Secretary of Agriculture, 1933-1941
Vice President, 1941-1945
Secretary of Commerce, 1945-1946
Progressive Party Presidential Candidate, 1948
Henry Agard Wallace was in many ways a true Renaissance man, but he was also a man of contradictions. He dabbled in economics, agriculture, biological research, journalism, eastern religion, and of course, politics. At various times, he identified as a Republican, a Democrat, and a Progressive. A reporter once described Wallace, "He looks like a hayseed, talks like a prophet, and acts like an embarrassed school boy.” He is also considered by many to be the closest the United States ever came to having a socialist in the White House.
He was born in 1888 in Iowa to a wealthy farming family. His father served as Secretary of Agriculture under Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. After graduating from Iowa State College in 1910, he began working at his grandfather's agriculture journal Wallaces' Farmer. He would later become editor of the newspaper, and serve in that capacity from 1924 to 1933. During this time period, he also founded the Hi-Bred Corn Co. (later Pioneer Hi-Bred, now owned by Dupont). Throughout the 1920's, he worked to apply his knowledge of statistics and science to agricultural problems. In 1923, he developed the first commercially viable strain of hybrid corn, and worked to make hybrid corn the standard for the nation.
Though he had always been a Republican, Wallace became disillusioned by Calvin Coolidge's treatment of farmers during the 1920's. He campaigned for Democratic presidential candidates Al Smith in 1928 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. After Roosevelt's victory, Wallace was rewarded with his father's old position, Secretary of Agriculture. Serving two terms in this role, Wallace worked to alleviate the problems for farmers caused by the Great Depression, and was an outspoken proponent of Roosevelt's New Deal programs. He carried out the administration of the Agricultural Adjustment Acts, in addition to numerous other farm programs.
Wallace was chosen by Roosevelt in 1940 to be the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, mostly for his loyalty to FDR, and his popularity in the Midwest. The Roosevelt-Wallace ticket won the election that year, marking the beginning of Roosevelt's unprecedented third term. It would be the first and last elected office Wallace would ever serve in.
As a wartime Vice President (the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred less than a year into his term), Wallace took on all sorts of roles. He was chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare, which spent over a billion dollars fighting the Axis in world markets. He also went on several goodwill missions around the world, including a trip to the Soviet Union, where he was extremely impressed with the economic progress that the country had made under Josef Stalin's rule. Around the time of the end of the war, Wallace also began to talk about encouraging a "revolution of the people" in Europe in order to help the common man.
Due to reactions against Wallace's praise of Stalin's Soviet Union, and growing concerns about Roosevelt's health, the Democratic establishment was firmly against
Wallace's re-nomination as Vice President in 1944. It would have taken unwavering support from Roosevelt for Wallace to stay on the ticket, and he did not receive it. Wallace was dropped from the ticket in favor of Harry S. Truman, and Roosevelt-Truman won the general election that fall. Wallace was kept on as Secretary of Commerce.
After Roosevelt's death in 1945, Wallace began to diverge from the Democratic Party, now under Truman's leadership. He disagreed with Truman's hard line policies against Russia, preferring policies of accommodation and economic aid, even suggesting that the United States share atomic energy research with the Soviet Union. After publicly stating these views in a speech in September 1946, Wallace was dismissed by President Truman. He almost immediately took a job as editor of the New Republic, criticizing Truman's foreign policy decisions whenever he could. In 1948, Wallace ran for President on the Progressive Party ticket, but only won less than 2% of the vote.
After his 1948 loss, Wallace withdrew from politics to focus on agricultural research for his company. A Nixon supporter in 1960, he was nonetheless invited to John F. Kennedy's inauguration. He died November 18, 1965 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Flynn, John T. The Roosevelt Myth. San Francisco: Fox and Wilkes, 1998
Gross, Daniel. "Seed Money: Henry Wallace's Company and How it Grew". Slate 8 Jan 2004 http://slate.msn.com/id/2093577/
"Henry A. Wallace." Encyclopedia Americana, 2000.