The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948

The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948

The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948

The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948

Excerpt

Lost causes, especially when the events in question concern the recent past, are usually the preserve of polemicists and poets rather than serious scholars. In writing about Henry Wallace, whose cause, the New Deal, supposedly triumphed as he strayed from it, historians especially have shown themselves to be captives of the present and its stereotypes when they have sought to write about the recent past. To Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for example, it was the personal eccentricities of Wallace that largely explained his opposition to the postwar Truman administration and to the Democratic party in 1948. Taking a more sympathetic view of Wallace, Eric Goldman in the early 1950s did not follow the Communist dupe image to which Schlesinger was so attached. Goldman portrayed Wallace and his followers as unsophisticated liberal isolationists, blind to both the real danger of the Soviet Union and to the shift within postwar American liberalism from an almost exclusive emphasis upon economic problems to a concern with "liberty, opportunity and security-all vital and all vitally equal."

As the cold-war stereotypes were modified in the 1960s it became fashionable to accept Goldman's interpretation and to view Wallace as a tragic figure who had served well as Secretary of Agriculture and as Vice President but had thrown away his career and reputation in a wrong-headed and futile crusade against American foreign policy. In this tradition, Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier, the most recent biographers of Wallace, have warned their readers that "to try to understand his [Wallace's'] ideas when viewing them entirely through the maze of events taking place since 1940 is tantamount to gazing through a telescope from the wrong end. . . ."

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