TLIAW: Against the Grain


Against the Grain
An Improvisational TLIAW by @Enigma-Conundrum @Oppo @Vidal @Wolfram

From Wolfram: Henry Agard Wallace gets a bad rap in alternate history, and it's only mostly his fault. Son of a successful farm journalist and Secretary of Agriculture, Wallace brought modern biology to bear on corn yields and transformed American farming as a private citizen, helped revolutionize American agricultural policy during his New Deal service in his father's job, and was then tapped by Roosevelt to serve as VP - but in this modern era, permanently changing the way Americans farmed and rural Americans lived is a topic of relatively little interest to a mostly-urbanized readership. Instead, in large part due to the foundational soc.history.what-if timeline For All Time, a dystopia only rarely matched in its thoroughness and depth, Wallace's reputation in alternate history is that of a useful idiot for the Soviets. A sympathetic President, perhaps - deeply committed to peace, civil rights, and the task of common prosperity for all Americans - but ultimately too naïve to join the ranks of Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, and Paul Wellstone as one of the liberal heroes many of us number among "the best Presidents America never had".

There's good reason to see him that way. His association with controversial Russian exile Nicholas Roerich, an artist and peace activist known for his unusual spiritual views, was bad enough to the Democratic establishment - his friendliness to the Soviet Union (including a heavily sanitized tour of labor camps in Kolyma and Magadan, which Wallace compared to the Tennessee Valley Authority), led many to think of him as a useful idiot for Stalin. They were, perhaps, proven right; after being dropped from the ticket in favor of Truman, Wallace was ultimately fired for a speech in which he promoted American quietism with regards to Soviet designs in Eastern Europe, then ran a Presidential campaign under the Progressive banner that received more Soviet support than the actual Communist Party ticket. Though, to his credit, he did eventually spurn his former idols, in 1952 writing a lengthy mea culpa in which he stated that "if the Soviets continue along present lines they may possibly cause disaster to the whole Western World--but in the process they will certainly... bring misery to the people of Russia and her satellites", it is worth noting that he only came to that conclusion after - and partly as a result of - seeing the results of the Soviet coup in Czechoslovakia he had previously argued against American intervention in.

This has led many alternate historians to use him to paint dystopias - sometimes from a position of lack of sympathy for a man who spent the heights of his career in apologia for a brutal regime, sometimes from a position of sympathy for a man who (they assess) deluded himself, due to his own innate optimism and belief in the ideals the Soviets only professed, into a disastrous and inhumane course of action that would have been brave and right and moral if the world had really been what Henry Wallace thought it was. Contrariwise, a smaller but still non-trivial number have tried to rehabilitate Wallace - the greatest and worst feature of alternate history, after all, is the fact that it allows us to reveal our own worldviews and narratives of history by changing the facts to better frame them. Maybe Wallace's assessment of Moscow really had been more accurate than, say, George Kennan's, and maybe there had really been a chance for peace - as Oliver Stone put it in his Untold History of the United States, a President Wallace might have brought about a world with "no atomic bombings, no nuclear arms race, and no Cold War".

We find both of these portrayals too convenient and too simple. Wallace was a complex figure, too complex to reduce to an amorphous mass of principles or a metonym for his political community. He deserves, if nothing else, better than to be used as an instrument by which another world could be made for other people's stories - we have enough to figure out with his own world. It's time to try to tell the story of Henry Wallace himself, and the world he would have created given his own chance at the Presidency, without setting any particular outcome in mind. However, this is a spiritual successor to All Along The Watchtower in another sense; we think the process of trading off chapters between different authors, and thereby reducing the impact of any one author's perspective or ability to guide the narrative, is a useful and fun way to bring alternate history closer to the real world.

That's our thesis statement; now, on with the show...

Some minor housekeeping items: We've elected to keep most of the same rules as before. Posters may choose the method by which their president leaves office, but they may not name the successor. We will aim to post within 72 hours of the previous post. We will continue to the present day.

A random generator determined our order. Yours truly was assigned the job of writing the first presidency, Wolfram will follow me, Enigma will follow them, and Oppo will follow Enigma. After Oppo has posted, I'll get to go again.
33. Henry Wallace (D-IA), 1945-1949
33. Henry Wallace (D-IA)
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1949


"A liberal knows that the only certainty in this life is change but believes that the change can be directed toward a constructive end."

Henry A. Wallace assumed the presidency on April 12, 1945, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered a brain hemorrhage at the age of 63. Wallace sought to console the First Lady, asking if there was anything he could do for her. Mrs. Roosevelt turned to the new president. “Henry, is there anything we can do for you? For you’re the one in trouble now…”

Indeed, Wallace came to power at an important moment for the United States and for the world. Within a month of his presidency, the Allied Forces would secure victory in Europe over the Nazis, but the war’s Asian front was anything but certain. Wallace was quickly brought up to speed on the Manhattan Project – the United States’ effort to develop an atomic bomb. He had initially supported Roosevelt in his decision to pursue the project, but he was not aware of how close it was to completion. Wallace now held a power unknown to any man before him, and he had to decide whether or not to move forward with it.

More than anything, Wallace wanted peace. He did not believe that holding onto the bomb, allowing a bloody ground invasion of Japan that cost the lives of thousands of Russian and American men was the best way to achieve it. He had been heavily interested in the idea of a Naval blockade around Japan, cutting the nation off from needed resources, but even that situation would have meant the death of thousands of Japanese civilians before the end of the war.

During the Potsdam Conference, Wallace spoke candidly with Joseph Stalin and urged him to declare war on Japan, believing that the appearance of a united front among the Allies in the next front of the war would force Japan into submission. Stalin agreed, and within days of the Soviets’ announcement and movement of troops, Japan agreed to surrender. The war had been resolved without using the atomic bomb, though Wallace had been prepared to use it.

The Potsdam Conference became indicative of the foreign policy Wallace would carry for the remaining years of his presidency. He did not believe that the Soviet Union posed an existential threat to the United States, instead he imagined a collaborative relationship between the two world powers, one in which the USSR was left to manage the affairs of the Far East and the USA was left to manage the affairs of the West.

Wallace laid out this vision for foreign policy in an address to a joint-session of Congress in September 1945. His policy would become known as the “Wallace Doctrine.” Put simply, it was the division of the world into two separate spheres of influence: “The Russians have no more business in stirring up native communists to political activity in Western Europe, Latin America and the United States than we have in interfering in the politics of Eastern Europe and Russia.” He believed it was possible to co-exist peacefully (“Meanwhile, the Russians should stop teaching that their form of communism must, by force if necessary, ultimately triumph over democratic capitalism—while we should close our ear's to those among us who would have us believe that Russian communism and our free enterprise system cannot live, one with another, in a profitable and productive peace.”) [1] Critically, the Doctrine contained a separate component: an independent China.

Said Wallace, “China is a special case and although she holds the longest frontier in the world with Russia, the interests of world peace demand that China remain free from any sphere of influence, either politically or economically. We insist that the door to trade and economic development opportunities be left wide open in China as in all the world. However, the open door to trade and opportunities for economic development in China are meaningless unless there is a unified and peaceful China—built on the cooperation of the various groups in that country and based on a hands-off policy of the outside powers.” [2]

Wallace also refused to participate in an expensive military build-up as some called for. Instead, he believed that a cooperative relationship with peer nations was the best way to avoid further entanglements and conflicts.

As Wallace explained, these funds constituted a “Peace Dividend,” which he believed would show the inherent strength of democratic capitalism over Russian communism. If the United States could take funds and invest them in social spending and foreign aid, it would emerge as the superior form of government. The people would see its success and choose democracy, or if they still desired, they could shrug off the fortune and stick with communism.

To that end, Wallace soon announced the Roosevelt Plan, which would mark a significant investment on the part of the United States in the rebuilding of Europe post-WWII. It was named for Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady, whom Wallace named as an American ambassador of goodwill. She and a team from the State Department oversaw the distribution of some $11 billion in aid to Europe. The program is widely credited with stabilizing much of the continent post-WWII and Roosevelt’s leadership is credited with significantly advancing the political progress of women in the United States and around the world.

There was swift condemnation of Wallace’s ideas in America, with many politicians saying that his ideas were dangerous. Within his own party, some Democrats dissented, calling for a policy of “containment.” Among them was Dean Acheson in the State Department, who resigned his post. Republican Senator Arthur Vandenburg was an early opponent of the Wallace Doctrine, advancing the alternative idea of containing communism to its present states.

Wallace hedged on involving the United States in the Turkish Straits Crisis, believing that he and Stalin had an understanding that the USSR would not encroach beyond its sphere. Secretary of State Claude Pepper assured European allies that the Wallace administration was unafraid of involving itself if the Soviet Union moved too close to Western Europe, but it was difficult to define where exactly that line existed.

The Wallace Doctrine faced its most precipitous test during the Greek Civil War in 1947, when Wallace again hedged on outright U.S. involvement. Though the United Kingdom tried to support the Kingdom of Greece, it was ultimately not enough, and the government collapsed in January of 1948. The fall of Greece to communism sent shockwaves throughout the world. Wallace urged Americans and the global community to remain calm. He assured the American people that communist influence was “unwelcomed” beyond Greece’s borders, drawing a clear line beyond which the USSR could not cross. For the remainder of Wallace’s presidency, Stalin respected that line.

Some historians would later describe Wallace as a communist sympathizer or a shill for Stalin. That was not an accurate – or at least, not a complete – portrayal of the 33rd president. He weighed considerable military support in the Greek Civil War before ultimately deciding against it, and he came to believe that allowing further communist advancement had the potential to imperil America’s safety. The speed with which the communist forces toppled the Kingdom of Greece compelled Wallace to support American entry into a strategic alliance with Western European forces, forming NATO.

The decision heightened tensions between Wallace, Stalin, and their respective countries, but in an address to the United Nations, Wallace articulated his belief that NATO was merely a defensive organization – that it was meant to enforce the existing Wallace Doctrine and ensure that each superpower could reliably maintain its influence without fear of one power coming to dominate the world.

Though NATO did much to reassure weary Americans about global stability, Republicans and conservative Democrats were quick to ask the question: Who lost Greece? It was a slogan meant as a rebuke to the Wallace Doctrine, one that made an indelible impression on the American people and kept foreign policy – and communist encroachment – top of mind in the 1948 elections.

Domestically, Wallace struggled to enact his agenda and was soon outright blocked after the sweeping Republican victories of the 1946 Midterm elections. Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over Wallace’s veto, hampering the strength of unions. When Wallace made a concerted push for anti-lynching and voting rights legislation, he was blocked by a conservative bloc consisting of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats. In his frustration, Wallace turned to the only tool he had at his disposal – the bully pulpit.

Wallace’s push, though unsuccessful, came in the context of cultural changes in attitudes towards integration. In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in the major leagues of baseball, and Wallace became the first president to address the NAACP.

Wallace aggressively toured throughout the South, criticizing state policies towards Black Americans, and vowing federal opposition to Jim Crow practices. Through executive order, he desegregated the United States military. In 1948, he also announced he was appointing William Hastie as Secretary of the Interior. Hastie’s nomination was blocked by a Southern filibuster, severely ratcheting up tensions between Wallace and the Southern wing of the Democratic Party. Though Hastie was never confirmed, the nomination sparked the Dixiecrats to walk out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention, simultaneously enabling a Wallace re-nomination and deluding his strength as the Democratic Party’s nominee heading into the November election.

The filibuster of the Hastie nomination also inspired the March on Washington in September of 1948, when the Senate briefly returned from recess. Organized primarily by A. Philip Randolph, the March called for the Senate to end its filibuster of the Hastie nomination and bring it to a straight up-or-down vote. Though the March did not succeed in its stated aim of confirming Hastie, it did show the organizational strength of Black Americans. Nearly 200,000 Americans participated, including President Wallace, who addressed the assembly and praised their activism. In his own remarks that day, Hastie choked up and promised that one day an African-American would “sit in the cabinet room, not just at the table as a Secretary but at the head of the table as President.”

Wallace over-performed expectations in the 1948 election, but still came up short, failing to secure a term of his own.

He is remembered for his complex presidency. In terms of foreign policy, some historians look back and wonder what-if he’d been quicker to resist the expansion of communism, but he was no peacenik. Throughout his time in office, he invested in further development of nuclear technology, including the atom bomb. While he’d refused to use it, it was only because he believed it was possible to achieve peace without using it. He would not have hesitated to act if he believed it necessary.

His decision to ultimately join NATO also proved important to setting the global stage for his successor and subsequent American and Soviet leaders. He did not believe that the Soviet Union should go totally unchecked, even if he believed in giving them some leeway in their half of the globe.

He failed to achieve much of his desired domestic agenda. Conservatives blocked his national health insurance program, his anti-lynching legislation, his voting rights legislation, and they overrode a veto on labor legislation that set back the movement significantly. But he did leave his mark on American politics.

Though Hastie was never confirmed to the cabinet, Wallace was able to name Harrie B. Chase as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and Idaho Senator Glen H. Taylor as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taylor’s nomination was only made possible after Wallace agreed to sacrifice his initial choice, New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio. In comparison, Taylor seemed tame and was narrowly placed at the helm of the nation’s highest court. Wallace’s earlier nomination of Chase, a Vermont Republican with more liberal views, also eased some opposition to Taylor later on.

One of his most important acts came in December of 1948, after he had already been rendered a lame duck president by the American electorate. It was then that Wallace signed an executive order desegregating federal buildings, including those in the South, such as government offices and federal courthouses. The move angered Southern Democrats and set up an important legal battle over Jim Crow, which would reach its climax during the next few years.

Wallace died in 1965 at the age of 77.


[1] This is per his OTL speech which got him removed from the Truman cabinet.

[2] This is also per his OTL speech.
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Gone Fishin'
Why do I feel like we might see an Eleanor Roosevelt presidency in this TL with the progress made on women's rights and her appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador
Presidential review time.

Henry "Anti-Lemay" Wallace seems to be a nicer president in comparison to the many who served in the nightmare that was Watchtower. While I personally disagree with the handling of the situation in Greece, it is interesting to see him divide the world into 2 blocs and have a neutral China.

Oh, and the guy wanted to remove Jim Crow laws. Nice.
I'm definitely more in the rehabilitation camp when it comes to Henry Wallace, and this depiction represents him quite fairly. Overall, I don't think Wallace alone could have averted the Cold War. However, if you were going to avert it, Wallace would be the guy you need. Eager to see where the TL goes from here!


Monthly Donor
A solid start to what looks to be a solid timeline.

The opening was well-written, reflecting Wallace's portrayal in the (in)famous For All Time and most works after that portraying him and/or his legacy very negatively (The Footprint of Mussolini and The North Star is Red come to mind rather quickly), or very positively (no examples come to mind at the moment aside from Oliver Stone's own speculative thoughts in his docuseries, but Watching from San Diego is a more down-to-earth variant of a successful Wallace Presidency) with hardly any realistic takes like this in-between.

After the amazing dumpster fire that the U.S. descended into in All Along The Watchtower, I am very much looking forward to seeing where this one goes!
I like this so far. You did a good job of balancing Wallace out. That being said, Does he still establish the Department of Defense and the National Security Council as Truman did historically with Congress?

Deleted member 81475

Very much looking forward to this. A great depiction of Wallace as someone with good intentions yet with reasonable criticism (some from unreasonable people).

And so many options for the Republicans. Vandenberg, Taft, Dewey, MacArthur, Stassen, and Warren are the obvious ones, but we've also got options like Bricker or Bourke Hickenlooper (who, like Taft, might struggle to run on isolationist instincts).

Edit: oh, and Henry Luce!
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Another interesting TLIAW! Watched, of course.

BONUS - President Henry Wallace in...
Against the Grain: Surprisingly Competent.
The North Star is Red: "I did what I could."
The Footprint of Mussolini: SPAWN OF SATAN!
Wow, I wasn't expecting the utopian version so soon. Very excited!

It's off to a great start. I concur with others that this depiction of Wallace is very good, making him out to be much more nuanced and three-dimensional than he is typically remembered. Certainly he still comes across as a bit naive, but in a way that makes you sympathetic rather than aghast.

It's interesting to think about his presidency and legacy ITTL. Looking at this update alone, he comes across as a bit of a failure — not without his positives, but largely a president who failed to achieve much of his agenda and had mixed results in foreign affairs. On the other hand, knowing that this is a utopian project, the progress on women's and civil rights seems hardly a throwaway detail, and he managed to make "the second-most liberal member of the U.S. Senate" (per Wikipedia) the Chief Justice for, oh, some three decades. Seems like he'll be looked back on fondly in hindsight! And of course that's not considering things like the possibility of no nuclear weapons and no Cold War, which may not be fully understood or appreciated ITTL, though are obviously a massive success from our POV.

Also, kudos for the POD here. Given this is a counterpart to Watchtower, it would have been very easy — and tempting — to start it in reverse, as many of us speculated in that thread, with the actions of a conservative president in the 60s causing a severe a backlash. Going back to the 40s, and having it open with good government (broadly), immediately establishes this as somethingmore than the other side of the coin.

PS: Love the pun for the title.