The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America

The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America

by Bernard A. Weisberger
     
 

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Dynastic political families have been an American tradition since the birth of the Republic.  Indeed, a good part of our entire political history could be written simply by setting out the family stories of the Adamses, Roosevelts, Longs, and Kennedys.  To that illustrious list must be added the La Follettes of Wisconsin, and they are brought vividly to

Overview

Dynastic political families have been an American tradition since the birth of the Republic.  Indeed, a good part of our entire political history could be written simply by setting out the family stories of the Adamses, Roosevelts, Longs, and Kennedys.  To that illustrious list must be added the La Follettes of Wisconsin, and they are brought vividly to life as never before in this collective biography by veteran journalist Bernard Weisberger.
    Magnetic, theatrical, intensely loved and passionately denounced, Robert Marion “Fighting Bob” La Follette was the rebel knight of the Progressive vanguard and a family patriarch in the larger-than-life tradition of Joe Kennedy.  As governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and U.S. Senator (1906-1925) he battled uncompromisingly for his vision of democracy—an idealistic mixture of informed citizenry and enlightened public servants combining to produce a utopian egalitarianism.  By contrast, the private man, often isolated and defeated by social forces beyond his understanding or control, suffered from intense periods of depression and relied heavily on his family for survival.
    With his beloved wife, Belle Case La Follette, a Progressive journalist in her own right, “Old” Bob raised their brood to perceive a unique personal and family responsibility for challenging (and curing) society's ills.  His first child, Fola, left her stage career to campaign for suffrage; Robert Jr. followed his father to the Senate in 1925, when he was only thirty; and in 1930 youngest son Phil became the old man's heir as Governor of Wisconsin and as the state's leading Progressive figure.
    Not unlike the twentieth century's other political “first family,” however, the La Follette saga ends in largely unrealized promise and tragedy. Fola, Phil, and Bob all ultimately abandoned public life, the latter two after bitter defeat and disillusionment.  Finally, in February of 1953, “young Bob” took his own life.
    An intimate portrait of the Progressive movement and the revealing, poignant story of a prominent American family, The La Follettes of Wisconsin will charm, fascinate, and entertain its readers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Focusing on the intense personal relationships that bound the state's first family together in the pursuit of the public good, Weisberger's account breaks fresh ground in its analysis of the origins and development of Wisconsin Progressivism and enhances our understanding of Midwestern insurgency."—James J. Lorence, Journal of American History

“Highly readable, judicious in tone, aware of the La Follettes’ limitations while insistent upon their manifest accomplishments, committed in its admiration of reform values and goals, and long overdue. Its attention to love and affection within the [La Follette] family demonstrates how important these values and relationships can be to any family, including political ones.”—John E. Miller, Reviews in American History

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Weisberger ( From Sea to Shining Sea: A History of the United States ) here presents a carefully researched biography of the La Follettes, leaders in the Midwest Progressive movement that flourished in the late 1800s. Charismatic Robert (1855-1925) and his wife Bell (1859-1931) shared a commitment to democratic government and dedicated themselves to fighting corporate monopolies and corrupt politicians. As governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and a U.S. Senator (1906-1925), Robert sponsored many civic reforms. Opposed to WW I, he was denounced publicly by President Wilson. The La Follettes' three children, raised in an atmosphere of political idealism, were also activists. Their son Robert, who committed suicide in 1953, succeeded his father to the Senate; Phil, too, followed his father's path by becoming governor of Wisconsin; Fola, an actress, worked for women's suffrage. Weisberger's study is most successful as a family portrait; it is less compelling as a chronicle of the Progressive movement. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Booknews
An intimate portrait of one of America's dynastic political families. The La Follettes were steeped in a commitment to challenge (and cure) society's ills, led by family patriarch "Fighting Bob" who was governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906) and US Senator (1906-1925). Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299141349
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
11/05/2013
Edition description:
1
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Bernard A. Weisberger is currently the “In the News” columnist for American Heritage.  In his distinguished career he has published seventeen books and countless articles on Americana.  His television and film credentials include collaborations with Bill Moyers and Ken Burns.

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