Why I Shall Vote for La Follette, September 10, 1924


Why I Shall Vote for La Follette -- I

THE first time I saw Senator La Follette was on a gala occasion, when the University of Wisconsin was celebrating her fiftieth birthday; it was on a June day in the most beautiful capitol city in America. He was participating not only as Governor of the State of Wisconsin, but as an alumnus in his own right -- as was Mrs. La Follette, who was a member of the same class with President Van Hise of the University. They were all very much at home, they "belonged" to the campus.

The sense of relationship between the state capitol building on one hill, and the University on the other, was further emphasized by the new Legislative Bureau, through which Charles McCarthy hoped that the University might substitute economic knowledge and historic perspective for the trial and error method so often forced upon pioneer legislators.

It was, of course, an occasion for honorary degrees and for felicitation from other universities, including mother Oxford herself -- "who was so old she couldn't remember how old she was," as her red-gowned son told us. But the occasion was more than that. Many of us saw unrolling before our eyes, as never before, the underlying aim of public education itself, of that purpose to which state universities had been dedicated by Abraham Lincoln when he authorized their first federal land subsidy in the very midst of the preoccupations and privations of the Civil War.

In the extraordinary group gathered there, no one personified so unequivocally and so nobly as did Governor La Follette himself, that which was meant by the continuing experiment of self-government and the necessity of securing in its behalf the most advanced type of public education. At that moment Wisconsin was a banner state in the reciprocal tasks of universal education and democratic government; the "Wisconsin idea" had been promulgated. There were many new devices by which the resources of the University were brought to the masses of the people, and the state was in the midst of that splendid legislative campaign which was founded upon the assumption that law is part of the social process -- part of self-developing human experience. There was a definite connection between state and university although not always obvious: The University gave exceptional opportunities for the study and development of dairy farming, and Wisconsin was not only a pioneer in standardizing butter and cheese through the use of a state label, but it made feasible cooperative marketing through the control of freight rates on the railroads. The University had developed one of the earliest departments of economics to make first hand studies in the conditions of industry. The program of industrial legislation fostered by Governor La Follette contained not only protection for the workers, but an industrial commission to consider their growing and changing needs, and promoted an astounding number of part time continuation schools for the young workers. It also included a careful regulation of privately owned public utilities, and many another far-sighted provision.

At that moment the Governor of Wisconsin was bending his magnificent energies to the establishment of direct primaries, and incidentally clearing the ground of the boss system. He recognized the importance of the mechanism of voting and of representation, but he did not stop there. He was stimulating many minds to think vigorously together, he was securing political action which was founded upon collective experience and wide-spread discussion and conviction.

I had been living for more than a decade in the nineteenth ward of Chicago, represented by corrupt aldermen in a city council, which was at times itself bought with the money of the seekers and holders of public franchises. The political air of Wisconsin filled my lungs like a breath from the mountain tops of the finest American tradition. I came away from my brief sojourn at its capitol with a renewed faith in the possibility of enlightened self-government, and with an unwavering admiration for the man who not only "represented" the people, but under whose direction the very processes of government itself, educated, stimulated and enlarged the collective capacity.

All America is familiar with Senator La Follette's career since then. It was quite logical that the voters of Wisconsin should by an overwhelming majority send their Governor to the United States Senate, if only because so many of his policies required federal action for their consummation. Personally, I believe in time he will find the same necessity for action through an international body, both because of his sound political philosophy and because of his understanding of the far-flung problems of modern life. I once attended the meetings of a commission held in Geneva under the auspices of the International Labor Bureau connected with the League of Nations, when the matter under prolonged discussion was the protection of the seamen, who for many weeks every year find themselves remote from consular offices and courts of justice. The most successful protection ever offered to these men, the one achievement constantly quoted, was embodied in the La Follette Seamen's Act, which because of its intrinsic worth, and because of the eloquent speeches made by its author when urging its passage on the floor of the United States Senate, has made the name of Robert La Follette beloved literally around the world. [page 2]

Some of us who recall almost with a lump in the throat, the precious planks so enthusiastically put into a Progressive platform in 1912 -- many of these propositions are actually operative as laws at the present moment -- rejoice in an opportunity to work for "progressive political action" under a leader who has, since 1898, successfully led a progressive moment inevitably expanding through a quarter of a century. At this moment under his trained leadership, is taking place for the first time in the United States, that which has already been achieved in other countries of Anglo-Saxon tradition -- a welding together of the forward-looking voters, whether they have called themselves Socialists or liberals, proletarians or agriculturists. They all have many experiences to report with reasons for success or failure. They hope under the leadership of this wise man -- who combines so remarkably the abilities of the expert with those of the statesman -- to integrate their cooperating experiences into a progressively efficient political activity.


(This is the first of a series of articles by various writers. The second will appear in an early issue.)