Robert La Follette Jr.

Robert La Follette Jr.

Robert La Follette Jr., the son of Robert La Follette and Belle La Follette, was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on 6th February, 1895. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, La Follette worked as private secretary to his father.

Robert La Follette became the candidate of the Progressive Party in the 1924 presidential election. Although he gained support from trade unions, individuals like Fiorello La Guardia and Vito Marcantonio, the Socialist Party and the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, La Follette and his running partner, Burton K. Wheeler, only won one-sixth of the votes.

La Follette, a member of the Republican Party, was elected to the Senate on 29th September, 1925, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of his father. Over the next few years La Follette worked closely with William Borah, Henrik Shipstead, Gerald Nye, Lynn Frazier, Bronson Cutting, Burton K. Wheeler and other progressives in the Senate.

In May 1934, La Follette and his brother, Philip La Follette (the governor of Wisconsin), reestablished the Progressive Party and began publishing The Progressive. In the journal the brothers supported Huey Long and his Share Our Wealth Plan.

In 1934 he established the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee which exposed techniques used by employers to prevent workers from joining trade unions. Although critical of the speed of the New Deal, La Follette supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 and 1940 presidential elections.

In 1946 Joseph McCarthy challenged La Follette for his seat in the Senate. As one of his biographers has pointed out, his campaign posters pictured him in "full fighting gear, with an aviator's cap, and belt upon belt of machine gun ammunition wrapped around his bulky torso." He claimed he had completed thirty-two missions when in fact he had a desk job and only flew in training exercises.

In his campaign, McCarthy attacked La Follette for not enlisting during the war. He had been forty-six when Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and was in fact too old to join the armed services. McCarthy also claimed that La Follette had made huge profits from his investments while he had been away fighting for his country. The suggestion that La Follette had been guilty of war profiteering (his investments had in fact been in a radio station), was deeply damaging and McCarthy won by 207,935 to 202,557. La Follette, deeply hurt by the false claims made against him, retired from politics.

Robert La Follette Jr. committed suicide on 24th February, 1953.

Primary Sources

(1) Robert La Follette Jr., The Progressive (7th September, 1935)

The Progressive may not agree with every conclusion reached by Father Coughlin and Senator Long. When they contend, however, as they have, that the tremendous wealth of this country should be more equitably shared for a more abundant life for the masses of people, we agree heartily with them.