ORSON WELLES’ ALMANAC: On Henry A. Wallace
Since several of Welles' s upcoming Almanac columns feature detailed comments about the (at the time) departing progressive Vice-President, Henry A. Wallace, here is some brief background information about the highly charged political atmosphere in January of 1945:
Henry Wallace was Roosevelt's Vice-President, but had been dumped from the ticket at the party convention in July, 1944, mostly because his very liberal political ideas conflicted with the more conservative members of the Democratic party leadership. In his place, Harry Truman was selected.
Although officially off the ticket, Wallace was still Vice-President and worked hard to unite liberal Democrats behind Roosevelt's re-election. Of course, Welles also worked hard for FDR's re-election and he and Wallace occasionally shared a stage during the fall campaign, most famously when Welles introduced Wallace at a Roosevelt campaign rally at Madison Square Garden, on September 21, 1944.
In this column, Welles comments about the letter President Roosevelt had just written to his conservative Secretary of Commerce from Texas, Jesse Jones. The President had asked Jones for his resignation, so he could appoint Henry Wallace to the position. Roosevelt pointed out to Jones how hard Wallace had worked to help re-elect him, and offered Jones his choice of ambassadorships to several different countries, including England. Jones un-statesman like response was to release the President's letter to the press, and then testify against Wallace at his Senate confirmation hearings!
As Welles notes in his column, it appeared that the Wallace nomination was doomed, since conservative Democrats had united to block the confirmation. The final committee vote was 14 to 5 against Wallace's nomination, so it was rather astonishing when the full Senate eventually approved Wallace as Secretary of Commerce — but only by the slimmest of margins: One vote! Ironically, the tie-breaking vote had to be cast by the new President of the Senate, Harry Truman, who had replaced Wallace as Vice-President. Wallace went on to serve as the head of the Commerce Dept. until Sept. 1946, when his frequent clashes with the new President, Harry Truman, finally led to his dismissal.
ORSON WELLES' ALMANAC
By Orson Welles - January 25, 1945
January 25th is the anniversary of Shay’s rebellion and the conversion of St. Paul. Also, the birthdays of Robert Burns and William Bullitt.
Plant things that grow above the ground today and call up the man who runs your neighborhood movie house. Ask him to show a B minus picture called When Strangers Marry. It's a “plus” entertainment. But because it's a quickie without any names in it, When Strangers Marry hasn't had much of a play, even in the smaller theatres, so you’ve probably missed it. Making allowances for its bargain-price budget, I think you'll agree with me that it's one of the most gripping and effective pictures of the year. It isn't as slick as Double Indemnity or as glossy as Laura, but it's better acted and better directed than either.
The gist of the Jones’ beef is that Henry Wallace is an unsuccessful, or at least, an inexperienced businessman. The myth of Wallace’s inefficiency has been carefully nurtured by all who fear his program for full production and employment. Actually, Wallace makes something like $80.000. a year as president of the Hybrid Corn Company (Hybrid Corn, incidentally, has quite a lot to do with the new prosperity of the corn farmer).
Wallace organized this million-dollar business, but gave up the majority control when he became Secretary of Agriculture. He’s also doing well as a publisher. “Wallace’s Farmer” was only unsuccessful during the depression, as was Jones’ banking and mortgage company.
As Secretary of Agriculture, Wallace employed 100,000 people and spent a half a billion a year without a peep from Congress about maladministration. The Senate found nothing wrong with the job he did as head of the Supplies Priority and Allocation Board of the war program. Under him, when he was chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare, were Hull, Marshall, King—and of all peoples—Jones.
There are a number of angry liberals in Washington who are claiming that the President’s Jesse letter wasn’t a political mistake at all. That Roosevelt must have known that Jones would release it to the newspapers. They point out that Senator George’s bill to take RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corporation) away from Commerce is much too well prepared to have been improvised. The President will veto the George bill, and the Senate won’t confirm the appointment. Those who are saying that Wallace has been double-crossed again believe that this is just what was expected, all part of another Hopkins plot.
Your Almanac believes that Henry Wallace got the Commerce secretaryship because the President needed him to help fulfill his election pledge of sixty million jobs.
Jones’ connection with the Texas secessionist has been established; it shouldn’t be forgotten. All the stuff in the “Dear Jesse” letter about "Henry’s" contribution to the campaign may have had its sly purpose, but I don’t believe that purpose was to hurt Wallace. I think it was intended as an oblique Rooseveltian rebuke.
I think the President of the United States wants Henry Wallace for the second biggest job in the country, and I think the head of the Democratic Party wanted to tell an old renegade that his political treachery was known to him. Jones, after all, had made a serious attempt on the President’s political life, and while I’m sure the President didn’t fire him because of it, I do suggest that Franklin Roosevelt, who is very human, wanted “Dear Jesse” to know he hadn’t gotten by with anything.
I’m absolutely positive that Henry Wallace wasn’t made Secretary of Commerce as a reward for his hard work in the campaign. Quent Reynolds still travels abroad, not as Ambassador, but as correspondent. John Gunther writes “Inside America” but he’s not inside the State Department. Dorothy Thompson is still writing a column, and your obedient servant has started one.
If all you had to do to get into the Cabinet is to work hard in the campaign, I would be Secretary of the Treasury.