Henry Agard Wallace

Henry Agard Wallace (1888-1965), a secretary of agriculture and of commerce and vice president of the United States, was one of the most controversial Federal officials for 13 years. Wallace became almost the official ideologist of the New Deal.

Henry A. Wallace was born on a farm in Adair County, Iowa, on Oct. 7, 1888. In 1895 his grandfather founded a weekly agricultural newspaper called Wallaces' Farmer. Henry became its editor in 1916. Meanwhile he had earned his bachelor's degree from Iowa State University and had married Ilo Browne. Involved in plant research and agricultural economics, he eventually developed a species of hybrid corn and founded a company to exploit the discovery. Moreover, he worked out detailed studies of weather cycles in the Midwestern farming region and a corn-hog ratio chart that proved effective for predicting market variations.

During the 1920s, while his father served as U.S. secretary of agriculture, Wallace became increasingly prominent among agricultural leaders. The total collapse of American agriculture during the Great Depression convinced him of the necessity for curtailing agricultural production under a federally administered acreage allotment program. Although his family had been traditionally Republican, Wallace fervently embraced the presidential candidacy of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and after his election Roosevelt named Wallace secretary of agriculture.

Wallace proved an extraordinarily effective administrator. But also, as the implementer of the New Deal's strategy of paying farmers to cut back on crop production and as an advocate of massive Federal efforts to promote social welfare, he was bitterly criticized. It was only by threatening to refuse renomination himself that Roosevelt secured Wallace's nomination for the vice presidency in 1940. Wallace's strength in the farm states contributed significantly to Roosevelt's reelection.

Roosevelt made Wallace the most active vice president in the nation's history. During World War II he headed the powerful Board of Economic Warfare and other economic coordinating agencies. More importantly, he became the foremost articulator of American ideals and objectives. He called for international cooperation to achieve the "century of the common man" and for "60,000,000 jobs" in the postwar period at home. By 1944, however, anti-Wallace feeling within the Democratic party was so powerful that Roosevelt dropped Wallace for the vice-presidential nomination. Yet as soon as he was reelected, Roosevelt appointed Wallace secretary of commerce.

After Roosevelt's death Wallace openly attacked Harry Truman's uncompromising stance regarding the Soviet Union; the President asked for and received Wallace's resignation. In 1948 he accepted the presidential nomination of the Progressive party, a broad leftist coalition. Losing the bitter 1948 presidential campaign, Wallace retired from public life. He spent most of his time at his farm at South Salem, N.Y., working on improving egg yields and strawberries and gladiolus. He died in Danbury, Conn., on Nov. 18, 1965.


Further Reading on Henry Agard Wallace

The best study of Wallace is Russell Lord, The Wallace of Iowa (1947), which extends only through the period of World War II. Also helpful are Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeir's Henry A. Wallace of Iowa: The Agrarian Years, 1910-1940 (1968), which focuses on Wallace's role in the New Deal, and their Prophet in Politics: Henry A. Wallace and the War Years, 1940-1965 (1971). See also Dwight Macdonald, Henry Wallace: The Man and the Myth (1948). Wallace figures centrally in two excellent monographs on New Deal farm policy: Richard S. Kirkendall, Social Scientists and Farm Politics in the Age of Roosevelt (1966), and Van L. Perkins, Crisis in Agriculture: The Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the New Deal, 1933 (1969). A detailed account of the Progressive party and Wallace's presidential candidacy is Curtis D. MacDougall, Gideon's Army (3 vols., 1965).


Additional Biography Sources

Macdonald, Dwight, Henry Wallace, the man and the myth, New York: Garland Pub., 1979, 1948.

White, Graham J., Henry A. Wallace: his search for a new world order, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.