Henry Wallace’s Flawed Crusade

Henry Wallace’s Flawed Crusade

Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism by Thomas W. Devine University of North Carolina Press, 2013, 408 pp. Henry A. Wallace’s campaign for the presidency in 1948, amid the intense political battles of the immediate …


Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism
by Thomas W. Devine
University of North Carolina Press, 2013, 408 pp.

Henry A. Wallace’s campaign for the presidency in 1948, amid the intense political battles of the immediate postwar years, gave Americans a genuine alternative to the status quo. Wallace’s was a “voice in the wilderness of doubt,” the California Eagle, a left-wing African-American weekly, concluded on the eve of the election. “That this country may enjoy some measure of peace in the coming years, Henry Wallace must be placed at the head of this nation. His voice alone can dispel the cloud of fear and despair settling over Europe. He alone can bring peace to the hearts of Americans.” His opponents were the presumed frontrunner, Republican Thomas Dewey, and underdog Democratic candidate Harry S. Truman, both of whom embraced a tough stand against the Soviet Union abroad and accepted the parameters of the New Deal at home, and Strom Thurmond, who had bolted from the Democratic Party to champion white supremacy and states’ rights as the leader of the newly formed Dixiecrats. Progressives unhappy with the onset of the Cold War, the stifling of New Deal initiatives, and the resurgence of conservatism found reason to hope when Wallace, the former secretary of agriculture, vice president, and secretary of commerce, threw his hat into the presidential ring in December 1947. Advocating a return to the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cooperative approach to relations with the Soviet Union and an expansion of social welfare and civil rights, Wallace thoroughly repudiated the two established parties and the segregationists. Under the banner of the new Progressive Party, Wallace stood at the head of what he termed a “Gideon’s Army” of disaffected liberals and leftists engaged in what he believed was a showdown with immense stakes.

To his many detractors at the time, that Gideon’s Army was more of a fifth column than an authentic progressive alternative. Eugene Lyons, a former Communist sympathizer whose firsthand view of the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s permanently soured him on the left, saw Wallace as “the great appeaser” and as “one of Stalin’s principal American assets.” Long before Wallace announced his candidacy, American Communists and “their fellow-traveling satellite groups” were talking up a third party to challenge President Truman and the intensifying Cold War, Lyons wrote in the American Mercury; when Wallace agreed to run, his “only solid political base” was the “pro-Soviet totalitarian left,” rendering the candidate a “prisoner” of the Stalinists. The former Trotskyist Dwight Macdonald concurred. “The CP high command decided to run Wallace for president, under a non-Communist label, for the same reason they do everything: to advance the interests of Soviet Russia,...