Henry Wallace, 45th vice-President of the United States until 1945 was a fervent New Dealer who eventually campaigned for President on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948. After being dropped from the ticket for Roosevelt’s Fourth term, Roosevelt appointed Wallace to be Secretary of Commerce in January 1945, shortly before Roosevelt’s death, as a sort of consolation prize for losing the vice presidency. Wallace’s nomination prompted an intense debate. During his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early January 1945, Wallace “called to a guaranteed annual minimum wage for all employees, maintenance of high wartime wages in the postwar era, and automatic government pump-priming to be triggered whenever the number of jobs in the nation fell below 57 million. For both supporters and opponents, therefore, Wallace’s nomination was a symbol of the Administration’s intent to resume New Deal reform, with its emphasis on Executive leadership, at war’s end.” Senate conservatives tried to stymie Wallace’s prospective future powers through a measure, proposed by Walter F. George, to remove the Federal Loan Administration—and therefore the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and its $32 billion in lending authority—from the Commerce Department. This measure was adopted. Some conservatives, such as Harry F. Byrd and Josiah Bailey, sought to defeat Wallace’s nomination altogether; Bailey made a motion on February 1 to immediately proceed to the nomination, “in the belief that if the powers of the Commerce Department were not diminished, Henry Wallace would never win confirmation.” The motion was defeated on a 42-42 vote, however, and the George bill was approved before the Wallace nomination came to the floor.
On March 1, 1945, Wallace was confirmed by a vote of 56-31. Five Democrats, four of whom were Southern Democrats, voted against Wallace’s confirmation.
The outspoken Wallace continued to be controversial, exasperating conservatives and moderates, and even, at times, his allies. His conservative opponents were infuriated when Wallace objected that a militaristic stance toward the Soviet Union was likely to be counterproductive, while his left-leaning audiences booed when he criticized the Soviets. In a speech delivered on April 12, 1946, Wallace distanced himself from the United States’ former wartime allies, stating that “aside from our common language and common literary tradition, we have no more in common with Imperialistic England than with Communist Russia.” Historian Tony Judt (who calls Wallace “notoriously ‘soft’ on Communism”), notes that at the time such “distaste for American involvement with Britain and Europe was widely shared across the political spectrum.” Most Americans, he writes, wanted neither European alliances nor expected American troops to be stationed overseas. For a time, Truman himself appeared undecided. By September 1946, however, Truman had fired Wallace, the last of FDR’s appointees still in office, having dismissed all of the others in the first 12 months of his presidency. Wallace is the last former vice president to serve in a president’s cabinet.
Following his term as Secretary of Commerce, Wallace became the editor of The New Republic magazine, which he used as a platform to oppose Truman’s foreign policies. On the declaration of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, he predicted it would mark the beginning of “a century of fear”.
On March 31, 1947, Henry Wallace addressed a crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York:
Henry Wallace: “We are here tonight because we want peace. The world cries out, not for an American crusade in the name of hatred and fear of communism, but for a world crusade in the name of brotherhood of man. The name of crisis facts is withheld, time is denied, hysteria is whipped up, congress is asked to rush through a momentous decision, as if great armies were already on the march. I hear no armies marching. I hear a world crying out for peace. The truth is that the president and his republican backers are less concerned with the need of the free people, for food than with the need of the American navy for oil. The plan to contain communism is really secondary to the push for oil. For every glamorous admiral, who boasts “it’s nobody’s damn business where we go”, there are 10 drab but practical procurement officers to add “and we’ll get there with the oil from the middle east.” If we took the matter to the United Nations, and the Russians exercised their veto, the moral burden would be on them. When we act independently, outside the framework of the United Nations, the moral burden is on us”.
Here is an extended excerpt from that speech, as broadcast by ABC Radio on March 31, 1947.