ⓘ Progressive Party (United States, 1948)


ⓘ Progressive Party (United States, 1948)

The United States Progressive Party of 1948 was a left-wing political party that served as a vehicle for former Vice President Henry A. Wallaces 1948 presidential campaign. The party sought desegregation, the establishment of a national health insurance system, an expansion of the welfare system, and the nationalization of the energy industry. The party also sought conciliation with the Soviet Union during the early stages of the Cold War.

Wallace had served as vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt but was dropped from the Democratic ticket in 1944. Following the end of World War II, Wallace emerged as a prominent critic of President Harry S. Trumans Cold War policies. Wallaces supporters held the 1948 Progressive National Convention, which nominated a ticket consisting of Wallace and Democratic Senator Glen H. Taylor of Idaho. Despite challenges from Wallace, Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey, and Strom Thurmond of the segregationist Dixiecrats, Truman won re-election in the 1948 election. Wallace won 2.4% of the vote, which was far less than the share received by Theodore Roosevelt and Robert La Follette, the presidential candidates of the 1912 and 1924 Progressive Party tickets, respectively. Neither of those parties was directly related to Wallaces party, though these parties did carry over ideological groups and influenced many members of the 1948 Progressive Party.

After the election, Wallace recanted his foreign policy views and became estranged from his former supporters. The party nominated attorney Vincent Hallinan in the 1952 presidential election, and Hallinan won 0.2% of the national popular vote. The party began to disband in 1955 as opponents of anti-Communism became increasingly unpopular, and was mostly fully dissolved by the late 1960s with the exception of a few affiliated state Progressive Parties.

The Progressive Party of Henry Wallace was, and remains, controversial due to the issue of communist influence. The party served as a safe haven for communists, fellow travelers and anti-war liberals during the Second Red Scare. Prominent Progressive Party supporters included U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio and writer Norman Mailer.


1. Foundation

The formation of the Progressive Party began in 1946, after Secretary of Commerce and former Vice President Henry A. Wallace was sacked in 1946 from the Truman administration having begun to publicly oppose Trumans policies. Calls for a third party had been growing even before Wallace, who was replaced as vice president by Franklin D. Roosevelt with the more moderate Truman at the 1944 Democratic National Convention, left the Truman Administration.

Wallace disliked the hard line that Truman was taking against the Soviet Union, a stance that won him favor among fellow travelers and others who were opposed to what became known as the Cold War. He received support from two major organizations, the National Citizens Political Action Committee NCPAC and the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions ICCASP, political action committees PACs that had been created to support Roosevelt. These two organizations merged in December 1946 as the Progressive Citizens of America PCA, which formed the backbone of the Progressive Party and Henry Wallaces bid for US President on July 23–25, 1948, when the 1948 Progressive National Convention in Philadelphia launched a "New Party" to a crowd of enthusiastic liberal and left-leaning citizens.

In her book School of Darkness 1954, Bella Dodd, an American Communist Party National Committee member who later left and went on to give anti-Communist testimony before Congress, wrote about a June 1947 Communist National Committee meeting she attended at which the founding of the 1948 Progressive Party was planned:

The point of it all came near the end, when Dennis and his clique of smart boys were reserving to themselves the right to make the final decision, and that the Party in general was being kept pretty much in the dark.


2. Communist influence

In February 1948, two days before a special election put American Labor Party candidate Leo Isacson into Congress, The New York Times analyzed the shifting background of the Progressive Party:

The question involved in the special election is how strongly the Labor Communist Party. He would never do anything to upset them." p. 66



I urge elimination of groups and factions in this new party movement. This movement is as broad as humanity itself. I urge that we accept all people who wish for a peaceful understanding between the United States and Soviet Russia. … We can get the support of these people if they realize that we do not represent one group. If we are going to be a party of 20 million, there are going to be many kinds of people in that party. Keep the door open.

The slogan of the "New Party", and the name many used to refer to the party forming around Henry Wallace, was appropriately "Fight for Peace". A major drive for Henry Wallace had always been the ending of the hostile relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and the acceptance of Russian influence in Europe. These sentiments were first put forward by Wallace in 1944, but those same sentiments soon began to take a more dramatic tone, as a sense of urgency and anxiety for peace settled in with the beginning of the arms race and the Cold War. Yet, while the "New Party" may be best remembered for its anti-war, pro-Russian relations, it sought to include an incredibly broad range of issues and interests. Wallace, and many others in the party, sought to create something more than a single-issue party, to the objection of other leaders in the party who felt that would be their undoing. Nevertheless, the platform of the party and the range of issues it covered show the diversity of the people who formed the "New Party" in 1948, which included many socialists as well as communists. Among the policies the Progressive Party hoped to implement were the end of all Jim Crow laws/segregation in the South, the advancement of womens rights, the continuation of many New Deal policies including national health insurance and unemployment benefits, the expansion of the welfare system, and the nationalization of the energy industry among others.


4. Support in New York from ALP

The American Labor Party ALP "formally organized itself as the New York branch of the Progressive Party."

The ALSP also helped form a "New York State Wallace for President" conference, held on April 3, 1948. ALP leaders Isacson and Marcantonio both spoke there.

During the Progressive Partys convention in July 1948 in Philadelphia, the following committees had the following ALP members:

  • Platform: Lee Pressman, Elinor Gimbel, W.E.B. Dubois, Estelle Osborne, Alfred Stern husband of Martha Dodd, Mary Van Kleeck
  • Rules: Vito Marcantonio, Saul Mills, John Abt, Paul Kern
  • Nominations: Ada Jackson, Grace Liebman, Morris Pizer
  • Credentials: Leo Isacson, Charles Collins, Jose Lopez
  • Arrangements: Elinor Liebmann Gimbel wife of Louis Gimbel, Jr.

5. Prominent supporters

Henry Wallaces bid for the presidency attracted the support of many prominent people in academia and the arts. Among those who publicly supported Wallace were Larry Adler, George Antheil, Marc Blitzstein, Kermit Bloomgarden, Morris Carnovsky, Lee J. Cobb, Aaron Copland, Howard da Silva, W. E. B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, Howard Fast, Uta Hagen, Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, Judy Holliday, Libby Holman, John Huston, Burl Ives, Sam Jaffe, Garson Kanin, Howard E. Koch, John Howard Lawson, Canada Lee, Norman Mailer, Albert Maltz, Thomas Mann, Lewis Milestone, Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, Linus Pauling, S. J. Perelman, Anne Revere, Budd Schulberg, Adrian Scott, Artie Shaw, Philip Van Doren Stern, I. F. Stone, Louis Untermeyer, Mark Van Doren, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Lawson, Maltz and Scott were members of the Hollywood 10, members of the movie industry who were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee HUAC for suspected membership in the Communist Party. Many of Wallaces public supporters were similarly hauled before HUAC and were blacklisted if they did not cooperate.


6. Election results

Running as peace candidates in the nascent Cold War era, the Wallace-Taylor ticket garnered no electoral votes and only 2.4% of the popular vote, far less than most pundits had anticipated; some historians have suggested that the Progressive campaign did Truman more good than harm, as their strident criticism of his foreign policy helped to undercut Republican claims that the administrations policies were insufficiently anti-Communist. Nearly half of these votes were obtained in New York State tipping the state and its 47 electoral votes from Truman to Dewey, where Wallace ran on the American Labor Party ballot line.

On September 11, 1948, for instance, the national committee of the Progressive Party passed a resolution which observed:

The totally unjustified decisions of the Illinois Electoral Board to rule the Progressive Party off the ballot is a clear violation of the most basic democratic concepts.

The decisions rob millions of the free citizens of Illinois of their right to vote for the Party and candidate of their choice. They force the war policies of the old parties down the throats of freedom and peace-loving Americans.

Free Americans cannot - and will not - tolerate stolen elections.

This reflects a growing move by states to limit ballot access by any candidate other than the Republican or Democratic party candidates.


7. The party at state level

In Massachusetts, the anti-war Progressive Party was active in 1948 and faced discrimination in this state also. On May 31, 1948, for instance, the Democratic Mayor of Boston, James Curley, denied the use of the bandstand on the Boston Common to the Progressive Party of Massachusetts. The following month, however, on June 29, one of the African-American leaders of the Progressive Party, Paul Robeson, was allowed to speak in the Crystal Ballroom in Bostons Hotel Bradford.

In Virginia, in 1948, Virginia Foster Durr ran for the U.S. Senate seat on the Progressive ticket.


8. Pop culture connection

One of the Kingston Trios most popular folk songs in the 1950s, "The MTA Song", was written by supporters of the Progressive Party of Massachusetts 1949 Boston mayoralty candidate, Walter A. OBrien. After Bostons publicly funded MTA purchased the privately owned Boston Elevated Railways subway and trolley system for $30 per share more than each share was worth, the MTA imposed a fare increase on the citizens of Boston. Progressive Party mayoral candidate OBrien then led unusually large protests against the MTA fare increase before the 1949 mayoral election. But although his campaigns anti-fare increase song was subsequently turned into a national hit record in the 1950s, OBrien failed to win the local Boston election in 1949. When the Kingston Trio decided to record "The MTA Song", it was apparently agreed to change the first name of the OBrien referred to in the song from "Walter" to "George", because it was feared that a hit record which referred to "Walter OBrien" would make it even more difficult than it already was for the former Progressive Party candidate to find a New England employer who was willing to hire him during the McCarthy Era.


9. Disbandment

After the 1948 election, Henry Wallace grew increasingly estranged from the Progressive Party. His speeches started to include mild criticism of Soviet foreign policy, which was anathema to many leftists in the party. The final break came in 1950, when the Progressive Partys executive committee issued a policy statement against US military involvement in Korea, and soundly rejected Wallaces proposed language criticizing the invasion by communist North Korea. Wallace came out in support of the US intervention in the Korean War, and quit the Progressive Party three weeks later.

In 1952, the Progressive Party ran lawyer Vincent Hallinan for president. Their vice presidential candidate was Charlotta Bass, the first African-American woman ever to run for national office. The campaign attracted little media attention and few votes, and was not even on the ballot in many states. Erstwhile Progressive candidate Henry A. Wallace supported Dwight D. Eisenhower, published an article in the September 7, 1952, issue of This Week magazine a Sunday supplement that was included in 37 American newspapers entitled "Where I Was Wrong," detailing some of his mistakes in not having opposed Stalin strenuously enough. The Progressive Party disbanded in 1955, as the Cold War dominated the political spectrum, and any party which had not taken an anti-Communist position was deemed to be unviable.

The 1948 Progressive Party is only tenuously connected to the original Progressive Party 1912–1932. Members of the 1948 Progressive Party, however, have joined the later state Progressive Parties, thus linking the 1948-1960s group to the Vermont Progressive Party, Wisconsin Progressive Party, Minnesota Progressive Party, California Progressive Party, Oregon Progressive Party, and Washington Progressive Party, as well as the Citizens Party of the 1980s and 90s.

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