Henry A. Wallace

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Henry A. Wallace

Henry Agard Wallace was an agricultural innovator who served as the 33rd Vice President of the United States (1941–1945), the Secretary of Agriculture (1933–1940), and the Secretary of Commerce (1945–1946). He ran for President in 1948 as the nominee of the Progressive Party.

Early years

Wallace was born October 7, 1888 in Iowa. He, his father, and grandfather, all named Henry, shared a passion for improving agriculture in the United States. Henry Agard Wallace was particularly interested in how to maintain "hybrid vigor" in plant breeding. He was heavily influenced by George Washington Carver, the famous African-American agronomist, who lived in the Wallace home while attending Iowa State University. Henry earned a Bachelor's degree in animal husbandry from Iowa State in 1910. In addition to writing articles and editing an agricultural journal, Wallace worked as a statistician. In 1926 he founded the Hi-Bred Corn Company and became very prosperous.

Connection to the Theosophical Society

Wallace was raised as a Presbyterian, but explored other religious traditions. He was drawn to mysticism, and became friends with Irish poet George William Russell (known as AE), who like Wallace, edited an agricultural journal.[1]

All manner of esoteric phenomena fascinated him: seances, symbols, secret societies, rituals, astrology, Native American religion, Oriental Philosophy. In the realm of the mystical, little escaped his curiosity... As early as 1919 he attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society at its Des Moines lodge, and his interest intensified over several years."[2]

He joined the Des Moines Lodge of the American Theosophical Society on May 27, 1925 and paid dues until 1932. The lodge maintained his dues until December, 1935.[3] He also helped to organize a Des Moines parish of the Liberal Catholic Church, but later became an Episcopalian. Wallace corresponded with Theosophist George William Russell, the poet known as Æ, and with mystical painter Nicholas Roerich.

Sidney A. Cook invited Wallace to give an address at the 1934 annual convention of the Theosophical Society in America. The program was announced in this way:

We expect to be honored by the presence of the Honorable Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture in the President's Cabinet, who has indicated his desire to be present if he can so shape his program of other activities as to bring him to Chicago during our Convention. He has graciously stated his keen desire to so arrange that there may be an opportunity to participate in our program.[4]

A followup article the next month stated,

The Honorable Henry A. Wallace finds that he will be detained in the East in connection with official activities just at the time when our Convention will be held, but we believe that if these official engagements should be revised, Secretary Wallace will still endeavor to be with us, and we have assured him of a place on the program at whatever time may be convenient for him to come.[5]

Evidently Wallace was able to attend after all, because a member wrote of the convention "in 1934 when Henry Wallace, then the Secretary of Agriculture – later to become vice-president of the U.S., was a guest."[6]

Political career

Wallace was a progressive Republican. In 1933 he was appointed to be Secretary of Agriculture in the cabinet of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and was very successful in that position, promoting research, soil conservation, scientific methods, and school lunch programs. In 1940, Roosevelt selected him as a running mate, and Wallace served as Vice President for four years. In 1944, Roosevelt decided to have Harry Truman join him as his running mate, but asked Wallace to stay on as Secretary of Commerce. Truman fired him from that position in 1946, and Wallace edited The New Republic for several years. In 1948 he made a run at the Presidency on a Progressive ticket, but his campaign was damaged by publication of the "Guru Letters" to Nicholas Roerich, and he lost the election.

Guru Letters

The New York Times printed an excellent summary of the Guru Letters episode:

On Wallace's orders in 1934, the Agriculture Department funded an expedition to Inner Mongolia led by Roerich. It proved more than a botanic quest as the seer plunged into Asian politics, roaming with a Cossack bodyguard, exhorting Buddhist masses to rise in revolt. Knowing nothing of this, Wallace took up another Roerich idea and, it is said, persuaded the Treasury to engrave the Great Seal's mystic pyramid on new dollar bills. He also persuaded Roosevelt to join with 21 Latin republics in signing a Roerich plan to protect art treasures with a "Banner of Peace."

Later, Wallace heard shocked accounts of the Mongolian debacle and broke with the guru. But Roerich already possessed injudicious letters from Wallace written in a silly code, as in this passage referring to Japan, Britain and Manchuria: The Monkeys are seeking friendship with the Rulers so as to divide the land of the Masters between them. The Wandering One thinks this, and is very suspicious of Monkeys.

F.D.R.'s aides were stunned in 1940 when they learned that a Pittsburgh newspaper had acquired the so-called guru letters. Roosevelt was seeking a third term and exposure would make Wallace, his running mate, look gullible, or worse. Wallace was all but ordered to brand them forgeries. To seal the secret, word went out that if Republicans brought up the letters, Democrats would bring up Wendell Willkie's adulterous affairs.

Nothing was heard about the letters until the Roosevelt-hating Hearst columnist, Westbrook Pegler, published excerpts that Wallace stonily refused to discuss in his third-party Presidential campaign in 1948. The old guru had died the year before in India, confident, one must assume, that the locks of the Fourth Gate would yet unbolt.[7]

Later years

After retiring from politics, Mr. Wallace took up agricultural work again with great success. He died on November 18, 1965.


Several books and articles written by Henry Wallace were sold by the Theosophical Press and recommended on reading lists for members of the Society, including New Frontiers, Statesmanship and Religion, and "Cooperation: the Dominant Economic Idea of the Future".


  • Agricultural Prices. 1920.
  • New Frontiers. 1934.
  • America Must Choose. New York: Foreign Policy Association, 1934. Limited availability from Hathitrust.
  • Statesmanship and Religion. New York: Round Table Press, 1934. Limited availability from Hathitrust.
  • Whose Constitution? New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1936.
  • Technology, Corporations, and the General Welfare. 1937.
  • Paths to Plenty. 1939.
  • The American Choice. New York, Reynal & Hitchcock [c1940]. Limited availability from Hathitrust.
  • The Century of the Common Man. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943. Limited availability from Hathitrust.
  • Democracy Reborn. 1944.
  • Sixty Million Jobs. 1945.
  • Soviet Asia Mission. 1946.
  • Toward World Peace. 1948.
  • Where I Was Wrong. 1952.
  • The Price of Vision – The Diary of Henry A. Wallace 1942–1946. 1973. Edited by John Morton Blum. Limited availability from Hathitrust.

Articles, pamphlets, and published addresses

Ten articles about Henry Wallace were printed in Theosophical journals, according to the Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals.

  • "Cooperation: the Dominant Economic Idea of the Future". New York: The Cooperative League, 1936. This article is available on a limited basis from Hathitrust. It was excerpted from pages 309 to 327 of Ẁhose Constitution published by Reynal and Hitchcock, New York.
  • "Democracy and the Farm". 1939. "Remarks by Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, at the Fourth General Assembly, Council of State Governments, Washington, D.C., January 18, 1939, at 2:30 P.M., E.S.T., broadcast by NBC and associated radio stations." Limited availability from Hathitrust.
  • "Farmers, Consumers, and Middle Men ". 1939. 8 pages. Limited availability from Hathitrust.

Additional resources

  • Henry Wallace Natal Horoscope at Khaldea.
  • Papers of Henry A. Wallace. MsC 177. Special Collections. University of Iowa Libraries. (A large archival collection of 168 linear feet.)
  • Elwood, Robert. "The Theosophical Vice President" The Quest 89.4 (Jul 2001): 156-157. Book review of American Dreamer: the Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace by John C. Culver and John Hyde.
  • Culver, John C. and Hyde, John. American Dreamer: the Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace. New York: Norton, 2000.
  • Steil, Benn. The World That Wasn't: Henry Wallace and the Fate of the American Century. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2024. 704 pages.


  1. Richard Morgan Kain and James Howard O'Brien. George Russell (A. E.) (London: Bucknell University Press, 1976), 27.
  2. John C. Culver and John Hyde. American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace" (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 78.
  3. Membership microfilm records. Ledger Cards Roll 8. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  4. "Olcott Sessions: Summer 1934," The American Theosophist 22.7 (July, 1934), 153.
  5. "Olcott Sessions: Summer 1934," The American Theosophist 22.8 (August, 1934), 176.
  6. Victor Russell."Episodes in the History of the American Section of The Theosophical Society, with particular Reference to the Selection and Development of the Present Headquarters Building and Estate" Talk given to staff members at Theosophical Society in America headquarters, Wheaton, Illinois on December 31, 1979. Records Series 10.03.01. Theosophical Society in America archives
  7. Karl E. Meyer, "The Editorial Notebook: The Two Roerichs Are One," New York Times (January 22, 1988). Available at New York Times.