Wallace, Henry

views updated May 17 2018

Henry Wallace

born october 7, 1888 orient, iowa

died november 18, 1965 danbury, connecticut

secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce, vice president of the united states

"To his friends and neighbors in Iowa, Wallace was both known and unknown. Known best was his name. Three generations of Wallaces had succeeded in linking the family name to the cause of agriculture...."

from american dreamer: the life and times of henry a. wallace

Henry Wallace played several major roles in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) administrations. Wallace was secretary of agriculture from 1933 to 1940 during the Great Depression, then vice president from 1941 to 1945 during World War II (1939–45), and finally secretary of commerce in the early postwar years of 1945 and 1946. He is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable people ever to serve as secretary of agriculture. In the 1920s young Wallace earned an international reputation for scientific advances in plant breeding and for editing a highly respected agricultural magazine, Wallaces' Farmer. Believing in increased use of science and mechanization on farms, Wallace greatly influenced America's transition from small family-operated farms to large corporate farms. As secretary of agriculture, Wallace designed programs for government control of crop production and government price supports that continue to shape the U.S. agricultural industry into the twenty-first century. Outspoken on controversial subjects, Wallace gained criticism as well as praise.

The Wallaces of Iowa

Henry Agard Wallace was born to Henry Cantwell Wallace (1866–1924) and Mary Broadhead in late 1888 in a modest frame farmhouse—with no indoor toilet, running water, or electricity—near the rural town of Orient, Iowa. No doctor or midwife attended his birth, and he had no birth certificate until much later in life. His grandfather, a United Presbyterian minister turned farmer and editor, was known as "Uncle Henry" Wallace (1836–1916). Family farms struggled in the early 1890s because of a national economic downturn. To provide additional income Henry Cantwell Wallace took a professorship in agriculture at Iowa State College in 1892. He left that job in 1896 to help Uncle Henry run a new family publication, Wallaces' Farmer. Meanwhile, being the oldest of six children, young Henry Agard Wallace was responsible for most household and farm chores. By 1898, as the publication began doing well, family finances improved.

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, who were highly respected in the corn-growing region of the Midwest, young Henry labored under the high expectations that came with the Henry Wallace name. While the younger children seemingly received preferential treatment from their dad, Henry worked hard to earn the approval of his father. As a result, he greatly respected his father but resented him for not being close. His mother, an avid gardener, perhaps provided greater influence with her love of plants and strict thriftiness. Uncle Henry provided his grandson with an intellectual and strong religious outlook, teaching young Henry to worship God through service to other people. From the combination of these strong family influences, Henry A. Wallace became an independent loner who suppressed his need for affection and strove for perfection in personal achievement.

In his youth Wallace was fascinated with the scientific study of plants and by sixteen was conducting experiments in breeding seed corn. In 1910 Wallace graduated from Iowa State College with honors and began working as assistant editor for the family magazine. In 1912 his father sent him on an agricultural tour of Europe to visit various agricultural experiment stations. Full of new ideas, Wallace began experimenting in earnest with crossbreeding different strains of corn he had collected on his travels. Also at this time, Wallace met Ilo Browne of Indianola, Iowa, and they married in May 1914. They would have two sons and a daughter. To supplement the modest income from his editing job, Wallace also farmed 40 acres near Des Moines, Iowa. He would often rise at 4:00 a.m. to milk the cattle, then work in his office through the day, and complete his farmwork well into the evening.

New Deal Agricultural Programs

U.S. secretary of agriculture Henry Wallace held strong beliefs on how the nation's agricultural industry should be structured and the role government should play in that structure. President Herbert Hoover 's (1874–1964; served 1929–33; see entry) policies of modest government support for private farmer cooperatives (organizations of farmers striving for economic cooperation by coordinating the production and marketing of their produce) and for voluntary production controls had proved ineffective in solving the severe economic problems of U.S. farming. After Roosevelt's election to the presidency, the newly appointed Wallace pushed several programs through Congress in 1933. The Agricultural Adjustment Act created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), which paid farmers to cut back their production of major crops such as wheat, corn, and cotton in order to raise the market prices. The AAA also promoted the controversial practice of destroying existing crops and produce, such as plowing up 10 million acres of cotton fields and killing six million young pigs. The Commodity Credit Corporation made loans to farmers who cooperated with the AAA and stored surplus crops until better prices appeared. The Farm Credit Administration (FCA) provided low-interest loans to help farmers avoid bankruptcy and established a banking system to support farm cooperatives. In 1935 the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) was established to help farmers take better care of their land and make it more productive. Also in 1935 the Resettlement Administration (RA) was formed to assist needy small farmers and help some of them move to more productive lands. The RA was absorbed into the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937.

Electrification of rural America was another important part of New Deal farm policy. Creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Electric Home and Farm Authority (EHFA) in 1933 brought electric power and inexpensive electric appliances to farms in the Southeast for the first time. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was formed in 1935 to expand farm electrification efforts nationwide.

When the U.S. Supreme Court found the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional, Congress quickly passed the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936. Under this act the government paid farmers for planting soil-conserving crops like soybeans instead of soil-depleting crops like corn, cotton, and wheat. A more comprehensive farmer support program came with the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. This legislation continued the soil conservation payment program, introduced certain controls on the market, encouraged crop storage during times of abundance, and provided for price support loans (guaranteeing a minimum price for crops by providing low interest loans to farmers when prices are down) to farmers. Complete economic recovery for farmers did not come until World War II (1939–45), when European demand for farm products sharply increased. However, the New Deal programs greatly contributed to modernizing the American farm. The programs also saved thousands of farmers from bankruptcy and made it possible for U.S. agriculture to support the massive American war effort of the 1940s.

In 1921 President Warren Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23) appointed Wallace's father as secretary of agriculture. Young Wallace took over as lead editor of the family magazine. He also gained international recognition in plant genetics by successfully developing a hybrid seed corn that would increase the productivity of corn farmers. Just as family fortunes seemed high, Henry Cantwell Wallace died suddenly in 1924. His father's premature death profoundly affected Wallace. More driven than ever, Wallace established the nation's first hybrid seed company, the Hi-Bred Seed Company, in 1926 to produce the new hybrid corn. The breed of corn was very popular and brought Wallace increased wealth and praise. Later, in 1934, Iowa State College awarded Wallace with an honorary doctor of science degree in recognition of his scientific achievements.

Farm politics

During the 1920s U.S. farmers faced difficult economic times. The international demand for their produce had significantly declined following World War I (1914–18), and competition from other countries, such as Australia, had increased. Many farmers were going bankrupt, and small rural banks across the country were going out of business. The farmers' fight to raise produce prices was proving ineffective. Wallace could not understand how the government could allow hardworking farmers to go broke while they were providing the nation an abundance of produce. He promoted programs that increased crop storage and controlled farm prices through reduction in farmed acreage. The theory was that if less produce was available in the marketplace, prices for produce should increase. Yet these ideas directly contradicted the prevailing Republican philosophy that business should be free of government regulation and interference. By 1928 Wallace had grown dissatisfied with the Republicans and shifted his support to the Democrats, voting for Al Smith (1873–1944) for president in 1928 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Wallace even had a private meeting with Roosevelt during the campaign. Roosevelt was so impressed with Wallace's ideas that he appointed him as secretary of agriculture in March 1933. It was the first time in the nation's history that a father and son had been appointed to the same secretarial post.

In Washington, D.C., Wallace was quite unlike other government leaders and not well understood. Many found Wallace's personality too unique for Washington and uncomfortable to be around. Wallace was an intellectual with a strong interest in science, which made him popular with intellectuals, businessmen, and New Dealers for his great technical knowledge and analytical thinking. Everyday politicians, however, found Wallace aloof and unwilling to follow normal informal lines of communication on Capitol Hill.

The newly appointed Wallace was determined to restructure American agriculture with government playing a significant role. He wanted to make farming as profitable as it had been before World War I. Wallace guided the development and passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act in March 1933, which created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). AAA paid farmers not to plant all their acreage; the goal was to reduce the availability of farm products in order to raise prices. Serving as the cornerstone of the New Deal farm program, AAA was the first step in government
oversight of farm production. The program saw some modest success by the mid-1930s: Crop prices had risen, and farmers' debt was down.

Wallace was both praised and condemned for the AAA. He came under criticism for focusing on large farm operations and not helping farmworkers, sharecroppers, or small farmers, all of whom were most vulnerable to the effects of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. However, Wallace firmly believed that U.S. agriculture was moving away from the traditional small family farm to large corporate farms. Therefore, he believed giving aid to small farmers would only prolong a lifestyle no longer economically important to the nation.

Wallace responded to the criticism by showing that his interests went beyond agricultural production. In 1936 while considering bringing the Resettlement Administration into the Department of Agriculture, Wallace took a trip to the South to see the conditions in which poor farmers were living. He came away greatly affected by the high degree of rural poverty and rampant racial discrimination he witnessed. Wallace supported the Food Stamp program and school lunch program. He was also chairman of the Special Committee on Farm Tenancy. Proposals from the committee eventually led to the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenancy Act of 1937. The act established the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to help small farmers modernize their operations and increase the size of their farms. The FSA also helped farmers on poor lands move to more productive lands and helped tenant farmers become landowners.

New roles

In 1940 a new political role arrived for Wallace as President Roosevelt selected him to be his vice presidential running mate. With Wallace being from Iowa, the choice was made in part to counter the popularity of Republican Wendell Willkie (1892–1944) in the critical Midwest part of the nation. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third presidential term, so Wallace took on the job of vice president in January 1941 and served in that role through much of World War II. Wallace proclaimed a new era—the "Century of the Common Man"—and introduced an initiative that promoted domestic social and economic reform, defeat of foreign dictatorships, decreased trade restrictions, and establishment of strong international organizations. Wallace was chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW), which was responsible for acquiring a supply of essential raw materials for the war industry.

Through the war years Wallace became increasingly concerned about the growing influence big business and the military had on legislation and the operation of various agencies. Also, after witnessing the suffering of the poor during the Great Depression, he believed a general spiritual revolution was coming. His antagonism toward big business and mystical outlook was too much for Democratic Party leaders. By 1944 Roosevelt's health was declining, and many believed the next vice president might likely become president. Therefore, they persuaded Roosevelt to drop Wallace and adopt Senator Harry Truman (1884–1972) of Missouri as a running mate in the 1944 election campaign. Following his reelection, Roosevelt appointed Wallace as secretary of commerce. After Roosevelt's sudden death in April 1945, Truman kept Wallace in that role because Wallace was popular with some elements of the party. However, Wallace and Truman clashed over U.S. foreign policy. Wallace accused Truman of being too militarily aggressive against the Soviet Union and blamed Truman for starting the cold war (an intense political and economic rivalry from 1945 to 1991 between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics falling just short of military conflict). Wallace argued for a more cooperative position with the Soviets, built around trade relations. Wallace continued to speak out publicly against Truman's foreign policies, and as a result, Truman dismissed Wallace from his cabinet position in late September 1946.

In earlier years a number of influential Democrats had seen Wallace as Roosevelt's successor to the White House. But by late 1947 Wallace saw no hope of gaining the Democratic nomination for president for the 1948 campaign. Instead, he became the candidate of a third party known as the Progressive Party. Strongly opposed to Truman's policies of militarily containing the spread of communism in the world, Wallace gained the active support of some Communists in the United States. This support scared away many of his other supporters as the campaign progressed. In addition, organized labor, a longtime friend of Wallace, chose not to break away from the Democratic Coalition, a diverse group of voters that had formed in the 1930s to successfully support Democratic candidates. Wallace gained less than 3 percent of the vote in November 1948, coming in fourth behind another third-party candidate, Strom Thurmond (1902–) of the Dixiecrats. It was a strong rejection of Wallace's political ideas. His public life was over.

Back to science

Wallace returned to scientific experiments in plant and animal genetics on his farm. In 1964 Wallace was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that leads to loss of muscle control and eventually leads to death. In November 1965 he died at age seventy-seven.

For More Information

Culver, John C., and John Hyde. American Dreamer: The Life and Times ofHenry A. Wallace. New York, NY: Norton, 2000.

Lord, Russell. The Wallaces of Iowa. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1947.

Markowitz, Norman D. The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A.Wallace and American Liberalism, 1945–1948. New York, NY: Free Press, 1973.

Schapsmeier, Edward L., and Frederick H. Schapsmeier. Henry A. Wallace of Iowa: The Agrarian Years, 1910–1940. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1968.

Schapsmeier, Edward L., and Frederick H. Schapsmeier. Prophet in Politics:Henry A. Wallace and the War Years, 1940–1946. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1970.

Walton, Richard J. Henry Wallace, Harry Truman, and the Cold War. New York, NY: Viking, 1976.

White, Graham J., and John Maze. Henry A. Wallace: His Search for a NewWorld Order. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Wallace, Henry

views updated May 14 2018


Henry Wallace (18361916) was a pastor, farmer, agricultural publicist and editor who acted as a leading spokesperson for Midwestern farmers. He sought to educate farmers in applied science in order to prepare them for the technological advancements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This dramatically changed agricultural production in the United States, and Wallace's influence spread to the level of the federal government. He served on several commissions for President Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) and also impressed his views about agricultural development upon his family; his son and grandson continued his work in shaping U.S. agricultural policies.

According to biographer Richard S. Kirkendall, Henry Wallace "was the first in an American line of Henry Wallaces who rose to prominence in Iowa and the United States" (Uncle Henry: A Documentary Profile of the First Henry Wallace, 1993). Wallace was born on March 19, 1836, on a farm outside West Newton, Pennsylvania. His family was a hardworking, religious Scotch-Irish family of farmers. Wallace graduated from Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, in 1859. Although his roots were in agriculture Wallace chose to continue his education in theology at Allegheny Seminary in Pennsylvania, and Monmouth College in Illinois. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and served as a Union chaplain during the American Civil War (18611865). He then worked as a pastor for various churches in Illinois and Iowa until he retired from the ministry in 1877 due to health reasons.

In 1877 Wallace moved to Winterset, Iowa, and returned to the family farming business. He combined the skills he had learned as a preacher with his farming background and soon became the local spokesperson for farming issues. Though Wallace gave up the pulpit he found other ways to preach, namely through the press. He became involved in editorial work for local farm papers and eventually took partial ownership in the Iowa Homestead. In 1895 Wallace and his two sons established a family paper called Wallaces' Farmer. The paper became Wallace's forum to promote agricultural interests.

Henry Wallace was a man who respected traditions, especially religious and agrarian traditions. He also held a deep appreciation for modernization, above all in the form of applied science. Wallace saw agrarianism and scientific agriculture as complementary rather than contradictory. Other intellectuals of his time saw technology as a threat that would replace humans with machines. Wallace saw it as a means to improve the agrarian way of life; science would improve the quality of farming production rather than replace farmers. This would make farming a more rewarding and prestigious occupation. It would encourage farmers to remain on the land instead of fleeing to the cities. Wallace spent nearly four decades of his life attempting to persuade farmers to change their ways of thinking because he wanted them to see the advantages technology had to offer farming.

Wallace also believed that industrialization was a positive movement for farmers, but he argued that farmers would have to keep up with scientific advancements in order to survive in an industrial world. They had to learn how to work like business people. They also had to organize in order to protect their interests, just as the urban workers were organizing labor unions in the cities. To this end Wallace participated in agricultural organizations such as the Farmers' Protective Association, the Iowa State Improved Stock-Breeders' Association, and the Farmers' Alliance.

Wallace used his news writing and other publications to promote his ideas and to educate farmers. He wrote technical works about farming, such as Clover Culture (1892), Clover Farming (1898), and The Skim Milk Calf (1900). He also wrote two volumes on popular education, Uncle Henry's Letters to the Farm Boy (1897) and Letters to the Farm Folks (1915). He also wrote a memoir called Uncle Henry's Own Story of His Life: Personal Reminiscences, which was published after his death.

Wallace's views on U.S. agriculture reached the ears of politicians at the federal level. Wallace became a leader in the agricultural world. He represented the interests of the United States government on several occasions. In 1891 Wallace was asked to travel to Europe to investigate flax growing for the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Wallace a member of the Country Life Commission, and two years later he became president of the National Conservation Commission. In 1913 Wallace returned to Europe on behalf of the government to study farm conditions in Britain. This was his final trip before his death in 1916.

Wallace's legacy in U.S. agricultural development continued for two generations after his death. His oldest son, Henry Cantwell Wallace, became President Warren Harding's (19211923) Secretary of Agriculture, and his oldest grandson, Henry Agard Wallace, became President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (19331945) first Secretary of Agriculture and second vice president. Both men were strongly influenced by the ideas of the first Henry Wallace, especially with respect to the importance of agricultural science in American farm life.

See also: Agricultural Equipment Industry, Agriculture Industry, Farmers' Alliance, Government Farm Policy


Ferlegen, Lou, ed. Agriculture and National Development: Views on the Nineteenth Century. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990.

Kirkendall, Richard Stewart. Uncle Henry: A Documentary Profile of the First Henry Wallace. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993.

Lord, Russell. The Wallaces of Iowa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947.

Wallace, Henry Agard. The Reminiscences of Henry Agard Wallace. Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1977.

Winters, Donald L. Henry Cantwell Wallace, as Secretary of Agriculture, 19211924. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

[t]he very permanence of our republic will depend on the development of the manhood of the farm.

henry wallace, presidential address to the national conservation congress, september 25, 1911

Henry Wallace

views updated May 17 2018

Henry Wallace

Henry Wallace (1836-1916) was an American agricultural publicist and editor of the newspaper Wallaces' Farmer from 1895 to 1916.

Henry Wallace was born on a farm outside West Newton, Pa., on March 19, 1836. His parents were hardworking, religious, Scotch-Irish farmers who had come to the United States from Northern Ireland in 1832. Henry graduated from Jefferson College, Pa., in 1859 and then taught for a year at Columbia College in Kentucky. After theological study at Allegheny Seminary in Pennsylvania (1860-1861) and Monmouth College in Illinois (1861-1863), he was ordained. He was a Union chaplain during the Civil War.

Wallace was pastor at various churches in Illinois and lowa until 1877, when he retired from the ministry for health reasons. But for this forced retirement he might never have developed his later, and historically more important, career as a journalist, which helped to lead his two sons into political life. Wallace had already developed a taste for journalism and had published articles and become mildly interested in the reforms of his day, including temperance and antislavery.

In 1877 Wallace moved to Winterset, lowa, and took up farming. He had decided against accepting either the presidency of Monmouth College or entering religious journal nalism, for he felt the need for an outdoor life. He became involved in editorial work for local farm papers and eventually took part ownership in the Iowa Homestead. In 1895, with his two sons, he established his own paper to push "the agricultural interest." The newspaper later became known as Wallaces' Farmer.

Wallaces' Farmer was a leading organ and spokesman for the midwestern farmer. It fought for railroad regulation and for agricultural education, while maintaining a strong religious interest. The paper is now an important source for historians, as are Wallace's writings. These include Doctrines of the Plymouth Brethren (1878); three works on technical aspects of farming: Clover Culture (1892), Clover Farming (1898), and The Skim Milk Calf (1900); two volumes of popular education: Uncle Henry's Letters to the Farm Boy (1897) and Letters to the Farm Folks (1915); and a polemic against monopoly: Trusts and How to Deal with Them (1899).

In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Wallace a member of the Country Life Commission. Two years later he became president of the National Conservation Commission. In 1891 he traveled in Europe for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate flax growing, and in 1913 he was again sent abroad to study farm conditions in Britain. He died on Feb. 22, 1916.

Further Reading

The chief source of information on Wallace is his post-humously published autobiography, Uncle Henry's Own Story of His Life: Personal Reminiscences (3 vols., 1917-1919). Russell Lord, The Wallaces of Iowa (1947), is a history of the entire family.

Additional Sources

Kirkendall, Richard Stewart, Uncle Henry: a documentary profile of the First Henry Wallace, Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993. □