Conrad Black: The Real Henry Wallace ... Oliver Stone is Wrong About Him

Roundup: Talking About History

Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle.

With mounting incredulity and alarm — like, I am sure, many readers — I have watched the exhumation, by Oliver Stone, Peter Kuznick, and other members of a leftist claque of revisionist historians and pseudo-historians, of the putrefied historic corpse of Vice President Henry Agard Wallace. Wallace was the eccentric and impressionable son of the agriculture secretary who served under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and Wallace himself held the same position under Franklin D. Roosevelt for eight years. When FDR broke a tradition as old as the republic by running for a third term in the war emergency of 1940, he astounded and scandalized his party by choosing Wallace as his running mate.

Even with FDR’s endorsement (and his threat to withdraw from the presidential race if Wallace were not chosen by the Democratic convention), Wallace won by only 628 to 459 against (chiefly) Speaker William Bankhead (actress Tallulah Bankhead’s father). Wallace was not allowed to give an acceptance speech. He had been under the influence of a White Russian mystic agronomist, Nicholas Roerich, and the Republicans got hold of correspondence between them that, as Roosevelt biographer Kenneth Davis wrote, "called into question [Wallace’s] mental and emotional stability." The papers failed to surface only because Roosevelt’s entourage made it clear that it would respond with revelations of Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie’s prolonged dalliance in an extramarital affair ("awful nice gal," said FDR gallantly, of his opponent’s paramour, Irita Van Doren).

The legendary Democratic-party chairman, James A. Farley, called Wallace "a wild-eyed fellow." FDR wanted the vice president to be someone who believed more emphatically in what he had been doing for eight years than did the incumbent vice president, former House speaker John Nance Garner of Texas.

Garner was a somewhat conservative Texan who was described by United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis as "a whiskey-drinking, poker-playing, evil old man" when he was in his mid-sixties. (He lived to be almost 99.) It is fair to say that the nomination of Wallace was rivaled only by the appointments of Stalin-bootlicker Joseph Davies as ambassador to Moscow; of fascist sympathizer, appeaser, and defeatist Joseph P. Kennedy to the London embassy; and of anti-Semite Breckinridge Long as under secretary of state for immigration and refugees, as the most disastrous appointment of Roosevelt’s four terms as president.

Roosevelt completely ignored Wallace during his term as vice president...

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