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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. 1855 - 1925


Robert M. La Follette, 1906 (WHI-30383)

lawyer, politician, governor, U.S. Senator, known as "Fighting Bob," progenitor of the most famous family in Wisconsin political history, b. Prim-rose, Dane County. Of French Huguenot origin, the family migrated (1850) to Wisconsin by way of Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. Robert grew up on a farm and entered the Univ. of Wisconsin in 1874. While there he edited the campus paper, won the Inter-State Oratorical Contest with an oration on "Iago," and was influenced by the moral and ethical teachings of President John Bascom (q.v.). After graduating (B.A., 1879), he studied law and was admitted to the bar (1880). The same year he was nominated and elected district attorney over the opposition of Madison postmaster and local political boss, Elisha W. Keyes (q.v.). In 1884 he was elected to Congress, again over the opposition of Keyes. As a Republican Congressman, he was active in support of conservation, preservation of the public lands, and economy in public spending. He supported Speaker Thomas B. Reed in organizing the House and favored the McKinley Tariff. He was friendly with Philetus Sawyer (q.v.), Wisconsin Senator and state political boss. Due to a Democratic sweep he was defeated for re-election in 1890. In 1891 he became embroiled with Sawyer in a celebrated controversy over the Treasury Cases. He charged that Sawyer had attempted to bribe him to "fix" the cases with his brother-in-law, Circuit Judge Robert Siebecker (q.v.). Sawyer claimed that he did not know of the personal relationship and had merely sought to retain La Follette as his attorney in the case. This incident colored much of Wisconsin politics for the next decade. La Follette declared war on Sawyer and sought to rid the party of its "corrupt, graftridden system of bosses and special privilege." Sawyer in turn denounced La Follette as a Populist, anarchist, socialist, and ingrate. La Follette backed Nils P. Haugen (q.v.), who was defeated for governor in 1894. La Follette sought the nomination for governor in 1896 and again in 1898 but was defeated in the Republican convention each time. In 1900, after Sawyer's death, he formed, with the assistance of Isaac Stephenson (q.v.), Congressman Joseph W. Babcock (q.v.), and Emanuel L. Philipp (q.v.), a "harmony coalition" that conducted a moderate campaign and avoided personal controversies. Without organized opposition La Follette was nominated by acclamation and elected governor on a platform promising a primary election law and more adequate taxation of railroads and other corporations. This harmony front, however, soon split and the Republican party fell into warring progressive and stalwart factions. Although his reforms were blocked in the legislature, La Follette was able to win re-election in 1902 and in 1904 he virtually destroyed the stalwart faction as a result of the famous "Gymnasium Convention," from which the stalwarts bolted when they were unable to prevent La Follette's renomination for a third term. In these years he had built a powerful Progressive machine which supported his reform program and carried elections for him for the next twenty years. In 1905 he was elected to the U.S. Senate but delayed taking his seat until January, 1906. Under La Follette, the Progressives passed a comprehensive primary election law, reorganized the tax structure of the state, established a permanent Tax Commission, a Railroad Commission, a Civil Service Commission, a Legislative Reference Library, and a State Board of Forestry. He was influential in the subsequent passage of a stringent life insurance code, a state income tax, a corrupt practices act, the establishment of a Conservation Commission, and an Industrial Commission. He promoted the growth of the Univ. of Wisconsin and made wide use of experts and specialists from the University on state boards and commissions. This practice became known as the "Wisconsin Idea" and was widely copied throughout the U.S. In the Senate, La Follette soon became the leader of a small group of progressive senators who constantly prodded the administration toward more liberal legislation. He advocated and was in part responsible for a revitalized Interstate Commerce Commission, a federal corrupt practices act, conservation, employers' liability laws, physical valuation of railroads as a basis for rate making, shorter hours for workers on common carriers, a seaman's act, a federal income tax, direct election of senators, and currency and banking reform. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1911, in 1916, and again in 1922. In 1909 he established La Follette's Magazine which gave him a forum for his views on both national and state topics. In 1912 he sought the Republican presidential nomination against President William H. Taft on an advanced progressive platform with the support of the National Progressive Republican League. Despite early successes, his campaign declined with the entrance into the race of Theodore Roosevelt, who drew many progressives to his support. An unfortunate debacle brought on by excessive fatigue at a Philadelphia publisher's banquet further crippled La Follette's chances. He remained in the race, refusing to compromise with either Taft or Roosevelt. At the convention he received the votes of the Wisconsin delegation and part of the North and South Dakota groups. During World War I he favored strict neutrality, and supported an arms embargo, restrictions on loans and credits, limitations on civilian travel in war zones, and a popular referendum before a declaration of war. He opposed the armed ship bill and was one of six senators who voted against the Declaration of War against Germany. He opposed conscription but sought generally to support the administration's war program. He urged, without success, that the administration adopt a pay-as-you-go policy of financing the war including a massive excess profits tax. He was widely denounced as a German sympathizer and his speeches, notably one in St. Paul, were grossly misquoted. A cry went up to expel him from the Senate and a Senate committee investigated his conduct for more than a year without reaching a decision. In Madison, a majority of the University faculty signed a "Round Robin" resolution protesting against his actions, a resolution of the state legislature denounced him, and the Madison Club expelled him from membership. After the end of the war, the investigation of his conduct was soon quashed, and he took a leading role in the attack upon the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations. During the Harding administration he was the author of the resolution that launched the Senate investigation of the Teapot Dome affair. In 1924 he ran for President on an Independent and Progressive ticket making an exhausting campaign throughout the country advocating disarmament, government ownership of railroads, farm relief, and labor legislation. He polled almost five million votes and carried the electoral vote of Wisconsin. In a very real sense La Follette was the conscience of the Republican party. A surprisingly large number of measures which he advocated have become law. His portrait hangs in the Senate lounge as one of five most outstanding senators in American history. His statue looks down in Statuary Hall of the federal Capitol as Wisconsin's greatest son. View more information. Robert M. La Follette, La Follette's Autobiography . . . (Madison, 1913); Belle Case La Follette and Fola La Follette, Robert M. La Follette (New York, 1953); Robert S. Maxwell, La Follette and the Rise of the Progressives . . . [Madison, 1956]; Dict. Amer. Biog.; Edward N. Doan, The La Follettes and the Wisconsin Idea (New York, 1947).

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of theRobert M. La Follette Papers, 1879-1910, 1922-1924for details. See also the Robert M. La Follette Papers, 1911-1957. See also the La Follette Family Photographs. See also the Launching of the Robert M. La Follette Liberty Ship Photographs. See also the Robert M. La Follette Papers Opening Ceremony Sound Recording.

View related articles at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]

317 records found

"Kissel" (Historic Marker)
Abraham, Harvey R. 1895
Adams, Henry Cullen 1850 - 1906
Adler, David 1821 - 1905
Alexander, Walter 1849 - 1926
Allen Family (Historic Marker Erected 1976)
Allen, Carolyn Blanchard 1921
Allen, William Francis 1830 - 1889
Allis, Edward Phelps 1824 - 1889
American Craftsman (architecture)
Anderson, Gerald K. 1921
Anderson, Thomas Carl 1865 - 1948
Andrews, Frank Edmund 1874 - 1947
Andrews, Roy Chapman (1884 - 1960)
Anneke, Mathilde Franziska (Giesler) 1817 - 1884
Antaramian, John M. 1954
Appleby, John Francis 1840 - 1917
Appleton [brief history]
Armour, Philip Danforth 1832 - 1901
Arte Moderne (architecture)
Austrians in Wisconsin
automobile industry in Wisconsin
Babcock, Joseph Weeks 1850 - 1909
badger [origin of name]
Baird, Henry Samuel 1800 - 1875
Baker, Ray Stannard [David Grayson] 1870 - 1946
Bardeen, Charles Valdo 1850 - 1903
Bardon, Thomas 1848 - 1923
Barnes, Lyman Eddy 1855 - 1904
Beal, Polly W. 1942
Bean, Jacob Linsley 1809 - 1855
Becker, Dismas 1936
Beloit [brief history]
Benson, Taylor
Berceau, Terese 1950
Black Hawk War (1832)
Blanchard, Alvin 1830 - 1910
Blue Mounds (geology)
Bolens, Harry Wilbur 1864 - 1944
Booth, Sherman Miller 1812 - 1904
Bovee, Marvin Henry 1827 - 1888
Boyhood Home of Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906) (Histo
Brandel, John Christian (1842 - 1919)
Brandel, Mary Margaret (1907 - 1993)
Braun, Warren D. 1934
Bravo, Ellen Leslie b. March 25th, 1944
Brevoort, Maj. Henry B.
Brewer, Richard M. (1850-1878)(Historic Marker Ere
Brigham Park (Historic Marker Erected 1955)
Brigham, Jerome Ripley 1825 - 1897
Brown, Thurlow Weed 1819 - 1866
Buck, Philo Melvin Jr. 1877 - 1950
Busby, Allen J. 1900
Buslett, Ole Amundsen 1855 - 1924
Caddie Woodlawn (Historic Marker Erected 1970)
Cargill, William Wallace 1844 - 1909
Caron, or Carron
Carr, Peter P.
Carver Grant
Carver, Jonathan 1710 - 1780
Cary, William Joseph 1865 - 1934
Caspar Partridge case, 1850-1855
Caswell, Lucien Bonaparte 1827 - 1919
Chamberlin, Thomas Chrowder 1843 - 1928
Chapman, Chandler Pease 1844 - 1897
Chilsen, Walter J. 1923
Chynoweth, Mary Hayes (1825-1905)
Cirilli, Arthur A. 1914
Clarenbach, David E. 1953
Clarke, Bascom B., 1851 - 1929
Cochran, Joseph William 1842 - 1914
Coggs, Marcia P. 1928
Colby, Gardner 1810 - 1879
Coleman, William Werner 1835 - 1888
Collie, George Lucius 1857 - 1954
Colman, Charles Lane 1826 - 1901
Columbia County [origin of place name]
Comstock, George Cary 1855 - 1934
Conkey, Theodore 1819 - 1880
Corby, Ellen 1913 - 1999
Cottage Inn, Lafayette Co.
Country Life Movement
Cowles, Robert L. 1950
Cranberry Culture (Historic Marker Erected 1958)
Crawford, George 1849 - 1927
Crelie, Joseph 1773 - 1866
Crownhart, Charles Henry 1863 - 1930
Cudahy, Patrick 1849 - 1919
dairy industry in Wisconsin
Dean House (Historic Marker Erected 1998)
Decorah family
Deitz (Dietz), John F. 1861 - 1924
Dempsey, Chester E. 1896
Dessert, Joseph 1819 - 1910
Dewey's Corners [origin of place name]
Dheinsville Settlement (Historic Marker Erected 19
Dodge's Grove and Fort Union (Historic Marker Erec
Dodge, Henry 1782 - 1867
Dodge, Joseph Thompson 1823 - 1904
Dousman, Hercules Louis 1800 - 1868
Draper, Lyman Copeland 1815 - 1891
Durward, Bernard Isaac 1817 - 1902
Early Dutch Settlers (Historic Marker Erected 1996
Egyptian revival (architecture)
Eikenberry, Jill 1947 -
Eldredge, Charles Augustus 1820 - 1896
English immigrants in Wisconsin
Fairchild, Col. Cassius (18291868)
Falk, Franz Lorenz 1824 - 1882
Fallows, Samuel 1835 - 1922
Farwell, Leonard James 1819 - 1889
Favill, Stephen 1823 - 1906
Felder, Emma 1927 - 2008
First Swedish Settlers in Wisconsin (Historic Mark
floods in Wisconsin
Fort Blue Mounds
Friske, Donald 1961
Garland, Hamlin (1860-1940)(Historic Marker Erecte
Gee, Harvey F. 1908
Great Depression
Green Bay [brief history]
Green, Mark A. 1960
Grignon, Charles Augustin, 1808 - 1862
Grignon, Pierre Sr. 1740 - 1795
Griswold, Hattie [Tyng] 1840 - 1909
Gugler Lithographic Company
Hansen, Robert W. 1911
Harvey, Cordelia (18241895)
Harvey, Cordelia (Historic Marker Erected 1991)
Hauser, Jacob 1845 - 1931
Hawley, Col. William (1824-1873)
Hecht, Ben 1894 - 1964
Heg, Col. Hans Christian (1829-1863)
Heinemann, Benjamin 1850 - 1919
Hill, Charles Lewis 1869 - 1957
Hirshheimer, Albert 1840 - 1924
Ho-Chunk Indians
Horlicksville [origin of place name]
Horner, John Scott 1802 - 1883
Houdini, Harry 1874 - 1926
Houser, Walter L. 1855 - 1928
How-Beckman Mill (Historic Marker Erected 1997)
Hoxie, Vinnie Ream 1847 - 1914
Huebsch, Michael D. 1964
Jackson, James Albert 1840 - 1921
Jackson, Joseph 1812 - 1881
Jefferson, Jefferson Co.
Jefferson, Thomas (descendants in Wisconsin)
Jens, Salome 1935 -
Jensen, Scott R. 1960
Jerusalem Corners [origin of place name]
John F. Deitz: "Battle of Cameron Dam" (Historic M
John Muir Country (Historic Marker Erected 1969)
Johnson, Alfred Stanley, jr. 1863 - 1932
Johnson, Jay W. 1943
Johnson, John Anders 1832 - 1901
Johnson, Samuel Curtis 1833 - 1919
Johnson, Warren S. 1847 - 1911
Jolliet, Louis 1645 - 1700
Jones, John Reynolds (1851 - 1928)
Joss, Adrian "Addie" (Historic Marker Erected 1986
Juneau, Solomon 1793 - 1856
Junkermann, Otto C.
Kabler, Beatrice Ann Parks. 1928-
Kasten Jr., Robert W. 1942
Keegan, Jr., Earl 1921
Kellogg, Amherst Willoughby 1829 - 1923
Kennan, Thomas Lathrop 1827 - 1920
Kestell, Steve 1955
Keyes, Elisha Williams 1828 - 1910
Kingston [origin of place name]
Knapp, John Holly [Jr.] 1825 - 1888
Kneeland, James 1816 - 1899
Kneeland, Moses 1809 - 1864
Kohler, Marie Christine 1876 - 1943
Kohler, Ruth Miriam [De Young] 1906 - 1953
Krusick, Peggy 1956
Kunicki, Walter J. 1958
La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. 1855 - 1925
La Follette, Robert Marion, Jr., 1895 - 1953
La Grange, Col. Oscar H. (1837-1915)
Laird, Melvin R. 1922 -
Landreth, Albert 1858 - 1899
Langner, Arnold W. F. 1925
Larrabee, Charles Hathaway 1820 - 1883
Leach, Eugene Walter 1857 - 1938
Leahy, William D., Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy (1875-
Lehman, John W. 1945
Lindsay, Edmond James 1838 - 1924
Linton, Barbara J. 1952
Lipscomb, Jr., Mark G. 1935
Lumberjacks' nicknames (logging)
Lyon, Lucius, 1800-1851
Lyons (township) [origin of place name]
manufacturing in Wisconsin
Marin, Joseph, dates unverified
Marshall, Rouget De Lisle 1847 - 1922
Mayer, Stephan F. 1854 - 1935
McArthur, Gen. Arthur (1845-1912)
Mccoy, Robert Bruce 1867 - 1926
McKee, Lt. Col. David (1828-1862)
Mears, Helen Farnsworth 1872 - 1916
Meaux, Thomas W. 1954
Medford [origin of place name]
Meeker, Moses 1790 - 1865
Merrill Park (Historic Marker Erected 1997)
Meunier, Alex J. 1897
Miller, Marjorie "Midge" 1922
Milton House (HIstoric Marker Erected 1961)
Moen, Rodney C. 1937
Monberg, Lawrence 1900 - 1983
Montgomery, Phil 1957
Moore, Annie Aubertine [Woodward] 1841 - 1929
Moore, William (1827-1862)
Morris, Lucy Smith (1850-1935)(Historic Marker Ere
Moser, William R. 1927
Mosse, George Lachmann 1918 - 1999
Muir, John 1838 - 1914
Munts, Mary Lou 1924
Murphy, Roger P. 1923
Mylrea, William Henry 1853 - 1916
Neillsville [origin of place name]
Neubauer, Jeffrey A. 1955
Neumann, Mark W. 1954
New Richmond tornado (1899)
Nye, Edgar Wilson (1850-1896) (Historic Marker Ere
O'Keefe, Georgia (1887 - 1996)
Obey, David R. (b. 1938)
Octagon House (Historic Marker Erected 1957)
Old Abe, the War Eagle
Olsen, Luther S. 1951
Ourada, Thomas D. 1958
Owen, William E. 1888
Owens, Carol 1931
Paine, Edward Lathrop 1801 - 1893
Peck, Roseline [Willard] [Mrs. Eben Peck) 1808 - 1
Petak, George 1949
Philipp, Emanuel Lorenz 1861 - 1925
Pier, Kate [Hamilton] 1845 - 1925
Plache, Kimberly M. 1961
Pleasant Ridge African American Community (Histori
Pleasant Ridge, Grant Co.
Poplawski, Stephen J. 1885 - 1956
Preston [origin of place name]
Puerto Ricans in Wisconsin
Quiner, Emily (or Emelie) 1839 - 1919
Quinney, John W. 1797 - 1855
Reber, Louis Ehrhart 1858 - 1948
Red Cloud, Mitchell Jr. (1925-1950) (Historic Mark
Rexford, Eben Eugene 1848 - 1916
Rice Lake [brief history]
Riddles, Libby (born 1956)
Roessler, Carol A. 1948
Rosenzweig, Peggy A. 1936
Rueping [Ruping], William ["Heinrich","Wilhelm"] 1
Ruger, Gen. Thomas H. (1833-1907)
Rutkowski, James A. 1942
Ryan, Paul 1970
Salzmann, Joseph 1819 - 1874
Schilling, Robert 1843 - 1922
Schlitz, Joseph 1831 - 1875
Schmidt, Gary J. 1947
Seery, Thomas 1945
Sell, Ronald A. 1945
Shaw, Daniel 1813 - 1881
Sherman [origin of place name]
Shilling, Jennifer 1969
Shopiere [origin of place name]
Showerman, Grant 1870 - 1935
Sicula, Paul E. 1939
Slichter, Charles Sumner 1864 - 1946
Slovenians in Wisconsin
Smith, George Baldwin 1823 - 1879
Sobocinski, Sherman R. 1927
Soldiers Grove, Village of, Crawford Co.
South Greenville Grange No. 225 (Historic Marker E
Springer, Thomas J. 1968
Staskunas, Anthony J. 1961
Stevens, John 1840 - 1920
Struebing, Wilmer H. 1910
Sturdevant, Lafayette Monroe 1856 - 1923
Summer White House - 1928 (Historic Marker Erected
Tainter, Andrew 1823 - 1899
Tank, Nils Otto 1800 - 1864
Tanner, Herbert Battles 1859 - 1933
Tenney, Horace Addison 1820 - 1906
The Raube Road Site (Historic Marker Erected 1998)
The Sand Counties-Aldo Leopold Territory (Historic
The Solomon Juneau House (Historic Marker Erected
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Historic Ma
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) (Historic Marker Erec
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1750-1783
Titanic (Wisconsin passengers)
Towns, Debi 1956
Uihlein, August 1842 - 1911
underground railroad in Wisconsin
Vergeront, Susan B. 1945
Vilas, Levi Baker 1811 - 1879
Villa Louis
Vinje, Aad John 1857 - 1929
War of 1812 (Historic Marker Erected 1964)
Ward, Col. Lyman M. (1836-1909)
Ward, David W. 1953
Warner, Arthur Pratt 1870 - 1957
Warren, Lyman Marquis 1794 - 1847
Warren, Robert W. 1925
Welch, Robert T. 1958
Wellcome, Henry Soloman, Sir (1853-1936)(Historic
Wheeler, Leonard Hemenway 1811 - 1872
Wilcox, Ella Wheeler 1850 - 1919
Wilcox, Jon P. 1936
Wilder, Laura Ingalls (1867-1957)(Historic Marker
Wirch, Robert W. 1943
Woodman, Cyrus 1814 - 1889

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