Henry Wallace and the “Century of the Common Man”


I recently wrote an article titled Henry Luce and the American Century (Empire) where I quote the prevailing thoughts of what was to become American foreign policy strategy for years to come:

As America enters dynamically upon the world scene, we need most of all to seek and to bring forth a vision of America as a world power…which will guide us to the authentic creation of the 20th Century – our Century.

It is for America and for America alone to determine whether a system of free economic enterprise – an economic order compatible with freedom and progress – shall or shall not prevail in this century.

Some few decisions are quite simple. For example: we have to decide whether or not we shall have for ourselves and our friends freedom of the seas – the right to go with our ships and our ocean-going airplanes where we wish, when we wish and as we wish.

It now becomes our time to be the powerhouse

Luce published those statements in LIFE magazine in February of 1941.

In 1942, Henry Wallace delivered a speech where he criticized the American Century and instead argued for a Century of the Common Man:

Some have spoken of the “American Century.” I say that the century on which we are entering — the century which will come into being after this war — can be and must be the century of the common man.

I happen to like Wallace’s speech and so I pulled out the best parts. I think it should be required reading for anyone interested in American history.

The Century of the Common Man, delivered 8 May 1942, Grand Ballroom, Commodore Hotel, New York, NY to an audience representing 33 different nations:

HENRY WALLACE: I want to say to all — all who in a formal or an informal way represent most if not all of the free people — free peoples of the world who are met here tonight, that we are meeting in the interests of the millions of all the nations who have freedom in their souls. To my mind, this meeting has just one purpose: to let those millions in the other countries know that here in the United States are 130 million men, women, and children who are in this war to the finish. Our American people are utterly resolved to go on until they can strike the relentless blows that will assure a complete victory, and with it a new day for the lovers of freedom everywhere on this earth.

This is a fight between a slave world and a free world. Just as in the United States in 1862, we could not remain “half slave” and “half free,” so in 1942 the world must make its decision for a complete victory, one way or the other.

As we begin the final stages of this fight to the death between the free world and the slave world, it is worthwhile to refresh our minds about the march of freedom for the common man. The idea of freedom — the freedom that we in the United States know and love so well — is derived from the Bible, with its extraordinary emphasis on the dignity of the individual. Democracy is the only true political expression of Christianity.

Men and women can not be really free until they have plenty to eat, and time and ability to read and think and talk things over. Down the years, the people of the United States have moved steadily forward in the practice of democracy. Through universal education, they can now read and write and form opinions of their own. They have learned, and are still learning, the art of production — how to make a living. They have learned, and are still learning, the art of self-government.

Everywhere the common people are on the march. By the millions they are learning to read and write, learning to think together, learning to use tools. They’re learning to think and work together in labor movements, some of which may be extreme or a little impractical at first, but which eventually will settle down to serve effectively the interests of the common man.

When the freedom-loving people march; when the farmers have an opportunity to buy land at reasonable prices and sell the produce of their land through their own organizations; when workers have the opportunity to form unions and bargain through them collectively; and when the children of all the people have an opportunity to attend schools which teach them that truth of the real world — when these opportunities are open to everyone, then the world moves straight ahead.

But in countries where the ability to read and write has been recently acquired — mind you, 62% of the world today do not yet know how to read and write. But in those countries where the ability has been recently acquired or where the people have had no long experience in governing themselves on the basis of their own thinking, it is easy for demagogues to arise and prostitute the mind of the common man to their own base ends. Such a demagogue may get financial help from some person of wealth who is unaware of what the end result will be. With this backing, the demagogue may dominate the minds of the people, and, from whatever degree of freedom they have, lead them back into a most degraded slavery. Herr Thyssen, the wealthy German steel man, little realized what he was doing when he gave Hitler enough money to enable him to play on the minds of the German people.

The demagogue is the curse of the modern world, and of all the demagogues, the worst are those financed by well-meaning wealthy men who sincerely believe that their wealth is likely to be safer if they can hire men with political “it” to change the — the sign posts and lure the people back into slavery. Unfortunately for the wealthy men who finance movements of this sort, as well as for the people themselves, the successful demagogue is a powerful genie who, when once let out of his bottle, refuses to obey anyone’s command. As long as his spell holds, he defies God Himself, and Satan is turned loose on the world.

The search of the freedom — The march of freedom of the past 150 years has been a long-drawn-out people’s revolution. In this Great Revolution of the people, there were the American Revolution of 1775, the French Revolution of 1792, the Latin-American revolutions of the Bolivarian era, the German Revolution of 1848, and the Russian Revolution of 191[7]. Each spoke for the common man in terms of blood on the battlefield. Some went to excess. But the significant thing is that the people groped their way to the light. More of them learned to think and work together.

The people’s revolution aims at peace and not at violence, but if the rights of the common man are attacked, it unleashes the ferocity of the she-bear who has lost a cub.

The people, in their millennial and revolutionary march toward manifesting here on earth the dignity that is in every human soul, hold as their credo the Four Freedoms enunciated by President Roosevelt in his message to Congress on January 6th, 1941. These four freedoms are the very core of the revolution for which the United Nations have taken their stand. We who live in the United States may think there is nothing very revolutionary about freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom from fear — freedom from the secret police. But when we begin to think about the significance of freedom from want for the average man, then we know that the revolution of the past 150 years has not been completed, either here in the United States or any place else in the world. We know that this revolution can not stop until freedom from want has actually been attained.

Some have spoken of the “American Century.” I say that the century on which we are entering — the century which will come into being after this war — can be and must be the century of the common man.

The methods of the 19th century will not work in the people’s century,

International cartels that serve American greed and German will to power must go. Cartels in the peace to come must be subjected to international control for the common man, as well as being under adequate control by the respective home governments.

Yes, and when the time of peace comes, the citizen will again have a duty; the consumer will have a duty — the supreme duty of sacrificing the lesser interest for the greater interest of the general welfare. Those who write the peace must think of the whole world. There can be no privileged peoples. We ourselves in the United States are no more a master race than the Nazis. And we can not perpetuate economic warfare without planting the seeds of military warfare. We must use our power at the peace table to build an economic peace that is charitable and enduring.

The people’s revolution is on the march, and the devil and all his angels can not prevail against it.

Thanks for reading,


Full speech: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/henrywallacefreeworldassoc.htm

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