Robert M. La Follette Jr.

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
(Redirected from Robert M. La Follette, Jr.)
Jump to: navigation, search
The Honorable
Robert M. La Follette Jr.
United States Senator
from Wisconsin
In office
September 30, 1925 – January 3, 1947
Preceded by Robert M. La Follette Sr.
Succeeded by Joseph McCarthy
Personal details
Born Robert Marion La Follette Jr.
(1895-02-06)February 6, 1895
Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Washington, D.C., United States
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Wisconsin Progressive Party
Spouse(s) Rachel Wilson Young

Robert Marion "Young Bob" La Follette Jr. (February 6, 1895 – February 24, 1953) was an American senator from Wisconsin from 1925 to 1947, the son of Robert M. La Follette, Sr. and Belle Case La Follette, and the brother of Philip La Follette and Fola La Follette.

Early life

La Follette was born in Madison, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1913 to 1917, but he did not graduate because of illness. (He received an Honorary LLD from University of Wisconsin in 1938.) The same illness kept him out the military during World War I. LaFollette served as his father's private secretary between 1919 and 1925. He married Rachel Wilson Young in 1930; they had two children, Joseph Oden La Follette and Bronson Cutting La Follette.

Political career

La Follette was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate on September 29, 1925, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of his father. "Young Bob," as he was called, was a champion of organized labor. He gained national prominence between 1936 and 1940 as chairman of a special Senate investigating committee, commonly called the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee, which exposed the surveillance, physical intimidation and other techniques used by large employers to prevent workers from organizing.

He was chairman of the Committee on Manufactures in the 71st and 72nd Congresses. He supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt and most New Deal legislation until the passage of the 1938 naval expansion bill.

He was re-elected as a Republican in 1928. With his brother Philip, he formed the Wisconsin Progressive Party in 1934, and for a time the party was dominant in Wisconsin. He was reelected with the Progressive Party in 1934 and 1940.

In April 1943 a confidential analysis by Isaiah Berlin of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the British Foreign Office stated that La Follette was the:

son of the celebrated Governor and brother of ex-Governor Philip La Follette of that State. Intimately tied with the very peculiar "progressive" Wisconsin political organisation, who started as an Isolationist New Dealer and by degrees has turned into a confused anti Administration Nationalist. He is a very eccentric and unpredictable political figure who continues to be radical in internal issues and obscurantist in foreign affairs. He is said to be prepared to approve of Britain after she had expiated her past errors by more suffering than she had already endured. He is entirely independent of business interests and pressure groups, and his strength comes from the traditional place occupied by his family in Wisconsin. On the whole an ally of the Isolationists.[1]

The Progressives later dissolved, and La Follette returned to the Republican Party in 1946. La Follette was considered the Senate's leading isolationist and helped found the America First Committee. He helped to draft and win passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which modernized the legislative process in Congress.[2]


La Follette was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection as a Republican in 1946. He ran a conservative campaign against the United Nations and was critical of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but ended up narrowly losing to Joseph McCarthy in the Republican primary, 207,935 votes to 202,557.[3] While La Follette initially started with a large lead in the polls, it slowly dwindled over time and on the primary election day, the results of the final county to report polls tipped the scales into McCarthy's favor. La Follette sent a one-word telegram saying "Congratulations" to McCarthy.

La Follette made several decisions that hurt his primary campaign. Disbanding the Progressive Party and seeking election on the Republican ticket that same year cost him the support of many progressive supporters that belonged to the former, while the more conservative Republicans were also suspicious of La Follette since he had previously run against them. Being initially assured of victory, he stayed in Washington to draft and win passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, instead of returning to Wisconsin to campaign.

La Follette also faced an aggressive campaign by McCarthy and never managed to refute the latter's charges (several were false). McCarthy attacked La Follette for not enlisting during the war, although La Follette had been 46 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and would have been too old to be accepted. McCarthy played up his wartime service, using his nickname "Tail-Gunner Joe" and the slogan "Congress needs a tail-gunner". McCarthy also claimed La Follette had made huge profits from his investments while he, McCarthy, had been away fighting for his country, and the suggestion that La Follette had been guilty of war profiteering was deeply damaging. (In fact, McCarthy had invested in the stock market himself during the war, netting a profit of $42,000 in 1943. La Follette's investments consisted of partial interest in a radio station, which earned him a profit of $47,000 over two years.[4])

Arnold Beichman later stated that McCarthy "was elected to his first term in the Senate with support from the Communist-controlled United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, CIO", which preferred McCarthy to the anti-communist Robert M. La Follette.[5] This charge, however, has never been proved.

Later life and suicide

After his defeat by McCarthy, La Follette was a foreign aid advisor to the Truman administration.

In a February 8, 1947 Collier's Weekly article, La Follette reported his experience with infiltration of Communists onto Congressional Committee staffs. The Venona project materials revealed four agents of Soviet intelligence who had served on his Civil Liberties Subcommittee, including the Chief Counsel, John Abt.

On February 24, 1953, La Follette was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Washington, D.C. On September 9, 1953, John Lautner testified before McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and revealed he knew of Communists who had served on La Follette's subcommittee. Some historians believe that La Follette killed himself out of fear of being called by McCarthy; others believe he succumbed to anxiety and depression, which plagued him for much of his life.[6]

He was interred at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin,[7] and was survived by his sons, Bronson La Follette, who served as Wisconsin's attorney general from 1965 to 1969, and from 1975 to 1987, and the late Joseph Oden LaFollette who spent his career working at IBM.[8]

Awards and honors

The University of Wisconsin awarded La Follette an honorary LL.D. degree in 1938. He also received Collier's Magazine award for outstanding public service in 1946.


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. Welcome to The American Presidency
  3. La Follette, Robert Marion, Jr., 1895 - 1953
  4. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. JS Online: La Follette suicide linked to fear of McCarthy
  7. The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Ladendorf to Lair
  8. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Wisconsin
Served alongside: Irvine Lenroot, John J. Blaine, F. Ryan Duffy, Alexander Wiley
Succeeded by
Joseph McCarthy