Roosevelt Myth - John T. Flynn

Henry Wallace

What of the Man who had just been made Vice-President of the United States, second in line for the presidency held by a man whose health was a matter of question even to himself? About the only thing Henry had that qualified him for Vice-President and President was his health.

Where did the pressure for Wallace originate? Miss Perkins thinks she first proposed him. Edward J. Flynn says the matter was discussed before they left Washington and agreed on. Miss Perkins, who is truthful, cannot be wrong when she says she telephoned the President from Chicago and that he had not yet made up his mind about Wallace. Her whole account leaves the impression that he was not too sure and many other things strengthen the suspicion that the pressure had come from other sources and that Roosevelt was yielding with some misgiving.

We might conclude from Hull's testimony that Roosevelt's real candidate was Hull, who says the President literally harried him to run. Hull was a natural. This would get him out of the State Department where he was a nuisance and put him in the Senate where he would be useful. Doubtless Roosevelt settled on Wallace when Hull said no.

Wallace was a being who took himself very seriously. And yet there was a good deal of the element of stage comedy in him—wide, queer streaks in his make-up that would excite laughter in the theater but which do not originate in any merry or comic sense in his own character and which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as funny against the dark background of the events of the time. He has been pictured as a vague and impractical mystic, half scientist, half philosopher, with other ingredients that approach the pictures in the comic strips of the professor with the butterfly net.

Wallace was born in 1888 on an Iowa farm, but it was the farm of a wealthy farmer who had a house in town as well as another in the corn fields. He went to the State Agricultural College, came out at the age of 22 and worked on the staff of Wallace's Farmer, which had been founded by his grandfather. His father went to Washington in 1921 as Secretary of Agriculture and Henry became editor of Wallaces Farmer, a rich editorial property. He remained editor until 1931 when the paper, overloaded with debt, passed out of the family's hands, leaving Henry without a job. Two years later he was made Secretary of Agriculture by Roosevelt. Thus he began his political career at the top. He had no standing in the country, had given no evidence of eminence as an editor, a writer, a business man or a politician which gave him any claim on this strange appointment—which is all the stranger from the fact that he was a registered Republican. When he went to Washington he was looked upon as an impractical person who had been something of a failure, given to strange ideas and there was a rather general agreement with the opinion of the Baltimore Sun that he "was one of the most admirable and ridiculous figures of the New Deal."

The Agricultural Adjustment Administration—the AAA—was peculiarly Wallace's child and it contributed as much as the NRA to bringing discredit and even laughter down upon the Roosevelt administration. It would not be true to say that Wallace, at this time, was a left-winger. The man was almost without strong political opinions. He was certainly not a Republican or a Democrat of the orthodox school. His Republicanism was a mere inheritance from his father and grandfather.

A distinction must be drawn between the philosophy of many men who rush to strange and bizarre experiments in economic life and the philosophy of the modern Communist or Socialist. But Wallace brought men like Tugwell into the Department as his Under-Secretary of Agriculture. One thing about Wallace which is quite definite is his laborious pose of intellectualism. And with Tugwell he had now come into contact with a mind that was keen, busy, and widely enriched with economic and social history and dead sure of itself. It is very clear that Wallace's mind, wandering around in uncertainties, became slowly infected by the far abler Tugwell with the theory of State Planning for the well-being of all the people. It is equally clear that he did not perceive at this time the essential affinity between state planning, fascism and Communism; did not realize that all belong to one great generic philosophy. Having once taken this position, Wallace moved slowly and gropingly, little by little, toward the philosophy of the planners without, I think, giving himself up to it wholly until just before his nomination as Vice-President, and without realizing at the time the full implication of that drift.

Farley says that Wallace, just before the 1940 convention, expressed some fears that Roosevelt was going too far to the left. This was probably due to the fact that Wallace did not realize that the advocates of state planning were so seriously to the left. But from here he was to move fast. Given to rapid changes in philosophies, Wallace could catch a new one like an acrobat leaping on a flying trapeze in mid-air and swinging with it full tilt from the moment he grasped it.

To understand what made this thoroughly dangerous man tick it is necessary to look at another widely advertised side of his nature—his interest in mysticism. There is a broad streak of the religious in Wallace. His early life had run through the Presbyterian church, but at college he became for a while somewhat skeptical—but only for a brief interval—and turned again to what he called "the necessity of believing in God, imminent as well as transcendental." He thought the severely logical and critical Presbyterianism was unsuited to his yearnings and he began attending the Roman Catholic Church, attracted by its rich ritual and the devotional attitude of the congregation. He liked the genuflecting, the kneeling, the sign of the cross, the silent adoration and he began to look into the dogmas. These repelled him after a while and, interestingly enough, it was what he called the scholastic method of reasoning, with its unyielding insistence upon the severe processes of logic, that repelled him and so he made one more move to the High Episcopal church where he found the warm, seemingly ritualistic atmosphere without the hard and fast insistence on the dogmas behind the ritual.

It is quite certain that his soul did not by any means come to rest in the pleasant and assured comfort of the High Church either and so he began wandering around from cult to cult, sampling them all, looking for some sort of god he could get close to and commune with and feel. In fact, he is supposed to have come upon the ever-normal granary plan while studying the economic principles of Confucius. Several journalists who have written about him say that he had probed into Buddhism, Confucianism and the mysteries and beliefs of the Orient, and that he had studied astrology and knew how horoscopes were drawn.

In the meantime, he was fiddling around on the edges and surfaces of economics. Mordecai Ezekiel, who believed in state planning as thoroughly as Adolf Hitler did and who had a plan for $2500-a-year for everybody, jobs for all and security from the cradle to the grave, was his economic adviser in the Agricultural Department. It was not surprising, therefore, that after Wallace had been Secretary of Agriculture for a while, exposed to the Tugwells and Ezekiels and to the inner urges of his own mystic hunger, he should have told the Federal Council of Churches on December 7, 1933 that perhaps the thing we should be moving towards was something like the theocracies of old. He thought, however, that the times would have to get more difficult in order to soften the hearts of the people and move them "sufficiently so they will be willing to join together in the modern adaptation of the theocracy of old." The thing he didn't like about Socialism and Communism was their spiritual dryness. "The economic and business machines," he said, "should be subjected more and more to the religious and artistic and the deeper scientific needs of man" and apparently the end of this development would be some version of the ancient theocracy. Undoubtedly Wallace believed this at the moment he was uttering it to a religious meeting. Whether he really believed it or not, whether it came out of any really studied conviction or was nothing more than a passing oratorical fancy, we cannot say.

Some time in the 'twenties, a gentleman by the name of Nicholas Constantin Roerich appeared on the American scene. Roerich was a highly self-advertised great philosopher on the Eastern Asiatic model. He gathered around himself a collection of admirers and disciples who addressed him as their "Guru"—a spiritual and religious person or teacher. He dispensed to them a philosophic hash compounded of pseudo-Yogism and other Oriental occult teachings that certain superior beings are commissioned to guide the affairs of mankind.

Roerich wrote a long string of books—"In Himalaya," "Fiery Stronghold," "Gates Into the Future," "The Art of Asia," "Flame in Chalice," "Realm of Light." He founded the Himalayan Research Institute of the Roerich Museum at Nagara, India and was the founder of the Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace, signed by 22 countries in 1935. This ceremony took place in the White House. Wallace arranged for the presentation and was named the American plenipotentiary to sign the pact. At the ceremony Wallace said: "I am deeply grateful to have been named by President Roosevelt to sign for the United States this important document in which I have been interested for many years and which I regard as an inevitable step in international relations. The Roerich Pact which forms this treaty provides that all museums, cathedrals, universities and libraries be registered by the nations and marked by a banner known as the Banner of Peace—which designates them as neutral territory respected by all signatory nations." And on this occasion Wallace described Roerich as "a great versatile genius" and "one of the greatest figures and true leaders of contemporary culture."

When Roerich, with his long white beard, got going here, a wealthy broker named Louis L. Horch became the most ardent and reverential disciple of the Guru Roerich. He raised the money, putting up much of it himself, to erect a beautiful building worth several million dollars at 105th Street and Riverside Drive in New York City, called the Roerich Museum, which Westbrook Pegler, who has brought much of this material to light, refers to as Roerich's Lamasery or Joss House. Roerich was a prolific painter of obscure and symbolic canvases and the first floor of the Roerich Museum was given over to the exhibition of these canvases. The remaining stories of this building served as apartments and offices for the elect or for friendly or useful souls.

Roerich's pictures were believed to possess a peculiar power over the minds of those who would sit quietly before them and contemplate them. Many disciples of his cult visited the building and did precisely that, in search of some kind of "world awareness" hidden away in these obscure daubings. Those who followed Roerich looked upon him as a great spiritual leader. Horch in addressing him, spoke of him as "our beloved master" and ended his letters "in love, beauty and action forever united, your Logvan." Logvan and Logdomor were the names by which Horch was known in this mystic circle.

Horch put $1,100,000 into the Roerich program and he said "it was our joy to give without a thought of ever receiving back the principal or interest." After Wallace became Secretary of Agriculture, at some point Horch went to the Department as the senior marketing specialist of the Surplus Commodity Corporation. This queer bureau was precisely the place for Horch. It was organized and directed by a gentleman named Milo Perkins from Houston, Texas, an ex-theosophist preacher who would grow to enormous dimensions in the New Deal before the whole comedy ended.

Roerich had decided that he wished to lead an expedition into Asia. Horch says that he expected to set up a new state in Siberia of which he would be the head. To make this possible, Wallace commissioned Roerich to go to China to collect wild grass seed. But stories in English-language newspapers in China indicated that Roerich applied to the 15th U. S. Infantry in Tientsin for rifles and ammunition and that the expedition had mysterious purposes. Of course, Roerich was not a botanist, and had no special qualifications for hunting wild grass seeds. Horch was now out $1,100,000 and began to lose faith in his teacher. Wallace apparently backslid at the same time and fired Roerich incontinently while he was in Asia.

Subsequently Horch filed suit to recover his unhappy investment in the future and got possession of the building. In 1942 Horch was transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Board of Economic Warfare of which Wallace was the head and of which Milo Perkins was executive director, and when Wallace became Secretary of Commerce he made Horch chief of the supply division in the New York office of the Foreign Economic Administration.

A controversy about this whole subject has been raging for some time between Westbrook Pegler, columnist, and Henry Wallace, with all the raging being done by Pegler. Pegler has in his possession a batch of letters written by someone to Roerich in which Roerich is addressed as "My dear Guru." The contents of these letters are silly to the point of being imbecilic. Pegler has charged that some of these letters, which are in handwriting on Department of Agriculture stationery have been submitted by him to three of the leading handwriting experts in the United States whose names he gives and that these experts have declared and are willing to take the stand and testify under oath that the letters were written by the same person who wrote two letters in Pegler's possession addressed to him by Henry Wallace and signed by Wallace. Pegler has hammered on this subject for several years. He has presented the testimony in the case in the most elaborate manner and in great detail.

He has called upon Wallace to either affirm or deny the authenticity of the letters and his connection with them and to this day Wallace has refused to make any reply. Pegler's point is that the man who wrote these letters was unfit to be the Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of Commerce and that it was nothing short of a crime against the nation to make him Vice-President of the United States, and that Roosevelt knew when he did this of the Roerich incident. Pegler finally published a batch of these incredible letters, challenging Wallace to deny them. Wallace ignored that challenge.

Wallace was indeed as odd a bird as had ever perched upon a cabinet post. He loved to exhibit himself primarily as a deep thinker. Hugh Johnson said of him: "It is a pleasure and wonder to listen to the naive and somewhat sweet but superficial simplicity of Henry's scholarship. He will tackle almost any subject on either the scientific or literary side. He once uttered a dissertation on great books and their influence on human destiny. At the same time, with his usual frankness, he conceded that he had read very few of them."

At first he was a specialist on his own soul, his health and the corn farmer. Even this limited group of interests took him off into numerous far flights into the airy world of the cultist. He made a kind of tourist trip through the various religions; he tackled corn somewhat more realistically; tried on himself all sorts of diets settling down as a vegetarian, and experimenting with all sorts of odd athletic pastimes such as boomerang throwing and Indian wrestling.

But once in the Department of Agriculture the circle of his interests expanded. There was no national problem which did not excite his interest—and once interested he became concerned, and once concerned he became embattled. In all these questions, however esoteric, there had to be a cast of characters of good people against bad people. However, he was still a nationalist and he was certainly not a Socialist. In the Department in his first big battle he took sides with those who were called reactionaries—George Peek, et al., against the soldiers of the Lord—Jerome Frank, Gardner Jackson, Lee Pressman and Rex Tugwell—on the plight of the sharecroppers as against the landowners. He staged the first purge of the radicals in Washington, driving Frank, Pressman, and Jackson out of the AAA.

But by the time the war got under way, Wallace's range of interests had expanded. And it continued to expand until it encompassed the cosmos. Now he could give full rein to his flair for thinking. He liked to tackle something big—like the world, for instance. It is, after all, one of the smaller planets, yet it was big enough to Start with. As someone observed, he set himself up "as the conscience of the world." He was now in a medium where his soul was at home—the vast, immaterial, boundless field of world morals. Down on the ground where there are men, trees, buildings, organizations and machines to clutter up the landscape so that a man had to do a little careful navigating to keep from getting crushed, life was difficult. But once Wallace spread his pinions and took off into the vast circumambient spaces of world morals he was happy.

He cried out in an ecstasy in a speech: "The people's revolution is on the march and the devil and all his angels cannot prevail against it. They cannot prevail because on the side of the people is the Lord." Now he was fighting not George Peek and Hugh Johnson and Harold Ickes, He was fighting the devil and the bad angels. And he had on his side the lord, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the good angels—the Democrats and the CIO and, in good time, he would be joined by Joe Stalin and Glen Taylor, the singing Senator from Idaho. He would begin making world blueprints—filling all the continents with TVAs, globe-circling six-lane highways, world AAAs, World Recovery Administrations, World Parliaments and International Policemen.

This was the man chosen for Vice-President by Roosevelt who had warned that his health was not too good and who forced this strange bird upon his party in the face of a storm of angry protest.