Why did FDR drop Henry Wallace from the 1944 Presidential Ticket?

In July 1944, a little over a year before WW2 ended, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked tired and sick. Publicly, he was taking a month-long rest under the guise of war planning. Privately, he was diagnosed with severe hypertension, heart disease, cardiac failure, and acute bronchitis.

The stress of leading a nation at war, rehabilitating a depressed economy, and a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit had turned his heart into a time bomb. It wasn’t a question of if, but when FDR would succumb to a major stroke. Most insiders knew in the upcoming election, a Democratic vote for President was really a vote for the Vice President. Under these conditions, FDR made a decision that transformed the next fifty years of American history. He removed Vice President Henry Wallace from the Presidential ticket.

Before the rise of Bernie Sanders, Henry Wallace was the last true Progressive leader to wield national power. A scientist farmer, and capable administrator, Wallace revolutionized American farming as the Secretary of Agriculture. He spearheaded the New Deal’s most revolutionary and innovative programs, fought concentrations of power, and transformed the Federal Government into a leading incubator of scientific research. He spoke openly about the need to end racial segregation, the benefits of international cooperation, and the importance of economic development.

When Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for developing disease-resistant wheat–it’s estimated that the hybrid grain saved over 1 billion lives—he credited Wallace as his inspiration. He was also popular. At the time of FDR’s decision, a Gallop poll showed Democratic voters overwhelmingly backed Wallace. “Nationwide,” wrote biographers John Culver and John Hyde, “Wallace’s support equaled the next three (Vice-Presidential) candidates’ combined.” The man who ultimately replaced him, Harry Truman, a generic Democratic Party loyalist, earned 2 percent.

The question is, why? Why did FDR drop Henry Wallace from the 1944 Presidential ticket? Why did FDR want Henry Wallace, the consummate New Dealer, with vast popularity and support among key voting-blocs removed? It’s one of the greatest “what-ifs” in American history. Critics argue that Wallace’s sympathetic view towards the Soviet Union would have weakened American interests. Supporters argue he would have ended the Cold War before it started. I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer to this question, but I wanted to illuminate 8 key drivers.

To placate “moderates”

Henry Wallace described himself as a “progressive capitalist,” his critics preferred anti-business communist. At first, this seems like the standard right-wing response to a leftist leader. Closer examination reveals it was a delusional accusation. Wallace was a self-made businessman who founded the Hi-Bred Corn Company, a literal billion-dollar company. He was, however, an ardent anti-monopolist. He believed that unregulated markets would lead to an intense economic and political concentration that would inevitability destroy the average man. In his view, it was the government’s responsibility to level the playing field.

As Secretary of Agriculture, he stabilized America’s food system by pursuing policies that prioritized small farmers over conglomerate grain processors. As Vice President, he argued that the United Nations must have the power to regulate international commerce because technology would transfer power from small businesses to international corporations. “Let us not be deceived into thinking that attacks on cartels are attacks on American business,” he said. “On the contrary, cartels are the greatest menace to American business principles of free private enterprise and equal opportunity.”

This was a confrontation with moderates who relied on entrenched and moneyed interests across both sides of the political spectrum. Dumping Wallace would remove this distraction.

Henry Wallace wasn’t a politician

Wallace was always viewed as a good-natured dreamer without the temperament for politics. He steadfastly refused to grease palms and shake hands with the donors who fueled the Democratic regime. Nowhere was this more on display than the 1944 Democratic convention–where he lost the nomination for Vice President.

Everyone knew that the party bosses wanted him replaced with a more moderate politician. When it was his time to speak he responded with a full-throated defense of progressive ideals. “It was blunt, grave, tactless,” wrote Time Magazine. “It easily explained why Henry Wallace was the best-loved and best-hated man in the stadium.” The delegates stormed the stage and demanded an early vote. It was a near riot. Claude Pepper, an FDR loyalist from Florida, knew that meant trouble. “I was convinced,” he later recalled, “that if a vote could be taken that evening, Wallace could have been nominated.” Pepper employed a procedural move to end the night’s discussion.

Wallace refused to campaign on the momentum. He sat in his hotel room while the Democratic Party spent the off-hours trading appointments for votes. The next day Truman was the Democratic nominee for Vice President.

Southern pressures

Many of Roosevelt’s advisors believed that the President faced a close battle for the South, and Wallace’s commitment to social justice was a distinct liability. FDR’s personal racial views were moderate at the time but incredibly racist in hindsight. Henry Wallace’s views would still be considered progressive today, and he had them nearly half a decade before Jackie Robinson shattered baseball’s color barrier.

Wallace openly advocated for the abolition of the poll tax and the end of segregation. “The future,” he said, “belongs to those who go down the line unswervingly for the liberal principles of both political democracy and economic democracy regardless of race, color, or religion…Equal education opportunities must come. The future must bring equal wages for equal work regardless of sex or race.” As an independent candidate in the 1948 Presidential election, Wallace refused to speak to segregated audiences or shop at segregated stores.


Henry Wallace was raised Christian, but he had a genuine curiosity for all things spiritual. He didn’t necessarily believe in a traditional Judeo-Christian God. Instead, he had an underlying belief that God was a universal presence that could be felt in everything. This approach led to several seemingly “alternative” interests.

Henry Wallace:

  • Studied Hinduism, Bahaism, and astrology
  • Was active in an Iowa Theosophy club
  • Meticulously documented the impact of planetary movements on weather patterns
  • Spent $6 a year to join what most would consider a new age Native American cult run by a white guy
  • Put Nicholas Roerich, a Russian mystic who was a mixture of Rasputin and Woodrow Wilson, in charge of a failed Department of Agriculture expedition

The last point almost became a career-ender, but FDR essentially blackmailed Republican newspapers into not publishing Wallace’s correspondence. The idea he was an aloof-mystics dogged him throughout his public career. Later in life, Wallace slyly agreed with a reporter that “nature, science, and religion are as one.” Except he asked to add economics to the list.

Henry Wallace feuded with Jesse H. Jones

From the New Yorker:

“After a robust start in the Vice-Presidency, Wallace fell into a territorial battle with Jesse Jones, the Secretary of Commerce, who had dragged his feet in importing materials for wartime production. A more skilled operator could have worked out a compromise, but in 1943 Wallace went public with inflammatory charges that Jones’s “obstructionist tactics . . . have been of major consequence in this job of waging total war.” He all but called Jones a traitor. Roosevelt hated the spectacle of such infighting in wartime, and probably lost faith in Wallace at that moment.”

British Pressure

Towards the end of WW2, Britain looked to negotiate a peace that preserved a semblance of their colonial power while establishing themselves and America as clear Western leaders. Henry Wallace was basically against that entire sentiment.

He despised colonialism and wanted an inclusive international coalition. As Vice President, he argued that in addition to economic development aid for Asia, each current colonial area was entitled to self-determination. Britain’s Chief Intelligence Officer’s response was simple and direct. Wallace had to go. “I came to regard Wallace as a menace, he said. “I took action to ensure that the White House was aware that the British government would view with concern Wallace’s appearance on the ticket at the 1944 presidential election.”

Red Scare

Any progressive, even if they have controlling interests in a billion-dollar company, will be accused of communist sympathies. Combined with his hatred of centralized business power and open desire for Soviet/American cooperation, Wallace was an easy target for the Red Scare. Even his best-intentioned policies were often construed as being pro-communist. In his later years (post-VP), Wallace advocated sharing scientific nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union. To this day, the Right view this as proof of treason.

Detailed reporting done by Culver and Hyde revealed the fallacy of that idea. Yes, Wallace wanted to share scientific knowledge with most countries. He also wanted to keep the functional knowledge a secret. He thought (and many agreed) that the gesture would help defuse the nuclear arms race.

FDR could have been senile

To be clear, this is 100 percent pure speculation.

After FDR removed Wallace from the ticket, he didn’t banish him to professional Siberia. Instead, he told him to choose any Cabinet position except State. Wallace settled on Commerce, which oversaw the divesting of the government’s massive war holdings. It was basically the key to the American economy. It doesn’t make much sense to remove a guy from the Vice Presidency and place him in administrative control of the American economy (Note—party hardliners later stripped the divesting control from Wallace as FDR’s health crumbled). A conversation Wallace relayed may shed some light on it.

In late 1944, Wallace met with FDR to discuss trade agreements and full employment legislation. FDR responded with details about how an astrologist predicted WW2 would end in 1947 (they were 2 years off). Confused, Wallace changed the subject to new incentive taxes for the post-war economy. FDR then explained his theory that tropical workers were healthier when they worked naked.

Something doesn’t really add up.

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22 Comments Why did FDR drop Henry Wallace from the 1944 Presidential Ticket?

  1. SLAUS

    Mr. Wallace was way ahead of his time. He saw the world as it should be…for what it could be…America missed the boat on this great man. How can politics be so crooked in our democracy? Truman was a joke…he knew nothing, talk about a puppet a pawn…think of all the lives lost because of this choice for the presidency. No doubt the world would have been totally different with Wallace as commander and chief. Mostly Russia and Japan paid a heavy price…Now we face very scary, similar times ahead. Stay tuned!

    1. steve baker

      with some of our presidential failures, in recent times, i consider truman one of our better presidents. he wasnt a joke. YOU ARE!steve baker

      1. Geoffrey ONeill

        Truman ushered n the nuclear age, tested nuclear bombs in the Pacific leaving a potential nuclear disaster in the dome used for the clean up. He was the CIC for the Korean war and formed the CIA. He, in my view, was the father go US hegemony that will end badly soon.

  2. Matt Carl

    My understanding is that he could not keep secrets and told his brother in law. Dr Bruggerman Swiss Ambassador who passed on two secrets from Wallace to Nazis. Once Roosevelt learned about it he dropped Wallace from ticket.

  3. Stravo Lukos

    Even Bernie Sanders could not match the brilliance of Wallace. The Military-Industrial Complex hated his guts. I think the senility hypothesis is highly credible. Add that to the exponential of the M-I monolith– those two factors alone would have assured Wallace’s fall. The rest is a tale told by a madman….

    1. bev full

      Where is the excellent piece about the 1944 election and Wallace being dropped from the ticken as v.p. It’s somewhere with Real News. !! It was videos from the 1944 campaign. !!

      1. Mike

        Harry Truman doesn’t come up to an intellectual’s standards of a good politician but those with just a level of common sense thought him one of the best presidents. Even many Republicans agree with that. I get tired of idiots thinking naively with their hearts and making decisions that affect me and my family with their pie in the sky mentality looking for a utopia that doesn’t exist.

  4. Pingback: A Brief History of Old Guys Who Became President of the United States – Latest World News

    1. Waymond Green

      You’re absolutely wrong. I believe now and always that Caucasians thoughts of maintaining racial imbalance was one of the main causes. W/O disregarding the things FDR did accomplish….leading the 🇺🇸 during depressions time and war……his basic attitude was that of a racist, and that’s puzzling considering his wife’s work.

    2. Daisy Herndon

      Somebody powerful, I should add. I am speculating here but I note that while most historians say Truman knew nothing about the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project, the Smyth Report says otherwise.

  5. Ilya Glazunov

    FDR did not drop Wallace from the ticket this is the most misinformed post I’ve read in a while. During that time the DNC would nominate the VP there were 3 nominees. Many people hated wallace but the democratic voters loved him. FDR endorsed Wallace’s nomination as well. When it came to actual voting Wallace supporters were sabotaged and deals were made to put the neutral loyalist Truman Into power who was only polling 2%. FDR was not the problem and he wanted Wallace it was the DNC that Sabotaged him getting on the ballot and instead pushed Truman. Please site your sources as this reads like an opinion article.

    1. Egardner

      The simple rebuttal is that FDR was President and the leader of the Democratic Party. If he wanted Wallace on the ticket Wallace would have been on the ticket.

      There are two reputable sources for my view—both of which are cited throughout the article. The first, American Dreamer, the definitive book on Wallace’s life, by Hyde and Culver. The second, ‘Uncommon Man’ a New Yorker article on Wallace. I’d suggest reading both.

      Page 351-354 of American Dreamer details FDR’s extensive correspondence leading up to the DNC. You’re right in that FDR did endorse Wallace—but it was not a hearty endorsement. In fact, he said “I personally would vote for his renomination if I were a delegate to the Convention. At the same time, I do not wish to appear in any way as dictating to the Convention. Obviously, the Convention must do the deciding. And it should—and I am sure it will—give great consideration to the pros and cons of its choice.”

      Not exactly a ringing endorsement. As long-time confident Nathan Drury later summed up FDR’s ‘endorsement’, “If you want him, well, OK. If you don’t, well, OK. Suit yourself. And so long Henry.”

      Also – almost all of your points are articulated in my article. If you’re going to question the veracity of something, please take the time to actually read it.

      1. Ag

        Fdr was sick and tired. He was pressured to remove wallace, fdr just said ok . I did enjoy your article, as there are no living participants during this time anyone could be right.

  6. Jessica Packer

    Epic failure here.

    1. The United Nations did not exist until 1947.
    2. Wallace was chosen in 1940 as a pinch hitter – the 8 original candidates for Dem VP had all plotted to unseat FDR.
    3. He had so few duties as VP with any of FDR’s domestic programs OR WW2 effort that he was basically invisible. The rare times he DID raise his head it was to criticize FDR’s efforts.
    4. He “spearheaded the New Deal’s most progressive efforts?” ?!?!?!?!? This is a joke, right?!?!?!?!?

    1. Eric Gardner

      Each of your points is incorrect.

      1. The United Nations did not exist until 1947.

      Wrong. The United Nations was founded in 1945. It of course did not happen overnight. It took years of planning and debate to establish the structure of the international organization. Wallace’s comments are from a speech in 1943 to an organization lobbying for its establishment. He was of course Vice President during that time–which is exactly what I wrote in the article. You can read the whole transcript here.

      The fact that you start your comment with a snarky line tells me that you’re not operating in good faith, so I’m not going to refute each wrongheaded point. It is however a perfect summation of the modern internet: Wildly incorrect, but confident in its stupidity.


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