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American dreamer : the life and times of Henry A. Wallace /
John C. Culver & John Hyde.
New York : Norton, c2000.
xi, 608 p., [32] p. of plates : ill.
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added author
New York : Norton, c2000.
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
John C. Culver graduated cum laude from Harvard University and attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, as the Harvard Scholar. After serving as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to Harvard, gaining his law degree in 1962. In 1964, Culver was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from lowa's Second District, where he served five terms, before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974. He now practices law in Washington, D.C., and lives in Bethesda, Maryland John Hyde graduated from Colorado State University He received an M.A. degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and served for three years on the staff of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He has edited and reported for the Hamilton (Ohio) Journal-News, the Detroit Free Press, and the Des Moines Register, where for eleven years he served in the paper's Washington bureau. He resides in Takoma Park, Maryland
First Chapter

Chapter One

"Good Farming,

Clear Thinking,

Right Living"

* * *

Henry Agard Wallace was born October 7, 1888, in a modest frame house on an isolated farm in Iowa.

    It was a golden autumn day, and farmers across the state could work outdoors without a coat. Harry and May Wallace, a young couple enjoying their first harvest season as husband and wife, occupied themselves with the routine of country life on their tenant farm in Adair County. May, barely twenty-one years old, picked flowers in the yard and fixed lunch for her husband. Harry, only a year older, fed the cattle and hogs and did his usual chores.

    Shortly after sunset May gave birth to a boy.

    About the birth there remained little lore. It was a quiet birth on a farm, the way Wallace women had borne babies for generations. No doctor or midwife was present. The nearest town, a tiny village called Orient, was five miles away by dirt road. Like most farm families, Harry and May Wallace saw no need to record the event beyond a notation in their Bible. Family members would learn of the birth in due course. Their firstborn child reached manhood and held high public office before he finally obtained a birth certificate.

    This was the way of birth in Iowa, as normal as husking corn or rising at dawn.

    Yet nothing about the Wallace family ever quite fit the norm. The Wallaces were different. They were part of, but apart from, the general husbandry of Iowa. They were smart and innovative and eager to take the lead. Unlike most farmers of the day, Harry had been to college and was a believer in "book farming," the application of scientific principles to agriculture. His young wife also had been to college and was trained in music and art. Like most Iowa farmhouses, Harry and May Wallace's home had no toilet, electricity, furnace, telephone, or running water. But it did have books and a piano, and it was brimming with ideas.

    Nor was Harry a typical tenant farmer. The landlord in Harry's case was his own father, the Reverend Henry Wallace, and he was a man to be reckoned with. By 1888 Henry Wallace was a major landholder in Adair County, publisher of the largest local newspaper, and editor of the state's most influential farm journal. Governors sought his counsel; political parties wanted to put him in the U.S. Senate.

    Henry Wallace was a sort of small-town leading citizen writ large. High-minded and strong-willed, he embodied virtues country people hold dear: honesty, duty, frugality, charity, simplicity. He even looked the part. He had sandy hair and twinkling blue eyes and full lips bent into a patient smile. The beard he wore throughout his adult life gave his long, narrow face a gentle and dignified appearance. Small wonder that by the end of his life he was almost universally beloved, known to thousands of midwestern readers as "Uncle Henry" Wallace, a member of the family.

    Personal wealth and power did not interest Henry Wallace, although he gave his own family a measure of both. What consumed him was his mission, a belief that man must worship God through service to his fellow man. And the men Uncle Henry cared most about were farmers. Only by creating and sustaining a vibrant agricultural civilization, he thought, could the nation secure its future.

    This belief--the cause of religion and duty and agriculture rolled into one--he stamped indelibly on the Wallace family name. This was Henry Agard Wallace's inheritance from the hour of his birth.

    "Remember," the boy was told as he grew up, "you are a Wallace and a gentleman."

    It was his glory and his burden.

* * *

The Wallaces had been farmers in Scotland and Ireland for countless generations. The first of the clan to arrive in America was John Wallace, who left Kilrea, Ireland, in 1823 and landed in Philadelphia at age eighteen. From there he walked to western Pennsylvania and put down roots, which, to a Wallace, meant farming. Over time John Wallace made himself a figure of local importance, a man others in the area turned to for agricultural advice. In 1836 his first child, Henry, was born on the farm.

    Henry Wallace would later write lovingly of his boyhood on the farm, of its fat pork sausages and cream as thick as pancake batter. But as a boy he dreamed of being elsewhere and doing otherwise. At eighteen Henry climbed aboard a railroad car, the first train he had ever ridden, and headed west. For the remainder of his life, Henry Wallace was an eloquent exponent of farm life, but he never again lived on a farm.

    His ticket off the farm was the ministry. It was probably the only profession his religious parents would have found acceptable. After finishing his theological studies at Monmouth College in Illinois, he taught school for two years in a tough little town in northern Kentucky. In 1863 he married a petite, fine-boned young woman named Nancy Cantwell, daughter of an Ohio landowner and politician who had died while leading a cavalry charge in the second battle of Bull Run.

    The first years after marriage were not easy ones. Parishioners in his small Presbyterian churches in Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, were hidebound and difficult. Their strict orthodoxy did not appeal to him, and they found his "social gospel" altogether too broad-minded. The young minister and his wife tried to cut costs by living in a boardinghouse but still had a hard time making ends meet. In the final months of the Civil War, he accepted an appointment as a chaplain to northern troops, an experience that left him with a permanent horror of war. Shortly after the war's end, the couple's firstborn child, Mary, died in infancy.

    By the end of the 1860s, Henry Wallace was emotionally spent and physically exhausted. "I would suffer the most excruciating pain after any severe exertion, generally on Sabbath night after preaching two sermons," he later wrote. "My limbs would become cold and it seemed impossible to get them warm." A move to Morning Sun, Iowa, southwest of Davenport, improved his health for a time, but after six years his old ailments had returned in force.

    His six-foot frame, which comfortably carried two hundred pounds during times of good health, became dangerously thin. He suspected he was dying of tuberculosis--consumption, he called it--a disease that had virtually destroyed his entire family. One by one over a period of twelve years, his seven brothers and sisters and his father had all died of "some sort of lung trouble." None of his siblings reached the age of thirty.

    With a small inheritance left by his father, Wallace had begun buying land in Adair County, a couple of hundred miles to the west, and in early 1877 a doctor advised him to move there. "I will give you six months to live if you continue in that pulpit," the doctor said. "It's either out of the pulpit or into the boneyard."

    So, at age forty, with a wife and five small children, Henry Wallace left the pulpit and moved west.

* * *

The ancient struggle between prairie and forest, waged for centuries on the soil of Iowa, had not been fully resolved when pioneers came with their horses and plows. The state's location and climate gave neither grass nor trees an undisputed claim to the land. Iowa was neither east nor west, neither arid nor tropical. Iowa was midway and moderate. When the settlers arrived, grass was in the ascendancy but trees still covered about a quarter of the state.

    Adair County, south and a little to the west of the state's center, was at the front line of the battle. When Henry Wallace began buying land there, much of Adair was still "raw prairie." Bluestem grass standing eight feet tall covered much of its twenty-four square miles. Trees, which easterners took to be a sign of good climate and fertile soil, were as scarce as people in the "State of Adair."

    Madison County, adjoining to the east, was a different story. There the land was nicely forested. Farms and small towns had flourished in Madison for a generation. Henry Wallace inhabited both sides. He moved his family to Winterset, a prosperous small town that served as the seat of Madison County, and saw to his farms in Adair from a buggy. He thrived on being outdoors, and his health soon began to improve. Within five years he was fully recovered.

    Farming land that had never been farmed was a tonic to Wallace. He introduced the first shorthorn bull, the first purebred hog, and the first Percheron horse to Adair County. Old-timers said it was impossible to grow clover in that part of the state, and Wallace took an almost spiritual satisfaction in proving them wrong.

    But he also knew that intelligent farming practices alone were not enough to ensure the success of agriculture. Soon he was engaged in preaching of a different sort, trying to help farmers understand the political and economic forces that shaped their environment. A year after arriving in Winterset, Wallace was invited to give the town's Fourth of July address and proceeded to roast "machine" politics, excessive party loyalty, and mediocre schools. He finished up with a blistering attack on cheap money, a nostrum highly popular among farmers of the area.

    "Among other things, I said that we had doctors--mostly politicians--who were doping the public under the pretense of curing evils, old grannies with their paregoric and catnip tea in the shape of greenbacks and fiat money intended to soothe the present discontent and to cause the people to forget the incipient growing pains of the country, etc. etc."

    The address set off a furious storm in Madison County and plunged Wallace into the county's vigorous newspaper war. For a time he contributed to the local Republican newspaper, the Madisonian , until falling out with the publisher over editorial control of his copy. Wallace responded by purchasing a half interest of the Winterset Chronicle , a forelorn little paper with only four hundred readers.

    "I then started out, as an independent Republican or free lance, ready to meet all comers and goers in the journalistic field," he wrote. In ten months, the Chronicle 's circulation had increased to fourteen hundred, and Wallace bought the paper's remaining half interest. Within two years he took over his rival, the Madisonian . He relished controversy. "Nothing else is so harmful to the sale of a paper or a book as to have it absolutely ignored, and abuse is often much more effective than praise--so it was abuse I wanted."

    All but destroyed by disease before their move to Winterset, the Wallaces now were robust and flourishing. The newspaper quickly became a family enterprise. Freckled, redheaded Harry, a sunny and energetic boy of thirteen when his father bought the Chronicle , earned three dollars a week sticking type, cleaning presses, and delivering copies. Unlike his more dignified father, Harry reveled in the company of the rough-hewn men in the print shop. From them he learned the art of chewing tobacco, a practice he maintained for life.

    Increasingly Henry Wallace's name and writings were cited around the state by friends who shared his views on agriculture and reform. Among his allies were James "Tama Jim" Wilson and Seaman Knapp, two men Wallace met at an agricultural meeting in 1879. Over the next quarter century Wallace, Wilson, and Knapp would leave a remarkable record as authors, educators, and public servants. Wallace became one of the nation's leading farm journalists. Wilson served sixteen years as secretary of agriculture. Knapp founded the extension service, which raised American agriculture from superstition to science.

    Their first joint venture was an effort to break the barbed wire monopoly. Iowa was then in the process of being fenced off. So-called herd laws made farmers liable for damage their livestock did to neighbors' crops, and barbed wire was the cheapest and most effective type of fencing. But the manufacture of barbed wire was protected by patents that gave the Washburn-Moen Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, an effective monopoly.

    Wallace, Wilson, and Knapp responded by forming their own organization, the Farmers Protective Association, to manufacture its own barbed wire and sell it at a price lower than Washburn-Moen's. Only farmers who paid one dollar a year in dues to the association were eligible to buy its wire. Thousands of farmers across the state recognized the bargain and joined up. When the Washburn-Moen Company challenged the association in court, claiming its patents were being violated, the association used the members' dues to fight back.

    The court battle lasted five years, but in the meantime the association sold thousands of tons of barbed wire to Iowa farmers. Long before the disposition of the case, however, the barbed wire monopoly had lowered its price to meet the association's competitive challenge. The association, represented by the young Des Moines lawyer A. B. Cummins, later a prominent progressive Republican governor and U.S. senator, eventually prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court. After winning its cause, the association disbanded.

    By 1883 the three friends had become men of no small influence. Together they had created the Agricultural Editors' Association, to promote independent farm journalism, and the Iowa Improved Stock Breeders Association, to foster modern livestock practices. They had staged a coup of sorts at Iowa State Agricultural College, the state's lethargic land grant institution, and installed Knapp as "the professor of agriculture." Wilson had been elected to Congress. And Henry Wallace, small-town newspaper owner and gentleman farmer, had been named editor of the Iowa Homestead , the state's largest and most important farm publication.

    Soon thereafter the owner of the Iowa Homestead found himself overwhelmed by debt and sold the paper to James Melville Pierce, a big-boned, hot-tempered small-town newspaper publisher. Wallace was retained as editor with an annual salary of $500 and a promise of complete editorial independence. The deal was sealed with a handshake.

    Wallace plunged into his editorial duties with boyish enthusiasm, pressing the "mysterious power" of clover to enrich the soil while feeding animals, slashing the political and economic interests standing in the way of agriculture's success. "The paper of which I was then editor was not really so much of an agricultural paper as it was an anti-monopoly paper," he acknowledged. "The management soon found that anti-monopoly was the winning card."

    Wallace reserved his highest dudgeon for the railroads, the most potent monopoly of all. His biggest coup was an exposé of the railroads' discriminatory rate structure. The stories led to the electoral defeat of Iowa congressman William P. Hepburn, a powerful friend of the railroads in Congress, and the subsequent creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission to govern rail rates.

* * *

Henry Wallace moved to Des Moines in order to be closer to his duties at the Iowa Homestead but continued to maintain a home in Winterset. There Harry grew restless setting type. In 1885, at nineteen, Harry headed off to Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames. The experience was not invigorating. "The college was nominally an agricultural college, but very little agriculture was taught," Henry Wallace wrote. Harry, hardworking and quick-witted, soon figured he knew more than his teachers.

    By the end of his second year, Harry had more or less had his fill of academia. During a visit home, he learned that one of his father's tenants planned to leave and saw a way out of Ames. "How would you like to have me for a tenant, on the same terms you have been renting for?" Harry asked his father. Henry Wallace assented, and Harry packed his bags for Adair County.

    The farm that Harry Wallace took over was large--some three hundred treeless acres--and lonesome. "Prairie wolves," as the farmers called coyotes, howled in the night, and rattlesnakes hid in the tall grass. The nearest town, Orient, was scarcely a town at all. Greenfield, the county seat, was ten miles to the north.

    Farming under any circumstance was hard enough, but without the help of a spouse it was nearly impossible. In the summer of 1887, soon after moving to the farm, Harry proposed marriage to a handsome young woman he had met at Iowa State. May Brodhead was an easterner, born in New York City, but her parents died of tuberculosis before she was old enough to form a memory of them, and she was sent to live with a strict Methodist aunt in Muscatine, Iowa.

    Harry Wallace, twenty-one years old and a sturdy five feet eight inches tall, arrived on a new trotting horse he had purchased for his courtship of May. She accepted his proposal forthwith. She had never lived on a farm and knew nothing of its labors, but she possessed an adventurous spirit. Harry "made farming seem most romantic," she said. May spent the remainder of the summer learning the arts of baking and homemaking.

    On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1887, Harry Wallace and May Brodhead were married. Harry sold two pigs and bought a surrey to transport May and her trunk back to the farm. "The house wasn't much," May Wallace recalled. "A little story-and-a-half tenant house, nice enough, but with none of the conveniences, and not a tree near it--nothing but a windmill. But it was a good farm."

    May's introduction to farm life was harsh. Iowa had suffered three extremely cold winters in a row, and January 1888 was the worst time of all. Temperatures reached forty degrees below zero in parts of the state. More than a century later it remained the third-coldest month on record in Iowa. Wood for fuel was scarce, coal was expensive, and corncobs burned too hot and too fast.

    By the time the ground had thawed and Harry was ready to begin planting, May was pregnant with their first child.

    In the spring they set about to make the place a bit less forlorn. In an effort to break up the farm's treeless monotony, Harry planted a grove of catalpa trees along the property's edge. The big spreading trees, distinctive for their long seed pods, took hold, and the farm was known informally ever after as "the catalpa farm." They also planted mulberry bushes, maple trees, plum trees, and a small apple orchard.

    The business end of the farm, that which aimed to make money, was livestock. Harry raised purebred shorthorn cattle, Poland China hogs, Percheron horses, and feeder cattle. The latter were full-grown steers, purchased at an age of two to three years and kept for six months or so, until they were "finished" or ready to market. If a farmer was lucky, he would earn enough by selling cattle to pay his costs. Hogs would eat the remainder of the grain and supply the margin of profit.

    But Harry wasn't lucky. Corn, which sold for 32 cents a bushel in 1883, brought only 24 cents in 1888. A year later the price of corn dropped to 19 cents, its lowest value in more than a decade. The price of cattle and hogs suffered similar declines. The problem was the market--one of those cyclical downturns brought about by surplus commodities and broad economic conditions--which no farmer, not even one as industrious and intelligent as Harry Wallace, could surmount.

    As Harry and May struggled to survive on the farm, Henry Wallace was in Des Moines with problems of his own. The progressive Republican cause--or "anti-monopoly Republican," as Uncle Henry called it--was suffering a series of setbacks. Wallace was especially disappointed when his friend and ally Governor William Larrabee refused to run for the U.S. Senate. (Wallace rejected an overture from Democrats that he stand for the Senate on their ticket.)

    As progressive Republicans lost ground, cheap-money populists under the banner of the Farmers Alliance gained strength, much to Wallace's discomfort. In 1889, to the astonishment of everyone, farm unrest led to the election of a Democratic governor in Iowa for the first time since 1852.

    And there was trouble of a more personal sort. James Pierce, the Iowa Homestead 's volatile publisher, began suggesting that the paper could do with less talk about monopolies and railroad rates and taxation. Wallace agreed to devote his attention mostly to agricultural subjects, but when he learned Pierce had accepted an offer from a Chicago firm to write favorable stories about its products in exchange for a lucrative advertising contract, he was livid. Wallace believed that his personal reputation was threatened.

    But the Wallaces could do little more than bide their time. Uncle Henry now owned about a third of the Iowa Homestead 's stock and was in a poor position financially to walk away from it. Harry and May had committed all of their energy, plus a good part of May's modest inheritance, to making a go of it on the farm in Adair County. They wanted, indeed needed, to stay and succeed.

* * *

The toddler running about the farm knew nothing of the family's troubles, of course. For Young Henry these were days of carefree adventure. His earliest recollection was of riding to town in a bobsled on a cold winter day, kept warm by snuggling under rugs spread across the laps of his elders. His playmates were his uncle Dan Wallace, Harry's younger brother by more than a decade, and a Scotch collie named Shep. From Dan he received his first pony ride; from Shep he learned the art of catching flies and burying bones. The biggest trauma in his life was finding himself lost in a cornfield, his socks full of sandburs, and yelling for help. "Where is mama's baby?" he cried.

    "The old prairie flowers still bloom in my memory, and the smell of the penny-royal perfumed prairie hay still haunts my nostrils," Dan Wallace wrote forty years later. "... I can remember the cellar where we were wont to retire when the dark clouds rolled up at the close of a hot summer day. I think I could still pick out the beam in the hay mow where we killed the big rattler that was brought in from the field in a load of hay and mowed away one day.... Henry and I shared our first common misfortune when we laid away Shep, whose good judgment did not extend to a careful scrutiny of things such as sickle bars and rattle snakes that do their work under cover of the waving grass."

    Still, something was wrong on the farm. Dan could feel it when he visited during summers. Cholera broke out among the hogs. A purebred shorthorn herd had to be sold off to meet expenses. The cattle were sold for less than $100 a head, a third of what they had cost. Two handsome black gelding horses were sold at a sacrificial price to the fire department in town. May Wallace had used her small inheritance to buy Suffolk sheep and shorthorn cattle for the farm. Those were sold, too.

    After five years of struggle Harry and May began to have second thoughts about the romance of farming. They had worked hard and had two healthy children--a daughter, Annabelle, was born in 1891--but not much else to show for their effort. Many years later Henry A. Wallace summed up their plight in a single sentence: "My father ... had started to work farming when prices were higher than when he quit."

    Harry decided to return to Iowa State and finish his education. An invitation from Tama Jim Wilson had spurred the decision. By 1892 Wilson had retired from Congress and, at Uncle Henry Wallace's urging, accepted an appointment as Iowa State's "professor of agriculture." Looking for ways to strengthen the school's program, Wilson asked Harry to come back and finish his degree, after which he would be appointed to the faculty. Harry took the deal and in the fall of 1892 packed up his family of four and moved to Ames.

    Henry A. Wallace arrived in Ames a shy boy, not yet four years old, who had almost never seen children his own age.

* * *

The move did not improve the Wallace family's fortunes. In Des Moines, Uncle Henry's running quarrel with James Pierce grew nastier by the day and his financial situation more perilous. The election of the Democrat Grover Cleveland to the presidency in 1892 was followed by a four-year recession that left Wallace temporarily unable to make ends meet. His land holdings, then about eight hundred acres, were mortgaged, and his name was on bank notes totaling some $30,000. The Iowa Homestead cut off dividends to pay for construction of a new building, and the salary Wallace received was not enough to pay his living expenses. "For many years thereafter," Henry A. Wallace later remarked, "I associated the word `Democrat' with hard times."

    Harry Wallace scrimped along at Iowa State with just enough money for his family to survive. They lived in a tiny house by the Northwestern railroad tracks. In Young Henry's mind the new home was a place forever whipped by wind. Tumbleweeds and Russian thistles rolled across the yard and piled up against its walls. The sound of window panes shivering in a cold winter evening would always remind Henry A. Wallace of Ames.

    Harry managed, during that first year of the panic, to complete two years of course work in a single year. The year left a terrible scar, however. Harry fell ill with typhoid fever and, without quite admitting to his family how sick he was, came close to death. The illness seemed to have affected his gall bladder. For the remainder of his life, his son believed, Harry Wallace "never was in first-class health." In late 1893, while still bedridden with fever, Harry Wallace was awarded his bachelor's degree and appointed associate professor of dairying.

    May Wallace was the family stalwart during those bleak days. She cooked and mended and gardened, nursed her husband, and cared for her children. It was May who taught her oldest son how to read and how to plant seeds and how to worship God. She was a religious woman, raised in the families of northern Protestant churchmen, and the strict habits associated with her stock were deeply ingrained in her.

    May was abstemious and thrifty in the extreme. She did not drink alcohol, or even coffee, and greatly disapproved of tobacco. Salads she thought were "some new-fangled notion that was being foisted upon the American people by women's clubs." For women's clubs, with all of their good works and gossip, she had no use whatever, despite the frequent pleas of her mother-in-law to participate in them. Even if she had wanted to join them, she had no time. "What she couldn't have," her son observed, "she had no use for."

    Yet there was nothing dour about May Wallace. She was good-humored and had a spunky quality that greatly appealed to her father-in-law. May alone seemed able to put Uncle Henry in his place when he became particularly demanding. "I am not a Wallace," she would remind him cheerfully. "I only married one." Relations with her socially conscious mother-in-law were, on the whole, less amicable.

    For Young Henry these were agreeable, if somewhat isolated, years. His father was working hard at the college. His mother was busy with a growing family. A third child, John, was born in 1894. He knew few other children. He did, however, have a fondness for plants, and that led him to form the most unlikely of friendships. His pal was a tall, slender black man, thirty years of age, whose name was George Washington Carver.

    Carver, the son of slaves, wandered through the Midwest for years after the Civil War before becoming Iowa State's first black student in 1891. There his gentle manner, enormous dedication, and religious devotion won him wide acceptance with students and faculty alike. Among Carver's friends was Harry Wallace. First as a student and then as a professor, Wallace spent hours with Carver and regularly invited him to his home for dinner. There Carver met Young Henry, the boy who loved plants.

    Carver "took a fancy to me and took me with him on his botanizing expeditions and pointed out to me the flowers and the parts of flowers--the stamens and the pistil," H. A. Wallace recalled. "I remember him claiming to my father that I had greatly surprised him by recognizing the pistel and stamens of redtop, a kind of grass--grass Agrostis alba , to be precise. I also remember rather questioning his accuracy in believing that I recognized these parts, but anyhow he boasted about me, and the mere fact of his boasting, I think, incited me to learn more than if I had really done what he said I had done."

    More important, Carver had a sense that all living things possessed something divine, that God could speak from the parts of a flower or a blade of grass. Their walks continued for about a year, after which the Wallaces left Ames, but Young Henry had permanently absorbed the philosophy of his gentle friend.

    Carver received a master's degree from Iowa State in 1896 and moved to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, taking with him only a few bulbs of the amaryllis plant he so loved. Young Henry and his friend did not see each other for almost forty years, by which time the boy had become secretary of agriculture and Carver was world famous as a chemist who developed hundreds of uses for the peanut and the sweet potato. Not until then did Wallace really understand how Carver had connected so strongly with him as a child, why Carver's philosophy of plants had so affected his own.

    "Such botanists as Carver are exceedingly rare, but today they are increasingly important because the day fast approaches when the spirit of man must go out into understanding living things with as much fervor as it has gone forth into the understanding of steel, cement, machine tools, oil, gas, roads and airplanes," Wallace said many years later. "The ability to understand life in all its varied manifestations is the supreme criterion of man."

* * *

By the time Young Henry was walking through the fields around Ames, his father had become a small-time publisher of sorts. Uncle Henry's son-in-law Newton Ashby had publicly supported Grover Cleveland during the 1892 campaign (alone among the Wallace clan) and been rewarded with appointment as U.S. counsel to Dublin. Ashby was thus obliged to rid himself of the Iowa Farmer and Breeder , a small livestock journal of little note and marginal profitability, of which he was the principal owner. Harry Wallace formed a partnership with Charles F. Curtiss, a fellow faculty member at Iowa State, and bought the semimonthly for a small amount of money. They moved it to Ames, renamed it Farm and Dairy , and began to concentrate mainly on dairying work being done at Iowa State and its extension station.

    The paper's narrow focus and relative obscurity did nothing to discourage Harry Wallace's taste for controversy. In the spring of 1894 Wallace and Curtiss began to have questions about the integrity and scientific findings of an experiment station chemist and wrote a letter asking the college's board of trustees to investigate him. If the board refused, they added, they would publish their own report on him in Farm and Dairy .

    The board weighed the matter, decided to take no action against the chemist, and added that any Iowa State professor who published criticism of a fellow staff member would be forced to resign. It was the wrong thing to say to a Wallace. Farm and Dairy promptly defied the board and published a scathing attack on the chemist.

    A bitter brawl broke out on the Ames campus, roughly pitting the academic faculty against the extension staff, and eventually forced the resignation of Wallace, the chemist, and two other faculty members who had joined the fray. Curtiss was told to drop his interest in Farm and Dairy if he wished to remain on the faculty.

    At the same time Uncle Henry's long feud with James Pierce was coming to a head. He was determined either to regain editorial control of the Iowa Homestead or be fired. His first move was to write a one-paragraph editorial, telling farmers it was time for the railroad commission to hear from them on the subject of the rate increase. Every farmer should send a postcard to the commission on the matter, Wallace suggested. The editorial did not appear. The next week he wrote a longer editorial on the issue and handed it to the print foreman with the instruction "This must go in." Again the editorial failed to appear.

    Wallace told Pierce to call a meeting of the paper's board. The issue of editorial control had to be settled. Pierce agreed, but for three weeks no meeting was called. Finally Wallace called his own meeting of the three-member board, presented it with a long editorial denouncing the rate increase, and moved that it be published. "This was promptly voted down--and then the battle was on."

    Every day Wallace showed up at the Homestead expecting that his "head likely would be found in the basket," but Pierce bided his time until February. Then, on one hour's notice, Wallace was summoned to a board meeting, summarily fired, and told that his pay would end in three days. "I was then an editor without a paper," Wallace wrote later. Moreover, he was a major stockholder in a company over which he had no control. He had no way to sell his stock, and he could expect to derive no financial benefits, because the company had ceased to pay dividends.

    The Wallaces had hit bottom. Henry Wallace, almost sixty years old, and his son Henry Cantwell Wallace, nearly thirty, were without jobs and without money. Their prospects looked as bleak as Iowa in February.

* * *

The Wallaces came to their own rescue.

    A few days after his ouster from the Homestead , Uncle Henry traveled the thirty miles north to see his son in Ames. There Harry suggested to his father a plan: take over as editor of Farm and Dairy and turn it into a publication of general interest to farmers. Uncle Henry agreed on the spot. In early March, the little journal appeared with a new name, Wallaces' Farm and Dairy , and a new editor, Henry Wallace.

    In later years Harry Wallace tended to sentimentalize the episode. He had made the suggestion, Harry wrote to a friend, because he knew "father would die if he could not have a platform to stand on and continue his work." He added, "It did not seem a very hopeful prospect, but on father's account it was the only thing to do."

    In fact, the Wallaces plainly had more to gain than to lose. The paper already existed, at least in embryonic form, so the cost of getting started was not large. Uncle Henry had a well-established following, which greatly eased the difficulty of defining their paper's identity. And the Wallaces had, in themselves, an energetic and inexpensive work force.

    Their paper was a family affair from the outset. Uncle Henry was editor, Harry handled business matters, John sold advertising and subscriptions, and Dan helped in the print shop. In time even Uncle Henry's wife assumed the role of "Aunt Nancy" and offered a page of homemaking advice to farm wives. The name of their paper was Wallaces' Farm and Dairy ; the apostrophe, quite deliberately, was placed after the s .

    What they lacked was money. But there, too, the Wallaces found ways of making do. Tama Jim Wilson signed a bank note for $5,000 and renewed it each year for five years. Harry mortgaged the house he had purchased in Ames and used a life insurance policy to borrow another $5,000. Curtiss, who harbored academic ambitions and was eager to sever his ties with Farm and Dairy , took a note for his share of the paper.

    From the start the Wallaces were extremely aggressive in both their business and their editorial dealings. An editorial penned by Uncle Henry in the first issue, entitled "A Word Personal," set the paper's moralistic tone. In it Wallace detailed the reasons why he had been fired from the Iowa Homestead and verbally declared war on Pierce. "No grief or loss of any kind has ever befallen me that has given me so many sleepless nights as the fact that I was suspected of being privy to deals of a corrupt character in connection with the Homestead ," he wrote.

    Lest anyone miss the point, Wallace placed a boxed statement on page one declaring, "Mr. Wallace was for ten years, up to February 1895, the editor of the Iowa Homestead . His withdrawal from that paper was the culmination of trouble between him and the business manager as to its public editorial policy, Mr. Wallace wishing to maintain it in its old position as the leading western exponent of anti-monopoly principles. Failing in this he became the editor of the Farm and Dairy , over the editorial policy of which he has full control." The statement continued to run on the front page of the Wallaces' journal for several years. Pierce, not one to turn the other cheek, published his own version of Wallace's departure, declaring that "the Homestead had felt obliged to rid itself of an incubus."

    A bare-knuckle fight broke out. This was no squabble between businessmen; it was a struggle between good and evil. Uncle Henry Wallace, casting himself as the underdog, let no one doubt which man sat with the angels. Subscribers and advertisers were encouraged to choose sides, the result being that virtually every gain for Wallace was also a loss for Pierce. Scores of farmers formed "Wallace clubs" in support of him. Club members received a discount on the normal subscription price of fifty cents per year; more important, they became part of a moral crusade. Henry Wallace stumped tirelessly across the state, a fat pad of subscription forms always stuffed in his pocket.

    The result was a huge outpouring of support for the Wallaces. The cloud that had hovered over the family for half a decade broke apart and scattered. Within weeks it was apparent to Wallace and his sons that Wallaces' Farm and Dairy would succeed. At the end of three months, the paper registered a small profit. "That year, 1895, is one of the most memorable of my life," Henry Wallace later wrote. "It brought me what seemed to be one of my greatest troubles, and witnessed the beginning of my greatest success. Above all, it made me understand more completely than ever before that people generally will stand by a man when they see that he is serving them faithfully."


Copyright © 2000 John C. Culver and John Hyde. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-03-20:
An outstanding economist and geneticist, Henry Wallace (1888-1965) was also the personification of New Deal liberalism. In this splendid biography, former senator Culver and journalist Hyde brilliantly illuminate Wallace's complex life and struggles. As FDR's agriculture secretary and later vice president, Wallace always stood to the president's left politically (Hamilton Fish called him "Stalin's ambassador to the court of Roosevelt"). Recognizing that national unity would be threatened in the event of Wallace becoming president, the ailing FDR shrewdly saw to it that his old friend was dropped from the ticket in 1944 in favor of Harry Truman. By this time Wallace, the pragmatic engineer of the New Deal, had, in Culver and Hyde's portrayal, degenerated into an extreme leftist ideologue who--as Churchill emphatically reminded Roosevelt--demonstrated no fundamental understanding of the threat posed by Soviet communism. Running for president as an independent in 1948, Wallace wore his na‹vet‚ on his sleeve, insisting U.S. diplomacy should be governed not by the tenets of Machiavelli, but by those of Christ. Culver and Hyde reveal both Wallaces--the confident architect of successful domestic reform and the idealist who, in Hubert H. Humphrey's words, was "devoted and dedicated to peace." Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-03-01:
Although not as widely studied now as some of his political contemporaries, Henry Wallace was an important leader in American politics in the 1930s and 1940s: he served as vice president during Franklin Roosevelt's third term in the White House and held the cabinet positions of Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Commerce during parts of the Roosevelt and Harry Truman administrations. He also ran unsuccessfully for the presidency as the candidate of the Progressive Party in 1948. He probably had more influence on the development and administration of New Deal agricultural policy than did anyone else. This biography of Wallace by former U.S. senator Culver and journalist Hyde is well researched and generally well written. But it would have been strengthened if the authors had muted their obvious admiration for their subject and provided a more dispassionate analysis of Wallace's accomplishments and failures. For history collections of academic and larger public libraries.--Thomas H. Ferrell, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2000-09-01:
Culver, an attorney and former Iowa senator, and Hyde, a journalist, have written a superb biography of Henry A. Wallace. Tracing Wallace's life from his Iowa childhood, they present a fully detailed account of this remarkable man. An accomplished agricultural scientist, editor of Wallace's Farmer, secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce, vice president, and finally unsuccessful Progressive Party candidate for the presidency in 1948, Wallace is a fascinating subject. As secretary of agriculture in the New Deal, Wallace forged the agricultural policies and saw the Agricultural Adjustment Act declared unconstitutional. As wartime vice president he went from a position of enormous power to being dropped from the 1944 election ticket. As secretary of commerce, he fought Truman on Cold War policy and was fired for his actions. As the 1948 Progressive Party candidate, he seemed out of place in the political spotlight. A thoughtful man who did not drink or smoke, Wallace was more at home on a farm than at a rally. After the ill-fated 1948 bid he split with the Progressives over the Korean War and became a supporter of US policy. Based on primary and secondary sources, this study places Wallace in a context that readers will understand. He was truly an eclectic liberal thinker. All levels. A. Yarnell Montana State University
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, March 2000
Library Journal, March 2000
Los Angeles Times, March 2000
Publishers Weekly, March 2000
Chicago Tribune, April 2000
New York Times Book Review, April 2000
Wall Street Journal, April 2000
Washington Post, June 2000
Reference & Research Book News, August 2000
Choice, September 2000
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Publisher Fact Sheet
Henry Agard Wallace was a geneticist of international renown, a prolific author, a groundbreaking economist, & a businessman whose company paved the way for a worldwide agricultural revolution. He also held two cabinet posts, served four tumultuous years as America's wartime vice president under FDR, & waged a quixotic campaign for president in 1948. Wallace was a figure of Sphinx-like paradox: a shy man, uncomfortable in the world of politics, who only narrowly missed becoming president of the United States, the scion of prominent Midwestern Republicans & the philosophical voice of New Deal liberalism, loved by millions as the Prophet of the Common Man, & reviled by millions more as a dangerous, misguided radical. John C. Culver & John Hyde have combed through thousands of document pages & family papers, from Wallace's letters & diaries to previously unavailable files sealed within the archives of the Soviet Union. Here is the remarkable story of an authentic American dreamer.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. IX
"Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Right Living"p. 3
"What's Looks to a Hog?"p. 23
"The Fight ... Will Go On."p. 44
"A Revolution ... Is Coming."p. 66
"A Complete Break with All That I Had Been"p. 86
"A Quarter Turn of the Heart"p. 109
"Fragrance from That Other World"p. 130
"Whose Constitution?"p. 147
"Up in Smoke"p. 169
"Democracy Is on Trial Today."p. 191
"That One Man Was Roosevelt."p. 212
"A Funny Way to Live"p. 231
"Can the Vice President Be Useful?"p. 246
"The Century of the Common Man"p. 266
"George"p. 283
"Though He Slay Me"p. 304
"The Dreamer"p. 326
"The Same Old Team"p. 345
"Poetic Justice"p. 367
"This Must Not Be."p. 385
"One World or No World"p. 402
"The Way to Peace"p. 419
"Has America Really Gone Crazy?"p. 438
"Gideon's Army"p. 456
"To Make the Dream Come True"p. 471
"Am I in America?"p. 491
Farvep. 510
Coda: "A Good Man"p. 526
Notesp. 533
Bibliographyp. 567
Indexp. 581
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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