Post by Rich Rostrom Post by David Tenner
(3) In any event, the dumping of Wallace in 1944, which Oliver Stone so
laments, was almost inevitable. If nothing else, the "guru letters" to
Nicholas Roerich would have been a serious burden on the Democratic
ticket. In 1940, it was possible for the Democrats to keep them out of
the public eye by blackmailing Willkie: you don't talk about the guru
letters and we won't talk about your affair with Irita Van Doren. But
AFAIK Dewey had no affairs to conceal. Given the state of FDR's health
in 1944, what would voters think about risking the presidency of a man
who could write, as Wallace did a few days after FDR's first
That would be March 1933? By 1944,
Post by David Tenner
I have been thinking of you holding the casket--the sacred, most
precious casket. And I have thought of the New Country going forth to
meet the seven stars and under the sign of the three stars. And I have
thought of the admonition "Await the Stone."
We await the Stone and we welcome you again to this glorious land of
destiny, clouded though it may be with strange fumbling fears. Who
shall hold up the compelling vision to those who wander in darkness? In
answer to this question we again welcome you. To drive out depression.
To drive out fear...
Roerich retained some credibility through the 1930s.
When did Wallace break off contact with him?
When was the last "Guru Letter" dated?
Also, when did FDR learn about them? He would
have learned no later than 1940, at the time of
the counter-blackmail against Willkie.
Surely he did _not_ know before picking Wallace
for VP? (At least, that they existed and the
Republicans had them.) What, and when did he know
about Wallace's relationship with Roerich?
When the U.S. turned against Roerich, did Wallace
assure FDR that he too was through with Roerich?
In short, could Wallace say (especially in 1944),
"OK, yeah, I wrote those letters, but that was a
long time ago, and I got over it.")
As to the "inevitability" of Wallace being dropped
in 1944. It seems odd to me that after having to
impose Wallace on the convention in 1940, FDR then
had to impose his replacement in 1944.
FDR's first choice was Jimmy Byrnes. If he had
stuck with Byrnes, could Wallace have won at the
convention? The bosses who didn't like Wallace
were no happier with Byrnes.
President Dewey? Probably. But WI the popular
vote swing is only about 2.5%? That would give
Dewey 290 electoral votes, but FDR would still
win the popular vote by 2.5% (instead of 7.5%).
What are the implications of that? Especially
as it emphasizes the impact of Jim Crow?
Or, here is a real barnburner: suppose FDR had
been forced to withdraw just before the convention
by an incident of obvious illness.
I can't see Truman winning the nomination; it
would come down to Vice President Wallace against
"Assistant President" Byrnes, and Wallace would
IMHO carry the day.
President Dewey? Surely.
(1) Wallace broke with Roerich in 1935. (He became convinced that Roerich was
using a scientific expedition to Manchuria and Inner Mongolia for political
purposes.) In fact, he turned against Roerich quite vehemently, which is one
reason the Roerichs and their assistant Frances Grant were determined to get
their revenge a few years later by giving the letters to the Republicans.
(2) Leading Democrats found out about the "guru letters" in late August 1940.
Anna Rosenberg, who heard gossip about it at a cocktail party in New York,
was alarmed ("Oh God, out of a hundred million Americans we had to pick him
for vice president!") and rushed to Washington to tell Harry Hopkins the
news. Hopkins got photostatic copies of the letters through an aide with
ties to reporters. (The originals were thought to be held by the Republican
national treasurer in a Wall Street bank vault.) Hopkins sifted through the
letters, and summoned Sam Rosenman; the two agreed that the letters if made
public would make Wallace look mystical at best and irrational at worst.
Hopkins asked Rosenman if it was too late to remove Wallace from the ticket
and Rosenman said that it was. Both men then saw FDR; accounts vary of what
his reaction was, but it seems clear that he did not favor removing Wallace
from the ticket. (My own favorite version of what happened has FDR asking if
Wallace's relationship with Frances Grant was physical or metaphysical, and
on being told that it was purely spiritual, throwing up his hands and saying,
"we can handle sex but we can't handle religion"...)
(3) The usual version of why the letters weren't used is that Willkie was
afraid of the Democrats retaliating by revealing his relationship with Irita
Van Doren. However, in his memoirs, Joe Martin, who had been GOP national
chairman at the time, said that he was the one who decided, late in the
campaign, not to use the letters. He was concerned that "voters might
conclude that the Republican Party was resorting to a last-minute smear." He
added, oddly, "Furthermore I didn't know anything about this fellow Guru.
[!!--DT] Maybe he had a great many more followers than any of us realized.
Why kick away their votes?" http://tinyurl.com/l8cm5mu
(4) There is of course a case to be made that Wallace could simply have said
that this happened years ago, that it was not important, etc. The problem is
perhaps not so much the letters themselves as the way Wallace would have
reacted to their revelation. In OTL, when Westbrook Pegler raised the issue
of the letters in some columns in 1947-8, Wallace handled it very poorly at a
press conference. To Pegler, who asked if he had written the letters, he
said "I never engage in any discussions with Westbrook Pegler." To other
reporters who repeated Pegler's question, he said "I will not engage in any
discussion with any stooge of Westbrook Pegler." A reporter from the
*Washington Post* objected that she was no stooge of Pegler's, that she did
not agree with his columns, but that she thought Wallace should say whether
he wrote the letters or not. Wallace refused.
Finally, a well-known journalist asked Wallace, "Would you consider me a
Pegler stooge?" Everyone, including Wallace, laughed.
"No, Mr. Mencken," Wallace said. "I would never consider you anybody's
Mencken continued, "Well, then, it's a simple question. We've all written
love letters in our youth that would bring a blush later on. There's no
shame in it. This is a question that all of us here would like to have
answered, so we can move on to weightier things."
"I will handle that in my own way and in my own time."
"But why? These things have no importance."
"Let's get on to something important."
"Why not now?" asked Mencken. "We are all here."
Wallace still would not answer. When Doris Fleeson said "some people
defended you and your actions in 1940 and 1944. You owe it to them to clear
up this matter," Wallace said he would--but not here.
(David Pietrusza, *1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year That
Transformed America,*, p. 257)
If Wallace would handle the issue that badly in 1944, the Democratic ticket
would be in serious trouble. I realize that usually the choice of vice-
president doesn't affect that many votes, but I believe this could have been
an exception (especially given the concerns about FDR's health). And that
1948 was not an aberration for Wallace on this issue is clear--he *never*
really owned up to the letters. As his sympathetic biographers, John C.
Culver and John Hyde, write in *American Dreamer: The Life and Times of
Henry A. Wallace*, p. 134:
"At least some of these mysterious letters were of questionable authenticity.
The typewritten letters, for example, contain spelling errors that would have
been uncharacteristic of Wallace. Wallace himself did what he could to muddy
the question of their authorship. When the letters almost became public
during the campaign of 1940, Wallace prepared a statement (never released)
flatly denying he wrote them. In 1948, when portions of the letters did
become public, Wallace contemptuously refused to talk about them at all.
"Several years later, in the oral history he gave to Columbia University,
Wallace offered a carefully hedged explanation of the letters. The so-called
guru letters, he said, consisted of 'unsigned, undated notes, which I knew I
had never sent to Nicholas Roerich, but there were a few letters addressed to
Nicholas Roerich signed by me and dated which were written in rather high-
"This was Wallace's only recorded comment on the guru letters, and it was
misleading at best. Many of the letters, as Wallace well knew, were not
addressed to the guru but to others around him, including Roerich's wife and
son and his chief assistant, Frances Grant. The authenticity of the
handwritten letters, as Wallace in effect acknowledged, was indisputable.
Even the typewritten letters comport, in tone and substance, with other
letters of a spiritual nature written by Wallace during the 1920s and
(5) It is true that a lot of delegates were in favor of Wallace's
renomination in 1944, and FDR had to intervene to prevent it. But I wonder
how many of the delegates knew about the letters? (I suppose some of them
may have heard gossip about them, but most delegates are not really political
insiders, and most people knew nothing about the letters until 1947.) In any
event, FDR's intervention, if not quite inevitable, was certainly very
likely; he knew that most of the pro-Wallace people would vote for him
anyway, and had to worry about swing voters.
(6) If FDR had to withdraw on grounds of health, Wallace would be the front-
runner, and Byrnes would be more or less a regional candidate, with little
chance to win the nomination. This does not necessarily mean Wallace would
get an outright majority, but if a compromise candidate were to be chosen--
and I don't know who it would be--it would almost certainly *not* have been
Truman. Maybe William O. Douglas as a somewhat less controversial (at the
time) liberal than Wallace?