Henry Agard Wallace, the American politician, journalist, farmer, and businessman who served as the 33rd Vice President of the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, held an important role during the tumultuous times of World War II. Not only did he have the significant responsibility of being the vice president during a global conflict, but he also was a key speaker in several major events.
One of the most impactful of these was his address at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1943.
Born on October 7, 1888, on a farm near Orient, Iowa, Wallace developed a deep interest in agriculture, influenced by his father, a devoted farmer. After graduating from college in 1910, Wallace committed himself to full-time writing and editing for Wallace’s Farmer, a publication aimed at improving farming practices. His intellectual curiosity led him to delve into mathematics and economics in an attempt to understand and improve agriculture, notably hog prices.
A Leader in Times of Crisis
Wallace’s leadership skills and knowledge were put to the test during World War I, when he and his father worked with the United States Food Administration to develop policies aimed at increasing hog production. His unique approach to problem-solving caught the eye of Franklin D. Roosevelt. After Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election, he appointed Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture, marking the start of his political journey.
In 1940, Wallace was nominated for president at the Democratic National Convention. Shortly after the nomination, Roosevelt insisted on Wallace for vice president. Though a recent convert to the Democratic Party and not popular among its leaders, Wallace assumed his role as vice president on January 20, 1941, amid the growing tensions of World War II.
A Fateful Speech at OWU
On March 8, 1943, Wallace took to the podium as the keynote speaker in Gray Chapel at a national study conference on “Christian Bases of the New World Order” at Ohio Wesleyan University, an event sponsored by OWU and the division of foreign missions of the United Methodist Church. The conference was held in the midst of World War II, drawing a crowd of 250 attendees and national press coverage.
In his speech, Wallace stressed the urgent need for Western democracies and Russia to reach a “close and trusting understanding” before the end of the war. He warned, “Otherwise, I fear World War 3 will be inevitable.”
This message resonated profoundly with his audience and continues to echo in the corridors of international diplomacy today, serving as a reminder of the critical importance of trust and understanding in maintaining global peace.
Henry Wallace’s legacy extends far beyond his political career. His best-remembered speech, delivered on May 8, 1942, popularized the phrase “the Century of the Common Man”. He framed World War II as a war between a “free world” and a “slave world,” and advocated for a peace that would raise the standard of living for the common man worldwide.
Wallace passed away in Danbury, Connecticut, on November 18, 1965, at the age of 77. His remains were cremated, and the ashes interred in Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines, Iowa, a testament to his humble beginnings and his life’s journey. His speeches and actions continue to inspire people to strive for understanding and peace in the face of conflict and adversity.
Sources: Wikipedia; Salem News – Photos: Public Domain; 1808Delaware