition.

So, too, Wallace allied himself with the workers against their employers. He had earlier applauded the success of the CIO in using collective bargaining to increase the share of labor in corporate profits. Unions, he believed, would have to function to that end after the war. Though he deplored wartime strikes that retarded production, he recognized the validity of many of the demands of the strikers and he opposed congressional efforts to punish union labor and its leadership. Supporting Roosevelt, Wallace also advocated holding down wartime agricultural prices so as to prevent inflation from eroding the gains in income that labor had achieved. To his satisfaction, the strength of the unions, the impact of wage and price controls, and the incidence of wartime taxes resulted during the war years in a significant redistribution of income favorable to working men and women.

Wallace stood behind other programs to assist industrial and agricultural workers. He advocated federal support for education, especially in technical and scientific subjects, so as to make learning available to qualified candidates who could not otherwise afford it. He praised the proposals of the National Resources Planning Board (an agency which congressional conservatives dissolved out of spite) and of the Social Security Administration for postwar increases in old age and memployment benefits, and for postwar extension of coverage to millions of Americans then still outside of the social security system. Eager to improve the delivery of health care within the United States, he commended the program Henry Kaiser had devised for the collective care of workers employed by his firms. Wallace applauded, too, the less adventurous but still controversial plan of the Social Security Administration to include medical insurance within its province. “Socialized medicine,” as the American Medical Association called it with characteristic imprecision, stirred up so much opposition that Roosevelt would not attach his prestige to a Treasury measure sponsoring it. He could not, the President argued, take on the AMA in the middle of a great war. Wallace could and did, as did Bob Wagner and the other authors of the unsuccessful Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill for revising social security to encompass medical insurance.

For Wallace, then, economic democracy directly affected the common man. It would increase national income by utilizing fiscal policy to encourage economic growth and antitrust policy to discourage monopolistic restraints on production. It would increase the share of the common man in national income. It would also provide him with protection against the trials of unemployment, old age, and illness. Taken together, those purposes constituted what Roosevelt meant by “freedom from want.” Taken together, they also constituted what Wallace’s critics called either communism or socialism or the welfare state. They were anathema to the still formidable number of businessmen and their lawyers, accountants, and clerks who believed, in spite of all that had happened since 1929, in something they called “the American system,” by which they meant the political economy of the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover years.

Wallace disturbed an equally large constituency by his advocacy of „genetic democracy,” another major facet of his century of the comn man. The phrase was peculiarly his own. His experiments in hybridizing corn had led him to an adjective for which most other men substituted “racial.” He meant that and more. He urged equal opportunities for black Americans in voting, employment, and education, but he sought the same objectives for women of whatever color. Further, he envisaged in the not distant future equal political and economic opportunities for Asians and Latins, not only for American citizens. In the case of the Jews, he came before 1944 to agree with the Zionists that a prosperous and dignified future for European Jews, particularly after the ghastly experience of Nazi persecution, could materialize only in an independent Jewish state in the area of Palestine, then British-controlled. His were politically dangerous convictions. Even during a war against Nazism, most white Americans remained openly prejudiced against men and women of darker skins, most were uneasy about directly assisting European Jews, most were indifferent about the rights of women. Indeed Roosevelt disagreed with Wallace. The President had doubts about Zionism, little patience with militant women, and little respect for most women in public life. Further, he had condoned the incarceration of the Japanese-Americans, and he had erected a bureaucratic barrier of personal aides to spare him from having to listen to the legitimate demands of American blacks. Wallace’s genetic democracy put him in a lonesome salient far out ahead of the army of American voters and of their elected commander.

He had a related vision still further from the American consensus. It was a prospect incomprehensible except to those few who shared Wallace’s belief in the brotherhood of man, his faith in the experience of westering as an avenue to that brotherhood, and his conviction that commerce brought and held societies together. When first he met Molotov, he described to him, as he later did in print for American readers, a huge stretch of highways and airports reaching northward from the west coast of South America to Alaska and across the Bering Sea westward through Siberia to European Russia. Along that line he saw potentialities for a vibrant commerce. When he reflected about strategy in the Pacific, Wallace gave Alaska a high priority for defense, (or he viewed Alaska as the last American frontier. But the larger frontier, the one he postulated for settlement and development in the late twentieth century, made Alaska only one part of a vast area that also included Soviet Asia and Mongolia. There he believed a commingling of peoples from America, Siberia, China, and Mongolia could build a new center of civilization, a center founded on agriculture, the commerce to sustain it, and the industry that would follow population and employ the extraordinary resources of the northern Pacific triangle. That prospect beguiled him before his visit to Soviet Asia and China. The observations he made on that trip, recorded in his diary and in his Soviet Asia mission, confirmed his sense of the possibilities for realizing the prospect. The rivalries of international politics made it only a dream in 1944, but it was precisely those rivalries which Wallace believed had to be tempered and contained so that the century of the common man could begin in the northern Pacific as in all lands.

Wallace’s beliefs provoked the opposition to his renomination that was virtually universal among Roosevelt’s advisers and the Democratic party leadership. He knew they did not want him. He knew, too, that thousands of rank and file Democrats shared his kind of aspiration and supported his candidacy. But in 1944, as in 1940, he did not campaign. By default rather than by direction, he left his chances to a few friends who were almost as clumsy and uninfluential as they were ardent and dedicated. At Roosevelt’s request, Wallace even left Washington for Asia during the critical weeks before the national convention. Again, as in 1940, he knew his presence or his activity made little difference. The decision about the nomination was the President’s to make. And Roosevelt dropped him. The President’s disingenuous remarks during their discussion of the nomination wounded Wallace at least as much as did the President’s decision. Once he became aware of it, Wallace fought, too late and with too few allies, to hold his office, but he accepted defeat in good grace and campaigned hard for the ticket. That earned Roosevelt’s gratitude and Wallace’s nomination as Secretary of Commerce.

The episode confirmed Wallace’s sense of the President’s style. Eager to dominate yet reluctant to offend, Roosevelt hated to tell a loyal friend the simple truth when that truth was bound to hurt. Instead he fenced, he turned to humor, evasion, and half-truths. He would have been kinder in 1944 to tell Wallace the truth, for Wallace had the character to accept it. The truth was that the renomination of Wallace would probably have hurt the ticket. Wallace admitted as much in 1951 in conversation with an interviewer who asked him what would have happened if he had been renominated and then succeeded to the presidency after Roosevelt’s death. “Anyone with my views,” Wallace answered, “would have run into the most extraordinary difficulties... It would have been a terrific battle for control of public opinion... It’s quite possible that I would not have been able to get the support of Congress.“[26]

Indeed, it was quite probable, for the Senate, with the Democrats bitterly divided, in 1945 barely approved Wallace’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce, and then only after stripping that office of the lending authority Jesse Jones had exercised. As for public opinion, in 1944, as Wallace realized, it was running against him. In his own retrospective assessment, the American people were “prosperous, fully employed, complacent.” They were weary of controls, weary of shortages, eager for victory and for postwar security and personal comfort. They were not seeking new obligations, new causes, or strange adventures.[27] Accordingly they were uncomfortable with the implications of Wallace’s century of the common man. In Wisconsin the voters had eliminated Wendell Wilkie, Wallace’s closest Republican counterpart, from the race for his party’s nomination. Roosevelt, acepting the counsel of his advisers and of his own instincts, removed Wallace, who had taken positions the President was willing to have tested but, in the President’s judgment, had failed the test. Wallace had said in 1940 that the question of his nomination was subordinate to the best interest of the party. In 1944 he had not changed his mind. Though he and his friends thought that his renomination would strengthen the ticket, he had to defer to Roosevelt’s contrary conclusion. He would have found it more palatable if the President had been more candid.


After Roosevelt’s death, Wallace remained in the Cabinet because he expected, as Secretary of Commerce, to initiate programs to expand both the American and the world economy, and because he hoped to exert a liberalizing influence within the government. As he confided in his diary, he did not trust the new President. Harry Truman, though his own record was clean, had ties to the corrupt Pendergast machine in Kansas City. His sponsors included men like Robert Hannegan and Edwin Pauley whose motives and methods Wallace suspected. Further, in Wallace’s view Truman had followed a devious course in winning the vice-presidential nomination. In time, Wallace was to consider his suspicions confirmed. Where Roosevelt had been engagingly disingenuous, Truman, in dealing with Wallace, became transparently dishonest. But at first, though he did not much like Wallace, the President was disarming. His apparent openness, his earthiness, his self-effacing eagerness to master his new office and its problems persuaded Wallace that they might be able to work together productively.

They remained within reach of each other on domestic policies. Truman approved Wallace’s plans for reorganization of the Commerce Department, though he kept Wallace off the governing board of the Export-Import Bank. After some hesitation, the President gave his full support to the employment bill. With less commitment than Wallace, he also supported the continuation of the Office of Price Administration and its efforts to retard inflation. He recommended continuing wartime policies designed to provide equal employment opportunities for blacks. He opposed Republican measures to cripple labor unions, but he had limited sympathy for the postwar militancy of the CIO, and he recommended punitive action against the railroad brotherhoods when they walked out on strike. Recognizing his own political weakness in labor circles, Truman, as he later disclosed, kept Wallace in the Cabinet primarily to placate the unions. He listened to Wallace’s advice about labor issues and on occasion used him as an emissary to CIO leaders. That role pleased Wallace, who also knew that Truman as a senator had voted consistently for New Deal measures. As President, he now urged Congress to expand social security, to provide for national medical insurance, and to increase minimum wages. No more than Roosevelt could he be faulted for the conservative coalition in Congress or for the yearning for “normalcy,” so like the mood of the early 1920s, that infected so many Americans, war veterans not the least.

To Wallace’s growing disillusionment, however, the President acted in a manner at variance with his rhetoric. It was not the conservatives in Congress but Truman himself who altered the profile of the Cabinet. Like any President, he naturally wanted his own men around him men loyal to him, not to the memory of FDR. But most of those he chose struck Wallace, as they did others, as less able than their predecessors, less liberal, and often meaner in personal and public spirit. Wallace had never found James F. Byrnes, the new Secretary of State, a sympathetic colleague. He had liked Henry Morgenthau and valued his spontaneous enthusiasm for myriad good causes, but after Morgenthau resigned, Fred Vinson and John Snyder, both personal friends of Truman, brought to the Treasury department a narrow view of both domestic and international issues. Wallace had had his problems with Harold Ickes, but he cheered Ickes’ opposition to the nomination of Edwin Pauley, another Truman crony, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The Senate blocked that appointment, for Pauley’s associations with the oil industry made the prospect of his control over Navy oil reserves ominous. Still, Ickes resigned, dubious as was Wallace about Truman’s concern for the conservation policies Roosevelt had nurtured. Even more disheartening had been the President ’s earlier selection of Howard McGrath to replace Francis Biddle as Attorney General. A political hack from Rhode Island, McGrath filled the Justice Department with nonentities who vitiated the antitrust division that Biddle’s men had energized. The incompetence as well as the permissiveness of many of the newcomers to the Justice and Treasury Departments led to the series of episodes of petty corruption that later gave Truman’s cronies a deservedly shoddy reputation, one that hurt the President, too. Wallace, who saw government gradually losing its indispensable integrity before those scandals occured, lamented equally the concurrent loss of constructive social purpose. The President’s selection of associates, in Wallace’s opinion, cost him much of his credibility.

The last of the New Dealers to remain in the cabinet, Wallace held on primarily because of his overriding concern about military and foreign policy. Truman let him stay in order to appease the restless liberal intellectuals and labor leaders. Wallace symbolized their hopes, as long as he was there, though they might grumble about Truman, they were unlikely to desert him. Only slowly did Wallace learn that he was just a symbol, that he had no influence, that Truman from the outset had had no intention of taking his advice. The President let him talk, but he made him an outsider. As they moved apart from each other, Truman contributed to the ultimate separation by dissembling in what he told Wallace. Though Wallace would probably have disputed anyway, he could not be expected to understand, much less to approve, policies about which he was at least partially misinformed.[28]

Still, the failure of communication between Truman and Wallace counted for less than did their fundamental disagreement about the role of the United States in world affairs. They started with different assumptions. The President and his closest advisers believed that national security depended upon military strength and position, on a large and poised strategic air force that could retaliate in the event of an attack, on the availability of safe bases from which both bombers and naval aircraft could operate, and on a large reserve axe ready for quick mobilization. They were, in a sense, preparing for the war that had just ended, for defense against another blitzkrieg or another attack upon Pearl Harbor. They were fashioning a system of deterrence (before that word had hecome the vogue), a system to which the American monopoly ef the atomic bomb gave unparalleled power. But there was no point in building that system of defense in the absence of an enemy. They identified the Soviet Union as that potential enemy. That identification rested on several premises. Those who made it considered Russian policy in Poland and in the eastern zone of Germany evidence of an expansionist purpose at least as extensive as were historic Russian ambitions in the Black and the Mediterranean seas. They tended to forget or to ignore the natural concern for their own security that the Russians felt, especially about Poland through which the Germans had attacked twice within one generation. They tended, too, to overlook the Russian need for reparations to replace capital equipment destroyed by war and unavailable from the United States in the absence of a credit which the State Department would not approve. Too, suspicions of the Soviet Union fed on American fears about communism as a doctrine and about Stalin as a dictator, as a mad and evil genius who quickly replaced Hitler in American demonology. The Soviet Union did intend to protect its interests as it defined them, but Truman’s councelors exaggerated the dangers to the United States inherent in that intention. Truman’s own tough talk to Molotov early in his presidency expressed his real opinion of the Soviet Union better than did his more placatory public pronouncements. And more and more the President accepted as fact the presumptions about a Soviet menace that were advanced with rising emphasis by Secretary of State Byrnes, Ambassador Averell Harriman, and their staffs.

Wallace proceeded from a different set of assumptions. National security, in his view, depended not on American arms but on a strong United Natians, on the abatement of international hostilities rather than the deployment of American forces, on comity, not deterrence. A large reserve army, a powerful strategic air force and navy, the bomb, and a global ring of American bases, he argued, served only to alarm the Soviet Union, obviously the only potential target for American strength. So alarmed, the Russians in their turn were bound to be hostile. It was not some demoniacal quality in Stalin or in communism, as Wallace saw it, but ancient Russian fears that accounted for their policies in eastern Europe. New anxieties about American encirclement would provoke them to an arms race that no nation could afford and the peace of the world might not survive.

As before, like some others in Washington, Wallace accepted the existence of spheres of influence as at least a temporary circumstance of the postwar period.[29] He did not expect the Soviet Union to intrude in Latin America, and he did not expect the United States to intrude in eastern Europe. Probably he underestimated the repression that accompanied Soviet domination; certainly he did so in 1947 and 1948. But at no time, his critics to the contrary, did Wallace condone repression by any nation. Rather, he believed that the elimination of international tension would, over time, lead both to a softening of Soviet foreign policy and a relaxation of police methods within areas of Soviet control. To encourage that relaxation he advocated more patience in diplomacy than Byrnes or Truman ordinarily displayed. He urged, too, energetic cultivation of Soviet-American commerce, first of all by the extension of a credit to Russia, exactly the policy Harriman and the State Department blocked. The establishment of a basis for trade, Wallace predicted, would serve the economic advantage of both nations and help gradually to convert suspicious hostility to tolerant rivalry between two different political and economic systems. He wholly expected the American system to prove its greater worth.

Truman’s stance toward the Soviet Union was the most continual but by no means the only source of distress to Wallace. He worried, too, about relations with Great Britain, with Latin America, and with China, as well as about decisions affecting the control of the atomic bomb. With respect to China, he had no quarrel with Truman’s attempt, unsuccessful though it was, to work out an accommodation between Chiang Kai-shek and the communists. In contrast to Truman, however, Wallace held that the presence and deployment of Soviet troops in Manchuria, which militated to the advantage of the Chinese communists, accorded with agreements between Roosevelt and Stalin. Still, Wallace and Truman agreed that the United States had done and was doing all it could for the Generalissimo; if he fell, the fault would be his.

They came close to agreement, too, about domestic control of atomic energy, though not about related international policy. Wallace, who had known from the beginning about the project to develop the atomic bomb, turned for advice about its control to the nuclear scientists who had created it. Informed by those physicists, whom he trusted as the experts in their field, he concluded that atomic weapons were far too destructive to be left to the control of the military. Too, the development of atomic science was far too important to be removed from control of the physicists. Wallace realized there was no secret about atomic energy. European scientists had played indispensable roles in the American project; the Germans and Japanese had built cyclotrons during the war; the Soviet Union, whose scientists were first-rate, had an atomic bomb within its reach if it was prepared to defray the enormous costs of making one. But the prospect of a nuclear arms race appalled Wallace. He envisaged instead the utilization of atomic energy as a source of power and a field of research, in both thrusts as a boon instead of a threat to mankind.

Those considerations accounted for his opposition to the May-Johnson bill which would have left the military with authority over American atomic development. With many of the nuclear scientists, with the essential assistance of Director of the Budget Harold Smith, and against the devious opposition of General Leslie Groves, Wallace encouraged the drafting and enactment of the McMahon bill. It provided, he felt, even after unfortunate amendments designed to mollify congressional saber-rattlers, acceptable assurances of civilian control over the domestic atomic energy program.

The McMahon Act could not guarantee that civilian authorities, the President included, would not yield to military counsel. In Wallace’s opinion, many of them already had. Vannevar Bush had supported the May-Johnson bill, as for a time had other scientists and administrators of organized science including James B. Conant. Even Robert Oppenheimer had not enlisted against it, and until Harold Smith. and others persuaded him to reconsider, Truman had gone along with Bush and thus with General Groves. In the end the President did exert his influence for the McMahon measure, but he accepted, with far more equanimity than did Wallace, the amendments to the bill that gave the military a stronger voice than most of the veterans of Los Alamos deemed safe or wise.

With too few exceptions to matter, congressmen felt a kind of panic at the thought of sharing the supposed secret of the bomb with any nation, especially with the Soviet Union. Yet science recognized no national borders. Passionately, therefore, Wallace advocated a policy of openness about American scientific information, as his communications to Truman and others disclosed. That policy would ease apprehensions about American intentions, a politically desirable eventuality. It would also avail people everywhere of knowledge with which they could harness atomic energy to build an abundant society. That view, close to the opinion of Secretary Stimson and a few others in the cabinet, was neither radical nor irresponsible. The sharing of basic scientific information did not imply the disclosure of technical details about the production of fissionable materials or the triggering mechanism for an implosion weapon. But the sharing of basic scientific information seemed to the timid and the ignorant equivalent to the loss of a precious secret on which national security depended. So thought Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. So thought enough congressmen and ultimately, with less intensity, the President himself, to limit American flexibility in approaching the issue.

Privately Truman concluded that Wallace’s opinions about atomic policy were unsafe. He also took pains not to venture beyond what Congress would approve. He could not obtain that approval without Republican support, so in atomic, as in all foreign policy, he paid the high price of bipartisanship. At the least that price involved continual concessions to the outsized vanity of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. On that and other accounts, Truman found it necessary often to employ anticommunist rhetoric, which he seemed not to consider distasteful. Further, he drew back without any prodding from offering the Soviet Union anything, even basic scientific information that he could not long keep secret, without receiving in return something he felt he had been denied. In the case of atomic energy, he moved to circumvent the Soviet position on the use of the veto in the Security Council of the United Nations. The proposals that he had Bernard Baruch put forward in the UN were less liberal than the preliminary recommendations drafted by David Lilienthal and Dean Acheson, who was by no means soft in his view of Moscow. As Wallace complained, the Baruch plan, unlike Acheson’s, eliminated the veto as it applied to questions of atomic energy while it also guaranteed for a decade American monopoly of atomic weapons, and offered the Soviet Union information only on the installment plan, with each installment conditional upon Soviet good behavior during the previous period. A proud and powerful nation, capable of mounting an atomic energy program on its own, was bound to reject the Baruch proposals. A more generous offer, Wallace believed, would have won Soviet trust and acceptance. As he saw it, men like General Groves, Secretary Forrestal, and Baruch had infected American opinion and warped American policy. As for Truman, who had seemed to wobble for months, he struck Wallace, as he did Eleanor Roosevelt, as a weak and vacillating man.

By Wallace’s standards, the President also appeared cynical. Truman looked upon Latin America as a counter in the game of world politics. To hold the nations to the south to a hemispheric coalition dominated by the United States, the President through his spokesmen at San Francisco arranged the admission of Argentina, then manifestly a fascist country, to the UN. That maneuver aroused the suspicions of the Soviet Union, which had been no less cynical in its role in the polities of the conference. It also presaged the meretricious manner of the State Department in Latin American relations – the appointment of ambassadors content to cooperate with the conservative forces of the military, the church, and the large landholders; the arming of those governing coalitions which used the weapons they received to stifle opposition; the abandonment of the objectives the Board of Economic Warfare had advanced. Wallace had seen Latin America as the first beneficiary of the policies he advocated for the common man. Now he watched the President and State Depaitment revert to the neocolonialism of the 1920s, to a policy pitched to the alleged needs of national defense and the palpable advantage of American investors, a policy impervious to the woeful conditions of daily life which he believed the United States had an obligation to mitigate.

Wallace also interpreted as cynical Truman’s early approach to the Palestine question. Disinclined to alienate Great Britain, the President yielded to London’s anxieties about placating the Arabs and protecting British control in the Middle East. The definition of Palestine’s borders and the limits on Jewish immigration on which British and American negotiators first agreed left Palestine too small and weak for economic development or military security, and left thousands of displaced European Jews without access to a permanent home. Wallace, who urged Truman to demand a solution more favorable to the Jews, played on the President’s political sensitivities. British convenience and prospects for American oil investments in the Middle East came gradually to count less with Truman than did the Jewish vote. But Wallace had meanwhile concluded that the President had little more humane concern for the Jews of Europe than for the impoverished in Latin America. He also considered the President’s original position on Palestine as typifying an unfortunate course of American relations with Great Britain.

That issue disturbed Wallace as much as did any other. He admired the heroic role of the British common people in their resistance to the Nazis. But like so many Middle Western democrats, he despised the british upper classes for their haughty manner and their arrogance about race, national origin, and social position. Further, he blamed them for British imperialism, which he wished to eradicate. On that account he distrusted Churchill, alike for his aristocratic ways and his imperialistic sentiments, so freely expressed whenever the Prime Minister visited Washington. Even after the election of a Labor government, Wallace feared that Great Britain would remain Churchillian in purpose, would continue to hold the uncritical affection of Anglophiles in the Department of State, and would induce the United States to assume a partnership in world politics. He had trusted Roosevelt to resist that role, but Truman was more vulnerable to British influence, partly because he shared Churchill’s fear of Russia, partly because among his closest advisers were men like Dean Acheson, who characteristically associated American with British interests.

From April 1945, when Roosevelt died, through the remainder of the year, Wallace grew more and more restive with the international policies of the administration. Increasingly he realized that Truman in private conversations gave him assurances that the President’s public actions contradicted. Still Wallace allowed himself to hope that Truman might change. During 1946 he lost that hope. The Baruch plan alarmed him. So did the hard line toward the Soviet Union that Averell Harriman advanced upon his return from Moscow to Washington, the tough policy that Secretary of State Byrnes pursued in his negotiations with the Russians, the tough talk of State Department Russian specialists like Charles Bohlen and George Kennan. They read Stalin’s monitory address of February 9, 1946, as a trumpet of hostility, of communist militancy and Russian expansionism. Wallace read it as a regrettably inimical response to threats that Stalin perceived in his exaggerated interpretation of American policy. According to that reading, there was still room for reciprocal understanding. But then at Fulton, Missouri, with Truman on the platform, Churchill delivered his celebrated “iron curtain” speech, that called for a fraternal alliance of the Englishspeaking people. It was precisely the alliance Wallace most opposed. Involving, as it did, the fading grandeur of the British empire and the implicit threat of the atomic bomb, it was addressed aggressively aginst the Soviet Union. It portended the rejection of spheres of influence in Europe that had been defined by the deployment of troops at the end of the war. It invited Anglo-American penetration of the Soviet sphere. Speaking at Stuttgart, Germany, in Septeinber, Secretary of State Byrnes sounded the first notes of that new policy which would gradually make the United States the catalyst, initially in the economic and later in the military reconstruction of West Germany as a part of a larger anti-Soviet bloc.

There were provocations, as Wallace knew, for Byrnes’ address. The Soviet Union had permitted no democracy in the areas it ruled; it had seized German industrial equipment and commandeered German labor in its eastern zone; it had broken promises made at Yalta and at Potsdam; it had disregarded human rights in Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe; it had been intransigent in preventing a common policy for occupied Germany as a whole. But the United States had been intransigent, too, in its unilateral control over occupied Japan, in its deployment of strategic air power, in its manipulations in Latin America. American occupation authorities in Japan had wantonly destroyed the Japanese cyclotron. Washington officials, while denying a credit to Russia, had arranged one for Great Britain, possibly on harder terms to the Labor government than they would have extended to the Tories.

Politically and ideologically, the world had begun to polarize by September 1946. Wallace’s hopes were evaporating for the kind of world he had associated with a century of the common man. At Madison Square Garden on September 12, he tried again to put his message across, to warn against Churchill’s proposals and to urge another approach to the Soviet Union. He criticized alike British imperial and Russian political practices, and the communists in the audience booed him, for he was pleading not for Russia but for peace. Truman, who had read and approved the speech, disavowed it after Wallace’s opponents opened fire and Byrnes and Vandenberg insisted that the speech impeded their diplomacy at the ongoing conference of foreign ministers. On Truman’s order, Wallace promised to speak no more until that conference was over. But that tenuous arrangement only postponed the obvious solution. Byrnes, dissatisfied, demanded that Truman fire Wallace, and Truman did. The President had, after all, issued the directions Byrnes was following. As Wallace and Truman both knew, there could be at any one time only one American foreign policy. Once the issue was openly joined, Wallace had to go.


Though Truman’s administrative decision was incontestably correct, his foreign policy was not. Like his critics at the time, so critics since have questioned both his presumptions and his tactics. Wallace was one of the first to do so. In the absence of access to the Soviet archives, there can be no sure assessment of Wallace’s case. American povocations may only have confirmed fixed Soviet decisions about postwar policy. But provocations there certainly were, as Wallace argued. At least until the time of Fulton, the possibility existed of a practical accommodation between the United States and the Soviet Union, of a temporary coexistence of mutually suspicious spheres of influence, of a gradual lessening of hostility and a gradual movement, as Wallace recommended, first toward commercial and scientific and then toward political cooperation, all within the framework of the United Nations. Even after the Fulton speech, the United States could have assisted the countries of the Southern Hemisphere more on an altruistic and less on a political basis. American records, easy of access, disclose that Truman never expected a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Wallace had reason to disagree. He had the prescience to realize that the hard line abroad would generate hysterical reactions to dissent at home, lead to the postponement of urgent domestic reforms, and encourage military adventures costly alike of men and morale. He had the foresight to propose alternatives to which the United States government turned only after a quarter century of terrible waste had made accommodation more attractive to most of the American people. Yet in the months immediately following his departure from public office, Wallace’s insights were cloudy. As his fears about Truman’s policies grew, so did his vulnerability to those who were urging him to run for the presidency on a third party ticket.[30] He was tempted to embark on that unhappy course on several counts. Out of government, he was removed from the councils of state to which he had often contributed and from which he had often also learned. He was removed, too, from easy access to the kinds of experts who had given him such influential assistance in earlier years, for one example in the making of agricultural policies. He had to rely instead more on his intuitions and hopes than on hard data and salient technical knowledge. Further, those who now advised him lacked the experience and judgment of his former counselors. Many of the men in the group around him were naive; some were eager to use him to advance their own interests; none had much political insight. Yet their pressure moved  Wallace less than did his own temperament. Believing that Truman was leading the country and the world toward war, committed to a contrary view of the new century, Wallace disregarded the warnings of his family and old friends and followed his own compulsion to stand political witness to his faith.

In his eagerness to find a rapprochement with the Soviet Union, he blinded himself to the mounting evidence of Russian tyranny in eastern Europe. In his determination to resist redbaiting, he became indifferent to the debilitating tactics of communists within his Progressive Party of 1948. For several years, his passion overcame his practicality.

Even so, he remained perceptive. Long an advocate of American assistance in the rebuilding of the European economy, he urged employing international agencies to administer aid programs and granting aid exclusively on social and economic rather than political bases. Those considerations led him to underestimate the responsibility of the Soviet Union for keeping eastern Europe out of the Marshall Plan. Earlier, however, he had protested against the Truman Doctrine and its applications in Greece and Turkey. As Wallace then said, that doctrine ignored and weakened the United Nations, substituted unilateral for multilateral aid, and gave military assistance unfortunate priority over economic assistance. Worse, the anticommunist rhetoric of the doctrine expressed a universal commitment to antirevolutionary interventions. As Wallace foresaw, both the precedent and the rhetoric had ominous portents.

Indeed Wallace’s fundamental trepidations about American policy, all of them prominent before he left office, had become by the early 1970s common criticisms of the history of the interceding years. The collusion of the military with those industrial interests that depended upon defense expenditures had resulted in enormous waste and bureaucratic inefficiency. The military-industrial establishment against which Dwight D. Kisenhower warned his countrymen in 1961 had worried Wallace two decades earlier. Indeed the military, as Americans learned by 1970, had proved unable to maintain the standards of financial probity and disciplined warfare on which professional soldiers liked to pride themselves. Unilateral military intervention, as Wallace had feared, had become something of a national habit, with the war in Vietnam only the most recent and most dreadful example of the corrupting dangers of American adventurism. Too, war and preparation for war, deterrence and its cost, balance-of-power politics with their related expenditures – even bribes – for the purchase of allies, had debilitated the UN and absorbed national income needed for domestic social programs, the very programs Wallace had urged for relief of poverty, conservation of the land and its resources, education of the young, the delivery of health care, and the protection of the aged. The inversion of national priorities, attacked in 1968 by Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy and in 1972 by George McGovern, had drawn Wallace’s criticisms in 1942.

In other ways also Wallace proved prescient, a man far ahead of times, as he had so often been. After the revolution in Cuba, Washington recognized Latin America again as a continent full of people, not just a reservation for private investment and seductive military aid. The Alliance for Progress that John F. Kennedy launched in 1961 had as its social targets precisely those of the Board of Economic Warfare. Even Richard Nixon discovered what Wallace had always maintained, that communist ideology did not constitute an insuperable hurdle to communication. In 1971 Nixon went to China, which he had condemned as demoniacal for more than two decades, and in 1972 to Moscow, there to suggest that the encouragement of commerce between the Soviet Union and the United States would benefit both nations and ease their political relationship. For saying such things Wallace had been called a red or at least a pink from 1946 through 1948, as were others of his opinion, with Nixon one of their most fervent accusers.

The irony of history should have restored Wallace’s reputation, but in the early 1970s he was still remembered more for his occasional fallibility than for his extraordinary foresight. Three decades earlier he had imagined a splendid century which still had yet convincingly to begin. He would have welcomed a century of the common man, as he welcomed the New Deal, whenever it began. He would have lost none of his verve for administering the agencies to promote it, shed none of his worries about the persisting impediments to it, surrendered none of his zeal for opposing the enemies of it. While he found armor for his missions in his faith, while he preached his best hopes, Henry A. Wallace sought their fulfillment less in his message than in the hard labor of learning and doing. By his works, he believed, practical Christian that he was, men would know him.

In his works they would find a good man.


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

[24]Compare the Wallace Diary with the analysis of public opinion in Jerome S. Bruner, Mandate from the People (New York, 1944) and the analysis of congressional roll calls in Roland Young, Congressional Politics in the Second World War (New York, 1956); see also Richard Polenberg, War and Society: The United States 1948-1965 (Philadelphia, 1972).

[25]See Bruce Catton, The War Lords of Washington (New York, 1948), chap. 10ff.

[26]Oral History, Henry A. Wallace, pp. 4566-4570, Oral History Project, Columbia University.

[27] Ibid. and Bruner, Mandate from the People.

[28] The entire discussion in this section of the introduction rests primarily upon Wallace’s Diary and Harry S. Truman, Year of Decisions (Garden City, 1955). On questions of military and foreign policies, I found particularly stimulating Walter La Feber, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1966 (New York, 1967). Also useful was Thomas G. Patterson, ed., Cold War Critics (Chicago, 1971). For another informed but doctrinaire interpretation, see Norman D. Markowitz, The Rise and Fall of the People’s Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941–1948 (New York, 1973).

[29] On that attitude in the early postwar period, see H. Stuart Hughes, “The Second Year of the Cold War,” Commentary, August 1969, pp. 27-32.

[30] Wallace kept no diary after he left office. Further, there. is no wholly satisfactory study of his role during the years 1946-48 or of the Progressive Party, for his papers for that period have not been available. One useful brief account and another compendious one are respectively Karl M. Schmidt, Henry A. Wallace: Quixotic Crusade 1948 (Syracuse, 1960) and Curtis D. MacDougall, Gideon’s Army, 3 vols. (New York, 1965). The sympathies of the latter imbue Markowitz, The Rise and Fall of the People’s Century.