The La Follette Progressives
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Certainly the most successful third party in the immediate post-World War I era was the Progressive effort led by Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin. The end of the war had seen an upsurge in left-wing political activity in the United States, as evidenced in the growth and development of the Workers’ Party (the Communists), the Socialist Party and the Farmer-Labor Party, all of which increased their ranks at the beginning of the 1920s.
Also making an impact at this time was the Conference for Progressive Political Action (C.P.P.A.), which in 1922 merged the efforts of several railway unions into a surprisingly effective state and local political force. They successfully backed a number of liberal candidates in Congressional races and had visions of greater success in 1924. The C.P.P.A. held a national nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio, that year and concluded that their best hope of gaining real influence would come through backing a candidate with a national reputation. La Follette fit the bill, but he was leery of Communist influence in left-wing political parties and styled himself an Independent. He was, however, enticed to accept the Progressive nomination by being given full control over the party platform and the choice of his running mate.
The C.P.P.A., in many ways heir to the defunct Bull Moose or Progressive Party of Teddy Roosevelt, offered a platform in 1924 that was only marginally more socialistic than the statement issued a dozen years earlier. La Follette called for:
The Progressive Party unraveled quickly following the election defeat in 1924, but it staged a comeback in the 1930s on the state level in Wisconsin where La Follette’s sons, Robert Jr. and Philip, forged a successful movement that lasted until the end of World War II.
A third effort bearing the name of Progressive Party would be a factor in the Election of 1948.
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A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 by Michael McGerr.
In a nation where the gap between rich and poor consistently threatens to erase the middle class, the American Progressive Era, spanning the late nin...