February 6, 2013

Henry Wallace, America's Forgotten Visionary

By Peter Dreier, Truthout | Historical Analysis

Henry Agard Wallace.Henry Agard Wallace. One of the great "What if?" questions of the 20th century is how America would have been different if Henry Wallace rather than Harry Truman had succeeded Franklin Roosevelt in the White House. Filmmaker Oliver Stone has revived this debate in his current ten-part Showtime series, "The Untold History of the United States," and his new book (written with historian Peter Kuznick) of the same name.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, only FDR eclipsed Wallace - Roosevelt's secretary of agriculture (1933-1940) and then his vice president (1941-1944) - in popularity with the American people. Stone's documentary series and book portray Wallace as a true American hero, a "visionary" on both domestic and foreign policy. Today, however, Wallace is a mostly forgotten figure. If Stone's work helps restore Wallace's rightful place in our history and piques the curiosity of younger Americans to learn more about this fascinating person, it will have served an important purpose.

Wallace almost became the nation's president. In 1940, he was FDR's running mate and served as his vice president for four years. But in 1944, against the advice of the Democratic Party's progressives and liberals - including his wife Eleanor - FDR reluctantly allowed the party's conservative, pro-business and segregationist wing to replace Wallace with Sen. Harry Truman as the vice presidential candidate, a move that Stone calls the "greatest blunder" of Roosevelt's career. Had Wallace remained as vice president, he would have become president when FDR died in April 1945.

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