24

Henry A. Wallace was Roosevelt's vice-president during WWII. Shortly before Roosevelt's death (82 days) following a slow decline in health, the Conservative wing of the Democratic Party started an anti-Wallace Movement to nominate anyone else as vice-president for Roosevelt's third term, thus selecting the unlikely Truman as the next president of the US.

Was this movement related to Wallace being too soft on the new Communist threat? Being too close to labor? Caused by his eccentric personality or political scandals?

What about Wallace caused such a backlash against him?

  • Wikipedia says he was pushed out by conservative Democrat leaders, despite support from the rank and file. – Semaphore Dec 1 '14 at 9:04
  • @Semaphore Its clear he was controversial for several reasons. – Razie Mah Dec 1 '14 at 16:40
  • @Semaphore Oh this is a different page than the one I had looked at before. It's really pretty good. It says Wallace was "too friendly to labor" but the other had said he was "too friendly to (international) communists." A little bit more info would be good to sort it out. Also why was party unity such a factor. I'm not understanding the politics. – Razie Mah Dec 1 '14 at 16:59
20

To build on T.E.D's excellent answer, it is important to understand the backdrop under which Wallace was nominated for Vice-President in 1940, and not nominated in 1944.

The first thing to note, was that as late as the 1930s and 1940s, the Republican party was the "centrist" and "Establishment" (but pro-business party), while the Democrats were an unlikely mix of left AND right. That is, it included "everyone" who was not a Republican, whether urban laborer, urban liberal, progressive agrarian, or a fundamentally right-wing member of the agricultural "old South." (The Republicans represented the northeastern industrial and commercial elite, but not the agricultural elite from elsewhere).

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was first nominated in 1932, he was a "plurality" (not majority) "left" Democratic candidate from New York, who was put "over the top" by John Nance Garner, a conservative Texan. (Garner decided that he wanted "second prize" for sure.) As such, it was a perfectly balanced "left-right" ticket that could run on "competence, not ideology," against the failed but centrist Republican Administration of Herbert Hoover.

Garner didn't support FDR's more progressive initiatives in the later stages of the "New Deal," notably opposing FDR's attempt to "pack" the Supreme Court with left-leaning justices, which is why FDR replaced him as a VP candidate with Henry A. Wallace, who was even further left than FDR, in 1940. Only FDR's two previous successful terms (and threat not to run for a third one) caused the Democrats to accede to this.

Wallace turned out to be exactly the ultra-leftist that most Democrats feared. In 1943, he expressed sympathy with rioting African-Americans, which troubled most of the United States, but particularly the South. He also visited the Soviet Union in 1944, and expressed views that made other Administration members regard him as a Stalinist "stooge."

If he had been nominated as Vice-President (and a prospective President, given FDR's decline) in 1944, it would have split the Democratic Party into right and left wings, and (probably) handed the Presidency to the Republicans. Instead, the Democrats nominated the far more pragmatic Harry S. Truman, who came from Missouri, a "border" state that was almost equally acceptable to the Western and Southern parts of the country, shoring up FDR's electoral power in those two regions. Truman held them in his own election in 1948, losing FDR's northeastern base to Dewey.

17

Diving a bit deeper into this, it looks like Wallace had three big strikes against him:

  1. He was a progressive liberal, at a time when a very large and influential part of the party (the Solid South) was very conservative. So was FDR of course, but as the holder of the White House they couldn't really attack him.
  2. He was a Theosophist (sort of the era's equivalent of New Age philosophy), which to them made him look both unchristian and flat out loopy.
  3. Only a decade earlier he had been a Republican. He probably only changed parties because of his position in the Roosevelt administration, not due to any political change of heart.

So as they saw it, the Democratic party was faced with nominating a loopy liberal Republican to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. They nearly didn't allow the guy on the ticket the first time around in 1940. He only made it on because Roosevelt threatened to decline the nomination without him (and probably because the Vice Presidency is a rather impotent position). Four years later, when it was clear Roosevelt's health was failing, there was no way they going to essentially nominate him for President.

  • So he was a progressive liberal that they were afraid would convert back to the Republicans? That seems... contradictory... – corsiKa Feb 23 '16 at 16:06
  • @corsiKa - If you look at it with modern eyes perhaps. But during the New Deal era the parties were aligned differently than today. What are now considered the Southern Conservative and Evangelical bases of the Republican party were at the time instead part of the Democratic party, and those are the factions that took issue. So-called "progressive liberals" (like Wallace) were mostly Republican. Left-leaning Democrats tended to be more working-class oriented. So picture Dennis Kucinich switching parties 8 years ago to get a job, and running for VP as a Republican today. – T.E.D. Feb 23 '16 at 19:01
  • @T.E.D. Indeed. Case in point: Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive Republican. – Felix Goldberg Jan 11 '17 at 14:20
3

Wallace was the last holdout from New Deal era. Over the years, both congress and the American public became disillusioned with the social progressivism of the Democratic party and their economic policies. In the 1942 elections the Democrats almost lost control of the House and many of the losers were New Dealers. The war also caused many politicians to lose interest in socialistic causes and adopt completely different priorities. Wallace was an old school socialist who became increasingly irrelevant to current situation, which was building a huge military machine capable of defeating Germany and Japan.

That being said, the most operative cause of his removal was probably not policy related at all, but more a matter of style and personality. Wallace was a firebrand with enormous public personality, but the trend in politics was towards "public servants" who quietly went with the flow and did not make waves. Wallace had personal ambition and antagonized many Washington insiders with heavy handed power moves. In particular, he started the "Warehouse War" with Jesse Jones in which he made public statements attacking Jones and promoting his competing agency. Having a sitting VP writing acrimonious epistles against other officials offended a lot of people and make them think him inappropriate for continued office.

2

I don't know who this John Nance Gardner character was, but FDR's first VP was a man by the name of John Nance Garner (1868-1967), a former speaker of the House of Representatives for 1 term.

Garner disagreed with many of FDR's policies while VP and broke with him over FDR's attempt to pack the Supreme Court. Garner ran against FDR for the Democratic nomination in 1940, but lost when FDR arranged to get himself nominated for an unprecedented third term.

  • You're right, it's "Garner" and not "Gardner." Thank you for helping me fix my answer. Welcome to the site. – Tom Au Feb 25 '16 at 15:56

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