Raising the Standard.

America’s Close Call

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry A. Wallace. (Photo courtesy Marine Corps Archive)

What if I told you the most dangerous Wallace in American political history wasn’t a segregationist Alabamian? Rather, his name was Henry Agard Wallace, and he came within 82 days of the highest office in the land.

Henry Wallace served as Secretary of Agriculture and vice president under that inimitable judge of character, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A fanatical New Dealer and consummate progressive, Wallace was the prototypical Roosevelt loyalist.

Wallace was replaced with Harry Truman on the Democratic ticket for the 1944 election, so following Roosevelt’s election to an unprecedented fourth term, on January 20, 1945, Wallace’s term as vice president ended. Premier, er, President Roosevelt died on April 12. Had Roosevelt died a mere eleven weeks earlier, Vice President Wallace would have taken the oath.

History is full of close calls, and our republic has seen its share: Lee’s battle plans fell into Union hands before Antietam, Washington resigned his commission and Khrushchev pulled his nukes out of the Caribbean.

Surely you exaggerate, the reader harrumphs — the ascent of Mr. Wallace to the presidency could never have resulted in anything to the magnitude of nuclear holocaust or military despotism.

Maybe I’m not being clear.

THE EDITORS: That’s going to take a big farm bill.

It is important to grasp the unmitigated lunacy of Henry Agard Wallace, a man whose greatest political aspiration was “to make the world safe for corn breeders.” Once a devout Presbyterian of the liberal Wilsonian persuasion, he embarked in middle age on a wacky religious journey — at one point, his correspondence with a Russian mystic became a campaign issue. While Wallace’s dabbling in eastern mysticism may have seemed humorous to Republicans in the 1940 election, he took these matters very seriously. And when a more evangelical flavor suited Wallace, he could be a fiery preacher of the progressive gospel:

The people’s revolution is on the march, and the devil and all his angels can not prevail against it. They can not prevail, for on the side of the people is the Lord.

But Wallace’s commitment to proletarian rabble-rousing wasn’t limited to this kind of Billy-Graham-goes-to-Stalingrad invective.

Wallace served briefly as Secretary of Commerce under President Truman, but resigned over his disagreement with the Missourian’s handling of the Soviet Union. Perhaps Wallace never could get over the “Uncle Joe” branding that FDR was forced to apply to Stalinist Russia during World War Two. Or perhaps (more likely) Wallace sympathized with the workers’ socialist revolution. Whatever the reason, Wallace was seen by his contemporaries as disconcertingly soft on the Soviets. He longed for an end to the Cold War and cooperation with the USSR; he hated containment.

Well OK — so the guy supported détente. Well … if reporting regularly to the Kremlin while in the Truman administration qualifies as an easing of tensions, then yes. When Wallace ran for President in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket, he refused to turn down an endorsement from the Communist Party.

So Wallace was batty. He was a communist sympathizer, if not a traitor. And he was very nearly president. Exposed by journalist H.L. Mencken and others, Wallace was reviled by many on the eve of his wholly insignificant 1948 run. Wallace then left public service to work as editor of that journalistic juggernaut, The New Republic.

The Henry Wallace nightmare was dodged because conservative Southern Democrats feared electoral connection to the doe-eyed Marxist sap, and thank goodness for them. And thank God for Harry Truman, a man of conviction and common sense.

I’ll leave you with this quote from renowned novelist Allen Drury on his assessment of Henry A. Wallace:

No matter what he does, it is always going to seem faintly ridiculous, and no matter how he acts, it is always going to seem faintly pathetic…

It is a great relief to look upon history and know that Henry Wallace, when remembered at all, will be remembered as ineffectual. The alternative is difficult to contemplate.

—John Henry Thompson is Manager of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE

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