Button, Henry Wallace, 1948

Button, Henry Wallace, 1948

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Henry Wallace’s path to—and through--national politics was an unusual one. Raised on a farm in Iowa, Wallace edited his family’s agricultural newspaper while his father served as Secretary of Agriculture under two Republicans, Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Differences over farm policies led Wallace to break with the party his family had always supported. He campaigned for Democratic candidate Al Smith in 1928 and endorsed Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Because of this political work and his reputation in agricultural science and economics, FDR tapped Wallace as his Secretary of Agriculture even though Wallace was still a registered Republican. The youngest member of FDR’s Cabinet, Wallace became, according to economist John Kenneth Galbraith, “second only to Roosevelt as the most important figure of the New Deal.”
Wallace registered as a Democrat in 1936 and four years later was named Roosevelt’s running mate for his third term making Wallace the last vice president to have held no previous elected office. In spite of FDR’s belief in him, Democratic Party leaders continued to see Wallace as an outsider and pushed the president to replace Wallace on the 1944 ticket. When Harry S. Truman became vice president, Roosevelt returned Wallace to the Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. The last former vice president to serve in a subsequent presidential cabinet, Wallace stayed at Commerce until September 1946 when he became the final FDR Cabinet member to be released by President Truman.
Discouraged by his treatment within the party, Wallace found himself increasingly at odds with Democratic positions particularly in the area of foreign policy. He opposed both the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine and advocated a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. Recognizing that he would not receive the 1948 Democratic presidential nomination, Wallace formed the Progressive Party (unrelated to parties of the same name in 1912 and 1924) and ran for president on the Progressive platform which included policies such as universal health insurance, an end to the Cold War, full voting rights for African Americans, and reparations for those sent to Japanese internment camps. Receiving only 2.4% of the popular vote, Wallace finished fourth in the election behind President Harry Truman (Democrat), Thomas Dewey (Republican), and Strom Thurmond (States’ Rights Democratic). After this defeat, he retired from public life and returned to the study and practice of farming.
Object Name
Button
date made
1948
Associated Name
Wallace, Henry
ID Number
1985.0106.217
accession number
1985.0106
Credit Line
Sam D. Steinhart
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History
Government, Politics, and Reform
American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
Exhibition
American Democracy
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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