Politics & Policy

The Real Henry Wallace

Oliver Stone is wrong about him.


With mounting incredulity and alarm — like, I am sure, many readers — I have watched the exhumation, by Oliver Stone, Peter Kuznick, and other members of a leftist claque of revisionist historians and pseudo-historians, of the putrefied historic corpse of Vice President Henry Agard Wallace. Wallace was the eccentric and impressionable son of the agriculture secretary who served under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and Wallace himself held the same position under Franklin D. Roosevelt for eight years. When FDR broke a tradition as old as the republic by running for a third term in the war emergency of 1940, he astounded and scandalized his party by choosing Wallace as his running mate.


Even with FDR’s endorsement (and his threat to withdraw from the presidential race if Wallace were not chosen by the Democratic convention), Wallace won by only 628 to 459 against (chiefly) Speaker William Bankhead (actress Tallulah Bankhead’s father). Wallace was not allowed to give an acceptance speech. He had been under the influence of a White Russian mystic agronomist, Nicholas Roerich, and the Republicans got hold of correspondence between them that, as Roosevelt biographer Kenneth Davis wrote, “called into question [Wallace’s] mental and emotional stability.” The papers failed to surface only because Roosevelt’s entourage made it clear that it would respond with revelations of Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie’s prolonged dalliance in an extramarital affair (“awful nice gal,” said FDR gallantly, of his opponent’s paramour, Irita Van Doren).


The legendary Democratic-party chairman, James A. Farley, called Wallace “a wild-eyed fellow.” FDR wanted the vice president to be someone who believed more emphatically in what he had been doing for eight years than did the incumbent vice president, former House speaker John Nance Garner of Texas.

Garner was a somewhat conservative Texan who was described by United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis as “a whiskey-drinking, poker-playing, evil old man” when he was in his mid-sixties. (He lived to be almost 99.) It is fair to say that the nomination of Wallace was rivaled only by the appointments of Stalin-bootlicker Joseph Davies as ambassador to Moscow; of fascist sympathizer, appeaser, and defeatist Joseph P. Kennedy to the London embassy; and of anti-Semite Breckinridge Long as under secretary of state for immigration and refugees, as the most disastrous appointment of Roosevelt’s four terms as president.


Roosevelt completely ignored Wallace during his term as vice president. He agreed with the inner group of party bosses he had to dinner on July 11, 1944 — including the new party chairman, Robert Hannegan (immortalized, to a degree, by mention in the film Miracle on 34th Street), former chairman Ed Flynn, postmaster general Frank Walker, chief fundraiser George Allen, Chicago mayor Ed Kelly, and party treasurer Edwin Pauley — that he could not be renominated. J. Edgar Hoover warned Roosevelt that Wallace was friendly with Communists in Hollywood and had inappropriate connections with overseas Communists, including in the Soviet Union. Roosevelt didn’t believe all of it but did not need such controversy. In his usual sadistic manner, Roosevelt gave Wallace all the hints he felt were called for that he wasn’t his or the party’s choice, and selected Missouri senator Harry S. Truman in his place. Wallace never got the hint, assaulted a cameraman as he left his residence in Washington for the convention in Chicago, and was astounded when he was dumped.


Wallace was never informed of anything during his time as vice president, and was sent on lengthy trips to obscure places, including Siberia, where he took camps of the infamous Gulag to be cooperative farms. Having booted him out as vice president, over the unrepresentative protests of the left of the party, including Eleanor, Roosevelt nominated Wallace to be secretary of commerce, a position for which he was completely unqualified, although he was a very successful agribusiness entrepreneur after his political career. (Roosevelt paid no attention to any of the cabinet secretaries, except the secretary of war and the attorney general, and occasionally the labor secretary; he dealt with secondary officials in the departments.)


Eminent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis has written that “there is Soviet documentation that Wallace was regularly reporting to the Kremlin in 1945 and 1946 while he was in the Truman administration,” and that later, when Truman was considering a secret effort to approach the Soviets, his effort was “blown wide open by Wallace when he was running for president on the Progressive Party ticket” in 1948. This was after Truman fired Wallace for giving an address in Madison Square Garden attacking the Truman administration for excessive anti-Communist zeal.


Wallace — who chose the “singing cowboy,” Idaho senator Glen Taylor (“Oh give me a home by the Capitol dome”), to be his running mate — advocated unilateral disarmament, the immediate end of the draft, and the end of the Marshall Plan (and of any assistance against Communist subversion anywhere), and declined to repudiate the endorsement he received from the American Communist party.


He was reviled as a Communist dupe by H. L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and even perennial Socialist-party presidential candidate Norman Thomas. He won only 2.4 percent of the vote and did not influence the outcome of the election, a narrow victory by President Truman and Kentucky senator (and Senate majority leader) Alben W. Barkley over Republicans Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, and Governor Earl Warren of California.


Oliver Stone is a notorious myth-maker, and is responsible for the films on John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon that claim, inter alia, that Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy led by Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a group of Texas oil centi-millionaires that spread to approximately 2,000 people in the FBI, CIA, and right through the Dallas police force, without any of the legion of conspirators’ hinting at any of this these nearly 50 years; and that Nixon resigned as president to cover up an even larger conspiracy involving a similar cast of immense size and treachery rooted in the inevitable and proverbial military-industrial complex.


Stone and Kuznick, in as preposterous an act of historical myth-making as Stone’s scurrilous fabrications about Kennedy and Nixon, claim that if Wallace had been renominated for vice president and had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Roosevelt in April 1945, Stalin would not have been provoked into the Cold War, and the wartime good relations between Moscow and Washington would have continued. (The relations were so excellent that, as Roosevelt assumed was happening, Stalin bugged the rooms of the American delegation to the Tehran and Yalta conferences. Stalin told Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas after the initial Big Three meeting at Tehran — which ended with the communiqué saying that the leaders parted “as friends in fact, in spirit, and in purpose” — that “Churchill would pick my pocket for a kopek but Roosevelt would only dip in his hand for larger coins.”)


In fact, as commentator Ron Radosh has remarked:


Wallace would have created an American foreign policy run by Soviet agents he had installed in the White House, including Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White, his former assistant at Commerce, and the secret Communist and Soviet agent Harry Magdof, who wrote Wallace’s Madison Square Garden speech in 1946 . . . all of whom would have given Joseph Stalin precisely what he sought: control of Eastern Europe and inroads into subversion of France, Italy, and Great Britain as well. The result would have been a deepening of Stalinist control of Europe, and a tough road that might well have made it impossible for the West actually to have won the Cold War and to have defeated Soviet expansionism. Moreover, as Gaddis suggests, new evidence has emerged that points to just how much Wallace was under the control of the Soviets, and how they were counting on him as the man in the United States best suited to serve their ends.


No one could expect anything more rigorous or responsible from a compulsively mendacious fiction-producer like Stone, but it is distressing to see the New York Times and The New York Review of Books, suckers for or even aggressive propagators of self-flagellating American leftist revisionism though they often are, taking up the cudgels to respectabilize such lies. We seem to come closer every year to the triumph of Malcolm Muggeridge’s famous and familiar “great liberal death wish.”


— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of FreedomRichard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.


The Latest