Less than a year after Henry A. Wallace was appointed Secretary of Agriculture one of his principal ghost writers told me he felt uncomfortable collaborating with the new Secretary. "He's unlike anyone with whom I've worked before," said this writer, who had been in the Department of Agriculture several years before Wallace took it over. "He gives me an eerie feeling that he really isn't listening when I talk with him. He may be listening with his brain, but certainly not with his guts. He doesn't seem to know how to have a belly-laugh—least of all at himself. He gives me a strong impression of considering himself a man of destiny, a person answering calls the rest of us don't hear."
These remarks of the ghost writer throw light on Wallace's decision to embark upon his present campaign. Wallace obviously is pursuing what he deems to be his destiny. If this were not so, it is reasonably certain there would have been no Third Party campaign—or New Party campaign, as he and his associates label it.
The central committee of the U.S.A. Communist Party at its October, 1947, meeting could have laid its most devious and high-powered plans for the campaign. It could have been assured of ample supplies of money with which to retain skilled artificers of screen, radio, and print. All would have availed little had the "confused liberal" not seen his destiny along a road paralleling the one charted by the Communist high command. At best a campaign without Wallace—with a less well known figure—would have been such a fizzle the newsprints would have relegated it to a few stickfuls in the back pages.
The campaign, then, is a Wallace-seeking-his-destiny campaign. It is not a Communist Party campaign, despite the closeness with which he has hewn to the Kremlin's Party line and despite the number of Party members and Party-liners manning the machinery of the campaign. Wallace turned a deaf ear to many of his friends and former associates who pleaded with him not to take the step. But their earnest arguments were deflected by the Communist and other voices, both from outside and from within himself, which impel Wallace on.
Sir Willmott Lewis, emeritus Washington correspondent of the London Times, may have given a clue to the Wallace enigma in responding to a query on the campaign. "One of my British friends," Sir Willmott remarked, "commenced to declaim on what a singular fellow Wallace is. I quickly interrupted him. "No, no!" I said. "You're wrong. The trouble is he's plural." Trying to figure out which self of Wallace's plural nature is listening to what call has long been a Washington preoccupation.
Wallace brought to the New Deal cabinet in 1933 a wide and practical agricultural experience in the rich corn-hog state of Iowa. He was steeped in the tradition of his grandfather and father, whose strong character and imaginative thinking helped so much to develop the state. He himself enhanced the family reputation by distinguished experiments in genetics—the best-known being that which resulted in a greatly improved hybrid seed corn. He also had contributed notable thinking on the social and economic problems of farming. Roosevelt had more than ample grounds for selecting Wallace on the basis of his accomplishments alone.
Wallace became a hero and symbol for liberals when they were working in the government with him, when they were projecting their ideas into and through him—and when they were shielding his reputation from the tarnishing effects of his various sorties into the occult typified by the Roerich affair and his fascination with numerology and Navajo Indian medicine men. Only a handful of Wallace's former associates are with him in his present crusade. A majority of the others—though they are as deeply disturbed at the incredible mishandling of American foreign policy by the Truman administration as Wallace—have lost confidence in him.
Their loss of confidence is not based on fear of risking their jobs and salaries if they should go with Wallace—a charge he made publicly when asked why so few of his former colleagues are in his camp. This callous accusation reveals either a complete lack of feeling for past relationships, or the exaltation of martyrdom, which persuades him that every former friend who now opposes him is animated by base motives. I believe it is a combination of both.
The first considerable talk I had with Wallace concerned the fight a number of us in the Agricultural Adjustment Administration were making to keep the price of milk to the consumer within reason while increasing the income of the dairy farmer. The milk industry—National Dairy Products, Inc., its big processing and distributing members and affiliates in the major cities, and leaders of the milk marketing associations supplying those cities—bitterly resisted our efforts to hold margins down. Early in the fall of 1934 the leaders of the industry held a secret meeting in Philadelphia to perfect plans designed to eliminate from the AAA some of us active in the tussle, and to force Wallace out of the secretaryship if he wouldn't go along.
The plan was to supplant Wallace with Chester C. Davis, who was then Administrator and who had perceptibly cooled towards our program. Through a lawyer representing one of the big processors, I learned details of the meeting. I wrote Wallace a personal note apprising him of the designs being laid to get his scalp and the scalps of certain of his lieutenants. The next day he asked me to come to his office. I was at the time Assistant Consumers' Counsel and had violated strict administrative procedure by addressing a note personally to him. He sat silent gazing into the distance while I unfolded my warning.
When I finished he roused himself from his reverie and said, "I don't understand you—you and your friend Justice Brandeis. When you see something you think is wrong, you want to do something about it right away. You want to act quickly. I'm not like that. I'd rather sit under a tree and let the cycle of time help heal the situation." As he said this he made a circular motion with his right arm. Then he ended the conversation by adding, "I know in Rex [Tugwell] and Chester [Davis] I've got two ill-matched horses in harness together. I may have to let one of them go when we get a bit further down the road. I can't tell now which it will be." Not a word from him evaluating the views of Tugwell and Davis—only a casual observation that he might have to make a political choice between them.
Approximately six months later he had made his decision. A number of us, including Jerome Frank, the AAA General Counsel and an intimate of Tugwell's, were given peremptory dismissal notes by Administrator Davis. Davis did not dare dismiss Tugwell because of the latter's intimacy with Roosevelt. Tugwell was, however, transferred from the Department to head the newly established Resettlement Administration. A legal opinion by Frank supporting enforcement of more equitable distribution of benefit payments to sharecroppers in the cotton South was the pretext Davis used in addition to the milk controversy. Most of us couldn't believe that Wallace had sanctioned the action. Only two days before, he had upheld us in a long-drawn-out struggle with the Administrator over a basic principle: namely, that in all marketing agreements and codes entered into during the economic emergency, with the antitrust laws in abeyance, the government should have the right to examine the books and records of the industry involved.
Late in the day of our dismissal Wallace sent word that he would see two of the people on the dismissal list. Jerome Frank and a member of his legal staff, Alger Hiss, were delegated for the interview. Wallace haltingly greeted them (and, through them, others on the list) as "the best fighters in a good cause" he had ever worked with. But he said that he had to fire them. Frank asked him why he hadn't talked it over with us beforehand as his friends and assistants instead of letting Davis wield the axe—we might not have agreed with his reasoning, but we would at least have seen how he arrived at the judgment. He replied that he just couldn't face us.
Despite this denial of normal human amenities between friends and co-workers—not to mention a sacrifice of principles for political expediency—many of us continued to back Wallace. We had put too much of ourselves into him to let go of him. We rejoiced in his nomination and election to the Vice Presidency. We did whatever we could to uphold his hand as chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare in the fundamental controversy with the head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Jesse Jones, over procurement and stockpiling policies on critical war materials. The leader of the BEW's side of that explosive fight was not Wallace. It was Milo Perkins, executive director of the BEW, whose vision and courage carried Wallace into actions he himself would not have taken.
Dismissed by Roosevelt from the BEW post along with Jones at the climax of that battle, Wallace took on more than ever, in the eyes of many liberals, the aspect of a crusading Galahad. But the machine politicians of the Democratic Party, who gagged when Roosevelt forced Wallace down their throats as Vice-Presidential candidate in the 1940 convention, had by this time determined he was a political liability. With the approach of the 1944 convention it was clear they had persuaded the President of this also.
Nor were the machine politicians the only ones wanting to dump Wallace. It is ironic to recall that a couple of months before the convention C. B. Baldwin, Wallace's present campaign manager, was ready to throw Wallace overboard. Baldwin was then the executive vice-chairman of the National Citizens Political Action Committee. Clark Foreman, Wallace's present campaign treasurer, and others active at top levels of the NCPAC had come to the same conclusion. So had Sidney Hillman and some of his CIO-PAC assistants. Baldwin participated in a conference at the White House with Roosevelt to try to come to agreement on a substitute. Only because CIO President Philip Murray went to bat for Wallace with a crackdown on Hillman, Baldwin, and the others was a serious division of forces behind Wallace averted. Because of Murray's action the demonstration that night at the Chicago 1944 convention came within a hair of nominating Wallace instead of Truman. It was prevented from doing so only by Convention Chairman Samuel D. Jackson's abrupt adjournment of the session.
I talked a number of times with Wallace during that convention. It was there, I believe, that he felt for the first time his developing power as a spellbinder. His speech to the convention was the best political speech he had ever made. He was no longer the diffident, inarticulate geneticist torn between his search for the truths of the natural sciences and his search for personal security in supernaturalism. He was well on the way to becoming a rabble-rouser drinking in the response of the crowd and learning how to elicit that response to satisfy his thirst—a complete metamorphosis of his outward self.