Henry A. Wallace

I am committed to using the power and prestige of the United States to help the peoples of the world, not their exploiters and rulers.

Progressive Party Candidate for President of the United States Acceptance Speech, Philadelphia, Pa., July, 24, 1948

Henry A. Wallace: Champion of the “Common Man”

T he Fund is inspired by the progressive vision of its initial founder, Henry A. Wallace, who championed what he called the “common man” in the struggle against the moneyed elites for control of government and the planet’s precious resources. This is a phrase that he coined in his most celebrated speech as Vice President of the United States, in 1942, in the middle of World War Two, when he rejected rising rhetoric on the right demanding that America should dominate the postwar world, fueled by “a system of free economic enterprise” for business

To Life Magazine publisher Henry Luce’s famous call for an “American Century” after the war, Wallace urged that “the century on which we are entering can and must be the century of the common man.” He warned against complete free enterprise for “international cartels that serve American greed,” and said they “must be subjected to international control for the common man, as well as being under adequate control by the respective home governments.” To Luce’s notion of American exceptionalism, he declared: “There can be no privileged peoples. We ourselves in the United States are no more a master race than the Nazis.”

Such bold progressive rhetoric from a sitting US Vice President, at a time when American businesses were deeply anxious about their prospects for recovery after the war, carried great political risk. Indeed, the speech probably contributed to a nervous Democratic convention in 1944 replacing Wallace with Truman. Nevertheless, Wallace campaigned energetically for Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth term, in hopes of preserving the progressive advances of the New Deal, and was rewarded with an appointment as Secretary of Commerce. However, when Wallace delivered a speech calling for greater cooperation and less confrontation with Russia, President Truman – who had acknowledged reading and approving the speech beforehand – found himself embarrassed by hard-liners’ criticism of the speech, and demanded Wallace’s resignation.

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Unwavering Courage

Wallace stuck to his principles with unwavering courage in the face of grave personal and political risk. His 1948 third-party campaign for President was impelled by unshakeable commitment to justice and peace – fighting racial segregation, promoting equal rights for women, preventing the Cold War – knowing they were politically unpopular causes whose time had not yet come. From his acceptance speech at the 1948 Progressive Party convention:

The future belongs to those who go down the line unswervingly for the liberal principles of both political democracy and economic democracy regardless of race, color or religion.

I am committed to the policy of placing human rights above property rights.

I am committed to using the power of our democracy to control rigorously the power of huge corporate monopolies and international big business

I am committed to using the power and prestige of the United States to help the peoples of the world, not their exploiters.

I am committed and do renounce the support of those who practice hate and preach prejudice; of those who would limit the civil rights of others; of those who would restrict the use of the ballot.

As Vice President, he had warned of the danger of “American fascists,” who “deliberately pervert truth and fact,” and “carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity…. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

Democracy must put human beings first and dollars second,” he concluded.

The Dangers of Corporatocracy

H e foresaw the devastation of giving corporations a free hand to plunder the earth’s nonrenewable resources for profit: “An emphasis on unfettered individualism results in exploitation of natural resources in a manner to destroy the physical foundations of national longevity.” Quoting President Theodore Roosevelt, he warned: “To skin and exhaust the earth will undermine the days of our children.”

He warned of the dangers of turning over essential government functions to profiteering corporations: “No private industry should have the right to bid unfairly for private profit against government and public necessity.”

In campaigning for President in the Deep South, he refused to speak before segregated audiences, and brought a message of racial equality and inclusion. “Our greatest weaknesses as a progressive democracy are racial segregation, racial discrimination, racial prejudice and racial fear,” he warned.

He prophetically expressed the view that the fundamental purpose of racist laws was not just to oppress people of color, but to ensure they remained politically powerless. “The real purpose of maintaining Jim Crow,” he declared, “is not hatred of the Negro so much as it is the desire to prevent the expression of progressive sentiment by the underprivileged.”

Southern whites responded viciously. “They were egged, and they were tomatoed,” wrote Studs Terkel of Wallace and his companions. “They were threatened. They were driven out of town.” A sheriff warned, “Mr. Wallace, this is very dangerous. You may not live through this week.”

But Wallace continued standing up for his principles, whatever the cost. Folk singer Pete Seeger, who traveled with Wallace, later said that the experience taught him  “the idea of what real courage is in this world.”

The Fund carries forward Henry A. Wallace’s commitment and courage by promoting fearless and strategic activism and advocacy for public policies that empower and protect the “common man,” and restrict the power of corporate interests to distort and divert public policy and resources away from the common good.

Quotes

  • [An] emphasis on unfettered individualism results in exploitation of natural resources in a manner to destroy the physical foundations of national longevity.

    Henry A. Wallace
    Henry A. Wallace – Whose Constitution: An Inquiry into the General Welfare, 1936, p.113
  • The fact is that the directing of this country does not at present belong to the people, but to a relative handful of wealthy men. The foundation of the government, as presently constituted, is not the general welfare, but the special privilege of industrial and financial giants.

    Henry A. Wallace
    Henry A. Wallace Stand Up and Be Counted,” New Republic, 1/5/48
  • [T]he greatest remedy for fear is to stand up and fight for your rights.

    Henry A. Wallace
    Henry A. Wallace “Tell the People Who We Are,” Progressive Party rally speech, 9/10/48
  • Democracy … must put human beings first and dollars second.

    Henry A. Wallace
    Henry A. Wallace “The Danger of American Fascism,” NY Times, 4/9/44
  • Our greatest weaknesses as a progressive democracy are racial segregation, racial discrimination, racial prejudice and racial fear...

    Henry A. Wallace
    Henry A. Wallace – “Violence and Hope in the South,” New Republic, 12/8/47, p.14
  • I see America as a vigilant watcher and perpetual guardian of the ramparts of the future. This future has one essential—the continuous rebirth of liberalism... The more potential voters who register and vote, the more democracy. And I am firm in the belief that the more voters we have the more liberalism we shall enjoy, and therefore the greater hope for America and for the world.

    Henry A. Wallace
    Henry A. Wallace – Madison Square Garden, 9/21/44

Timeline

  • 1888

    Henry A. Wallace is born in Orient, Iowa.

  • 1894

    Wallace as a young child is mentored in plant breeding by George Washington Carver, a young graduate student of his father’s at Iowa State University, who lived with the Wallace family because of racial segregation in the university dorms.

  • 1910

    Wallace graduates from Iowa State College with a degree in animal husbandry.

  • 1910-1929

    Wallace joins editorial staff of Wallace’s Farmer, the nation’s leading farm magazine, founded by his grandfather.

  • 1914

    Henry A. Wallace marries Ilo Browne.

  • 1926

    With a $5000 loan from his wife’s inheritance, Wallace founds the Hi-Bred Corn Company, which was bought by Dupont in 1999 for $10 billion

  • 1933

    Henry A. Wallace appointed United States Secretary of Agriculture. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. later called him “the best Secretary of Agriculture the country has ever had.”

  • 1936

    Henry A Wallace leaves the Republican Party and registers as a Democrat.

  • 1941

    Henry A. Wallace sworn in as 33rd Vice President of the United States.

  • 1942

    Henry A. Wallace delivers “The Price of a Free World Victory Speech,” in which he calls for the 20th century to be the “Century of the Common Man”.

  • 1942

    Inspired by Vice President Wallace’s speech, Aaron Copland composes “Fanfare for the Common Man,” one of the nation’s most well-known and beloved anthems.

  • 1943

    President Franklin Roosevelt establishes the Economic Warfare Board and installs Vice President Wallace as its chair.

  • 1944

    Wallace is replaced by Truman as the Democratic party's Vice Presidential nominee.

  • 1945

    President Roosevelt appoints Wallace to the position of Secretary of Commerce.

  • 1946

    Wallace becomes Editor of the New Republic.

  • 1948

    Henry A. Wallace runs for President as the Progressive Party candidate.

  • 1959

    Wallace founds the Wallace Genetic Foundation, whose endowment consists of Pioneer Hi-Bred stock. In 1996, the foundation splits into three separate foundations, one of which is the Wallace Global Fund, established and further endowed by his son, Robert B. Wallace.

  • 1965

    Henry A. Wallace dies in Danbury, Connecticut, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A scientist and humanitarian until the end, he keeps a research journal for NIH, documenting the slow shutting down of his body, until he can write no more.