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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 the Robert M. La Follette Papers, 1879-1910, 1922-1924 for 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]

330 records found

100 Day Men
Abraham, Henry William 1866 - 1920
Adams, Henry Cullen 1850 - 1906
Albion Academy (Historic Marker)
Allen, Col. Thomas S. (1825-1905)
Allis, Edward Phelps 1824 - 1889
Anderson, Wendell Abraham 1840 - 1929
Arnold, Jonathan Earle 1814 - 1869
Babcock, Joseph Weeks 1850 - 1909
Baensch, Emil 1857 - 1939
Baird, Henry Samuel 1800 - 1875
Baker, Charles Minton 1804 - 1872
Baker, Robert Hall 1839 - 1882
Baldus, Alvin 1926
Barlow, Elmer Elbert 1887 - 1948
Barstow, William Augustus 1813 - 1865
Barstow-Bashford Affair (1856)
Bashford, Coles 1816 - 1878
Bay View Rolling Mill (Historic Marker Erected 198
Beall, Samuel Wooton[?] 1807 - 1868
Beauharnais, Charles, Marquis de
Beauharnois de la Boische, Charles de, Marquis de
Beck, Joseph David 1866 - 1936
Beilfuss, Bruce F. 1915
Belmont (capitol)
Belmont, Village of, Lafayette Co.
Best, Phillip 1814 - 1869
Blaine, John James 1873 - 1934
Bolens, Harry Wilbur 1864 - 1944
Booth, Sherman Miller 1812 - 1904
Borg, George M. (1934 - 1971)
Bovay, Alvan E[arl] 1818 - 1903
Brisay de Denonville, Jacques-René, Marquis de Den
Brisbois, Michael [Michel] 1760 - 1837
Brown County [origin of place name]
Brown, Timothy 1889
Brunson, Alfred 1793 - 1882
Bryant, Edwin Eustace 1835 - 1903
Bryant, George Edwin 1832 - 1907
Buade de Frontenac et de Pallau, Louis de, Comte d
Burchard, George Washington 1835 - 1921
Burmaster, Elizabeth 1954
Burns, Timothy 1820 - 1853
Butte Des Morts (Historic Marker Erected 1955)
Camp Harvey (Historic Marker Erected 1992)
Camp Randall
Camp Randall (Historic Marker Erected 1961)
Capitol fire (1904)
Carver, Jonathan 1710 - 1780
Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866.
Champlain, Samuel de, 1567-1635.
Chase, Warren 1813 - 1891
Civil War: Battle Flags
Clark, Julius Taylor 1814 - 1908
Clark-Halyard, Ardie 1896 - 1989
Cleary, Michael Joseph 1876 - 1947
Coleman, Charles W.
Coleman, William 1878 - 1933
Coles Bashford House (Historic Marker Erected 1975
Connor, William Duncan 1864 - 1944
Cook, Samuel Andrew 1849 - 1918
Coutume de Paris
Crawford County
Crocker, Hans 1815 - 1889
Cross, James B. 1819 - 1876
Crownhart, Charles Henry 1863 - 1930
Czarnezki, Joseph J. 1954
Dailey, Lt. Col. Dennis B. (1840-1898)
Darling, Alberta 1944
Davidson, James (1854-1922)(Historic Marker Erecte
Davidson, James O. 1854 - 1922
Day, Roland B. 1919
death penalty in Wisconsin
Deininger, David G. 1947
Derleth, August W. (1909-1971)(Historic Marker Ere
Dewey, Nelson 1813 - 1889
Dieterich, William Herbert 1897
Dixon, Luther Swift 1825 - 1891
Dodge County [origin of place name]
Dodge's Grove and Fort Union (Historic Marker Erec
Dodge, Henry 1782 - 1867
Dodgeville [brief history]
Dodgeville [origin of place name]
Doodle Book
Doolittle, James Rood 1815 - 1897
Doty, James Duane 1799 - 1865
Doyle, Jim 1945
Dreyfus, Lee Sherman 1926-2008
Duff, Marc C. 1961
Durkee, Charles 1805 - 1870
Earl, Anthony S. 1936
Edgerton, Benjamin Hyde 1811 - 1886
Ekern, Herman Lewis 1872 - 1954
Erpenbach, Jon B. 1961
Evans, Joseph Spragg 1875 - 1948
Fairchild, Col. Cassius (1829–1868)
Fairchild, Gov. Lucius (1831-1896)
Fairchild, Thomas E. 1912
Farrow, Margaret A. 1934
Farwell, Leonard James 1819 - 1889
Fifield [origin of place name]
Fifield, Samuel S. 1839 - 1915
Flynn, Gerald T. 1910
Flynn, James T. 1944
Fond du Lac [brief history]
Four Lakes, City of the
Fox and Wisconsin River Improvement Company
Frank, Glenn 1887 - 1940
Gale, Zona 1874 - 1938
Gaylord, Adj. Gen. Augustus (1826-1901)
Gilmore, Eugene Allen 1871 - 1953
Goodland, Walter Samuel 1862 - 1947
Governor James Taylor Lewis (1819-1904) (Historic
Governor Lewis (Historic Marker Erected 1995)
Governor Rusk (Historic Marker Erected 1958)
Governor's Commission on Human Rights
Governor's Guard (Civil War)
Graass, Frank N. 1885
Grand Army of the Republic
Greco, Angelo F. 1925
Griffin, Ezra Leonard 1821 - 1892
Groseilliers, Medard Chouart, Sieur Des 1618 - 168
Haldimand, Frederick, 1718-1791
Hambrecht, George Philip 1871 - 1943
Harvey, Cordelia (1824–1895)
Harvey, Cordelia (Historic Marker Erected 1991)
Harvey, Gov. Louis P. (1820-1862)
Haskell, Col. Frank A. (1828-1864)
Hastings, Samuel Dexter 1816 - 1903
Hatton, William H. 1856 - 1937
Haugen, Nils Pederson 1849 - 1931
Heil, Julius Peter 1876 - 1949
Hephner, Gervase A. 1936
Hill, Charles Lewis 1869 - 1957
Hirst, Arthur Roscoe 1881 - 1932
Historic Mineral Point (Historic Marker Erected 19
Hixson, Hiram Frank 1858 - 1894
Hoard, William Dempster 1836 - 1918
Hobart, Col. Harrison C. (1815-1902)
Holton, Edward Dwight 1815 - 1892
Home of Governor Harvey (Historic Marker Erected 1
Hopkins, Benjamin Franklin 1829 - 1870
Horner, John Scott 1802 - 1883
Howe, Timothy Otis 1816 - 1883
Hoxie, Vinnie Ream 1847 - 1914
Hoyt, John Wesley 1831 - 1912
Huber, Henry Allen 1869 - 1933
Hubler, Mary 1952
Huibregtse, Harold F. 1907
Hundred Day Men
Ihde, Herman 1877 - 1943
Industrial Commission
intendant (Fr.)
Jackson, Mortimer Melville 1809 - 1889
James, Ada Lois 1876 - 1952
Janssen, Edward H. 1815 - 1877
Jaronitzky, June 1938
Jensen, Scott R. 1960
Johnson, Gary K. 1939
Jolliet, Louis 1645 - 1700
Jonas, Charles 1840 - 1896
Jones, George Wallace 1804 - 1896
Kanavas, Theodore J. 1961
Kenosha [brief history]
King, Charles 1844 - 1933
Kinzie, John Harris 1803 - 1865
Klusman, Judith 1956
Knowles, Warren P. 1908
Knowlton, James H. 1813 - 1879
Knox, Randall S. 1949
Kohler Strike
Kohler, Walter Jodok 1875 - 1940
Kostuck, John T. 1892
Krusick, Peggy 1956
La Crosse [brief history]
La Crosse, La Crosse Co.
La Fave, John 1949
La Follette, Philip Fox, 1897-1965
La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. (1855-1925)(Histori
La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. 1855 - 1925
La Follette, Robert Marion, Jr., 1895 - 1953
Laird, Melvin R. 1922 -
Land Grant Scandal
Lathan, Raymond Lee 1915
Lautenschlager, Peggy A. 1955
Lawton, Barbara 1951
Lenroot, Irvine Luther 1869 - 1949
Lewis, Gov. James Taylor (1819-1904)
Lewis, James Otto 1799 - 1858
Lewis, Theodore Gorman 1890 - 1934
Litscher, Leroy "Pete" 1939
Loomis, Orland Steen 1893 - 1942
Loucks, Steven 1961
Lucey, Patrick J. 1918
Ludington, Harrison 1812 - 1891
Lynch, Richard J. 1921
Madison, Dane Co.
Martin, Joseph 1878 - 1946
Mcarthur, Arthur 1815 - 1896
McArthur, Gen. Arthur (1845-1912)
Mccallum, Scott 1950
Mccord, Myron Hawley 1840 - 1908
Mcgovern, Francis Edward 1866 - 1946
Menasha [brief history]
Michilimakinac County
Mitchell, Alexander 1817 - 1887
Monahan, James Gideon 1855 - 1923
Moser, William R. 1927
Munson, Oliver Goldsmith 1856 - 1933
Nash, Philleo 1909
Neenah [brief history]
Neenah [origin of place name]
Nelson Dewey-First Governor of Wisconsin (Historic
Nelson, Gaylord A. 1916-2005
Nieman, Lucius William 1857 - 1935
Nordberg, Bruno Victor 1858 - 1924
Olbrich, Michael Balthasar 1881 - 1929
Old Stockade Site (Historic Marker Erected 1954)
Olson, Jack B. 1920
Olson, Russell A. 1924
Orton, Harlow South 1817 - 1895
Oshkosh [brief history]
Oshkosh, Menominee chief, 1795 - 1858
Outdoor Recreation Act Program (ORAP)
Palmer, Henry L. 1819 - 1909
Paul, George Howard 1826 - 1890
Peck, George Wilbur 1840 - 1916
Philipp, Emanuel Lorenz 1861 - 1925
Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medart Grosellieres (Hi
Plale, Jeffrey T. 1968
Pommerening, Glen E. 1927
Potter Law (1874)
Pound, Thaddeus Coleman 1833 - 1914
primary elections in Wisconsin
Quick, William F. 1909
Quiner, Edwin Bryant (1816-1868)
Racine [brief history]
Radisson, Pierre Esprit 1636 - 1710
Radisson-Groseilliers Fort (Historic Marker Erecte
Randall, Gov. Alexander W. (1819-1872)
Raymond [origin of place name]
Reaume, Charles 1752 - 1821
Reed, Harrison 1813 - 1899
Reynolds, John W. 1921
Rhoades, Kitty 1951
Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Pierre de, Marqu
Rigaud de Vaudreuil, Philippe de, Marquis de Vaudr
Ripon [origin of place name]
Robinson, Charles D. 1822 - 1886
Rothwell, Angus B. 1905
Rusk County [origin of place name]
Rusk, Gov. Jeremiah M. (1830-1893)
Ryan, Edward George 1810 - 1880
Salomon, Gov. Edward (1828-1909)
Schmedeman, Albert George 1864 - 1946
Schmidt, Gary J. 1947
Schneiders, Lolita 1931
Schreiber, Martin J. 1939
Schurz, Carl (1829-1906)
Schwartz, Jerome T. 1951
Scofield, Edward 1842 - 1925
Seratti, Lorraine M. 1949
Seymour [origin of place name]
Sholes, Charles Clark 1816 - 1867
Sinking of the Lady Elgin (Historic Marker Erected
slavery in Wisconsin
Smith, George Baldwin 1823 - 1879
Smith, William E. 1824 - 1883
Smith, William Rudolph 1787 - 1868
Smith, Winfield 1827 - 1899
Somers, Peter J. 1850 - 1924
Spooner, John Coit 1843 - 1919
Spooner, Wyman 1795 - 1877
St. Clair, Arthur, 1734-1818
Starkweather, John Converse 1830 - 1890
Steinbrink, John P. 1949
Stephenson, Isaac 1829 - 1918
Stevens, Edmond Ray 1869 - 1930
Stewart, Alva 1821 - 1889
Stitt, Donald K. 1944
Stone, Jeff 1961
Stone, Jesse 1836 - 1902
Sturdevant, Lafayette Monroe 1856 - 1923
Tallmadge, Nathaniel Pitcher 1795 - 1864
Taycheedah [origin of place name]
Taylor County [origin of place name]
Taylor, William Robert 1820 - 1909
territorial governor
Thompson, Barbara 1924
Thompson, Tommy G. 1941
Thomson, Vernon W. 1905
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1622-1699
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1750-1783
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1784-1835
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1836-1899
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1900 -1999
Treaty of the Cedars (Historic Marker Erected 1958
Turner, Robert L. 1947
Tweedy, John Hubbard 1814 - 1891
Upham, Don Alonzo Joshua 1809 - 1877
Upham, William Henry 1841 - 1924
Van Gorden, Heron A. "Pink" 1926
Van Sistine, Jerome 1926
Wallber, Emil 1841 - 1923
Washburn County [origin of place name]
Washburn [origin of place name]
Washburn, Gov. Cadwallader Colden (1818-1882)
Watertown [brief history]
Waukesha [brief history]
West, George Arbor 1859 - 1938
Whitehead, John Meek 1852 - 1924
Whiton, Edward Vernon 1805 - 1859
Whittet, Lawrence Clarke 1871 - 1954
Wilcox, Roy Porter 1873 - 1946
Wiley, Alexander 1884
Wimmer, Joseph E. 1934
Wisconsin Territory (Historic Marker Erected 1964)
Wisconsin [origin of place name]
Woodward, Gilbert Motier 1835 - 1914
York, Stanley 1931
Youmans, Theodora Winton, 1863 - 1932
Zeuske, Cathy S. 1958
Zimmerman, Fred R. 1880 - 1954
Zoldoske Case

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