Many Americans have never heard of Henry Wallace. But he deserves to be remembered. He was like Jefferson in that he respected the agrarian way of life and had faith in the power and destiny of the common man.
He was Secretary of Agriculture in the darkest days of the Great Depression. Few at the time knew more about the science and art of agriculture..
Roosevelt picked him to run with him for a third term. It wasn’t a popular choice. Big Business and Big Banks found Wallace’s socialism as odious as that of Roosevelt, whom they called a ‘traitor to his class’.
Wallace was, in one historian’s words, an “unreconstructed liberal reformer and a New Dealer”. Which meant he supported programs like Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, the Federal Housing Authority, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. The latter two created public jobs for millions of unemployed people left adrift after the 1929 Stock Market Crash.
FDR didn’t live to see the offspring of the New Deal. When Wallace died in November of 1965, our social safety net had expanded to include Medicare and Medicaid. And President Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act. On his deathbed, Wallace must have felt that his life’s work had not been in vain.
But today the legacies of the New Deal and the Great Society are under attack. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider. Economic Royalists are again pursuing absolute power to the detriment of our democracy. Corporations are people and money speech. Voting is being suppressed. And walls, concrete and abstract, are being raised to keep out immigrants. What FDR said in 1936 is becoming all too true today:
“For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.”
Henry Wallace saw this coming. Before it’s too late, I earnestly hope that We the People will listen to what he had to say.