Henry A. Wallace
"Good farming, clear thinking, right living."1
Henry A. Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States, serving from 1941-1945. He set the pace on many progressive issues that still resonate today. Wallace was one of the architects of the New Deal at home, and he had a boldly internationalist view of America's place in the world. In the 1948 Presidential campaign, he became one of the first national leaders to denounce the practice of racial segregation.
Henry Wallace was born on October 7, 1888, on his family's farm in Adair county, Iowa, to a solidly Republican family that was developing a national reputation as agricultural leaders. His grandfather founded the influential journal, Wallaces' Farmer, and his father Harry served as Secretary of Agriculture for Warren G. Harding. During this time, he became bitter enemies with the Commerce Secretary, Herbert Hoover.
After graduating from Iowa State University, Henry eventually became editor of the family-owned journal, where he encouraged scientific farming practices. Tellingly, his senior thesis was on soil conservation, and the need for federal programs to protect this valuable resource. That was not a common point of view in 1910, but it foreshadowed ideas that he would hold throughout his life. Henry's interest in corn breeding led him to form the Hi-Bred Corn Company, which was the first firm to produce hybrid corn seeds. The company became a great success, and it grew into Pioneer Hi-Bred.
In 1928, Henry Wallace left the Republican party to support the Democratic candidate, Alfred E. Smith, instead of the hated Hoover. His increasingly liberal politics meshed with with his evolving religious views. Wallace left the strict Presbyterian Church of his youth, and developed a universalist outlook. He even flirted with a cult-like organization.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt's landslide victory, Henry Wallace became the Secretary of Agriculture from 1933-1940. He developed programs to stabilize farm prices, improve food security and conserve vulnerable land. He went on to serve as Vice President during World War II, and he became more interested in world affairs. He saw the spread of progressive, liberal ideas in the US as part of a global battle against tyranny, and he was an early supporter of the United Nations. His wartime speeches were published in a book "The Century of the Common Man", which met with wide acclaim. Wallace's utopian ideas led to his opponents to accuse him of being a Communist; although that wasn't true, he was slow to understand the totalitarian nature of the Soviet Union.
Differences with the party's conservative wing caused Wallace to be removed as Vice-President for FDR's last term; however, he served briefly as Secretary of Commerce for both FDR and Truman. In 1948, Wallace ran for President as a candidate of the small Progressive Party. Courageously, he toured the states of the old Confederacy, and spoke out against racial segregation at considerable personal risk.
In retirement, Henry Wallace returned to his first love, farming; developing new varieties of flowers, strawberries and chickens. He continued to speak for world peace and economic justice. He died of ALS on November 18, 1965.
- American Dreamer - A biography of Henry A Wallace, by John Culver. ISBN 0393322289
- Henry Wallace on our times - a collection of quotes from the Left Coast of Iowa blog.
1This was the motto of Wallaces' Farmer magazine.