Robert M. La Follette's Autobiography

Excerpts from Robert M. La Follette, Autobiography (Country Life Press: Garden City, N.Y., 1912)


I HAD firmly determined to begin my fight on the old political machine in Wisconsin in the campaign of 1894. While I had no money and no newspaper support, and while all the leading politicians of the state were bitterly hostile to me, the success of my meetings in the previous campaign of 1892 convinced me that I could get a hearing.
        But it was essential to the success of any such undertaking that some strong man who would appeal to the younger and more independent members of the Republican party should be found to stand as the anti-machine candidate for governor.
         Such a man, I felt, was Congressman Nils P. Haugen.

[177] I had known Haugen for many years. He had been a member of the legislature, and railroad commissioner under a weak statute which he administered with marked ability and independence, and having been elected to the 49th Congress, lie had served with distinction for nine years. During five years of that time I had been closely associated with him in the House of Representatives. We were agreed in practically all our views upon public questions. I knew him to be fearless, independent, and able. A native of Norway, he was educated in this country, graduating from the Michigan University Law School in 1874. He was a fine representative of the best Scandinavian type - tall, strong, virile, with something of the Viking quality in his character.
         I considered the matter carefully. Many of the counties of the western half of the state were well settled by sturdy Scandinavian pioneers - an independent, liberty-loving people. I knew they felt a certain national pride in Congressman Haugen s prominence and success, and I counted on their giving him very strong

[178] support. On my part I still had many friends in my old Congressional district, and among university men all over the state, who could, I knew, be enlisted in any fight upon the machine. Between us, I believed we could carry a good many counties. It seemed to me, therefore, that Haugen was the ideal candidate for the first encounter with the bosses. -But would he consider being a candidate?
         The chances were all against winning. His hold upon his district was very strong, and there was every reason to believe that he could continue in Congress for many years to come. I knew he enjoyed his work in the House, and he had rendered good service to the state and country. Ought he to be asked to take the chance?
         But there was the good State of Wisconsin ruled by a handful of men who had destroyed every vestige of democracy in the commonwealth. They settled in private conference practically all nominations for important offices, controlled conventions, dictated legislation, and even sought to lay corrupt hands on the courts of justice.

[179] Had I believed that I as a candidate could have led as strong an attack upon this entrenched organization, I should not have asked Haugen or any other man to make that first fight. But I believed then, as I believe now, that however forlorn the hope of immediate achievement, the great final issue at stake demanded that the best and strongest man should meet this call to service as a patriotic duty.
         In November, 1893, I requested Haugen to stop at Madison en route to Washington, and I then pressed him to become a candidate for governor. He raised the objections which I had anticipated.
         You know," he said, in his direct, incisive way, "the forces we will have to meet. They have money; we have none. They have a powerful organization extending into every county in the state. Our support will be scattered and isolated. They will have the railroads, the great business interests, and the newspapers back of them. How can we hope to win?"
         I proposed to Mr. Haugen that he consent to

[180] my writing letters to old university friends over the state, calling upon them to join in supporting him as a candidate for governor.
         This was agreed to, and I wrote something like 1200 letters, mainly to young men who were neither allied with the Sawyer-Payne machine nor hitherto active in politics. The replies gave me great encouragement, and I asked Mr. Haugen to meet me in Chicago, where we spent a day going through the correspondence. Haugen was much gratified; he had no idea that my letters would meet with any such response.
         I recall vividly our final conference. It was at my home in Madison. There were present Mrs. La Follette, whose counsel was always valued by our little group,. General Bryant, Sam Harper, and Herbert W. Chynoweth, a leading attorney, then a member of the Board of University Regents.
         After consenting to stand as a candidate, Haugen said: "It is my judgment that we shall lose this fight, and I shall be retired from public life. But there is a chance to win. and in any event, we will make a beginning."

[181] No sooner was Haugen's candidacy announced than the fight was on. I had no misconception of the task which we had undertaken. I knew full well that we were entering upon a long political warfare. We opened headquarters in my law office, and for many weeks the lights never went out. Candidates for governor were brought forward in other sections of the state W. H. Upham in central Wisconsin, Edward Scofield in the northeast, and "Hod" Taylor, as he was known, from Dane County, in the southern part of the state. These candidates were in perfect accord, and all had the favor of the bosses of Wisconsin. Sooner or later the strength which each could command in the convention would be merged to secure victory for the machine. Sawyer declared that I should never have a seat in a Republicaan convention in Wisconsin, nor hold political office, as long as he lived. He was friendly to every other candidate, and announced that he had nothing against Haugen, but would oppose him as "La Follette s candidate."
         The fight centred on Dane County, which

[182] was the heart of my old district. Sawyer's money was everywhere. The opposition, controlled the county organization, and Roger C. Spooner, brother of Senator Spooner, was chairman of the county committee. In order to make it as difficult as possible for us, the machine brought forward no fewer than three candidates on the state ticket from Dane County alone, only one of whom (under the usages of conventions in distributing the offices geographically) could hope to be nominated. It was "anything to beat Haugen and kill off La Follette." Considered as a county fight, it was the hottest I ever saw.
         The bi-partisan character of machine politics became a prominent feature of the contest. Democratic machine newspapers and politicians joined with Republican machine newspapers and politicians to suppress this first organized revolt. The whole state watched the contest in Dane County. If the machine were successful there, if I were defeated in my own county as a delegate to the state convention, it meant the breaking down of Haugen's campaign. I sat

[183] at my desk almost day and night dictating letters to the Republican farmers, among whom I had a very wide personal acquaintance.
         The first caucuses, held in the city of Madison and in two other small cities in the county, registered a complete victory for the machine. We were defeated in every ward. It was a gloomy night in our headquarters. Many were disheartened and felt that it was a forerunner of overwhelming defeat. But it only strengthened my resolution to win, and after a brief talk every man went out from the headquarters with zeal to carry the country towns of the county, which might still give us a majority. The struggle from that time on grew fiercer to the end, which came quickly. We fairly swept the country towns, carried the county convention by four to one, and I was elected to head the delegation to the state Convention. To give emphasis to the result, the convention adopted strong resolutions declaring for Haugen for governor. The remaining four counties of my former Congressional district were likewise carried in succession, and it was a great satis-

[184] faction to lead the old district into the convention to back Haugen s candidacy.
         We did not fare so well in Haugen's district. The machine brought forward a leading Scandinavian politician as a candidate for governor, and thus embarrassed the canvass in Haugen's home county, which he lost - together with certain other counties of his district.
         The contest for the nomination in the sta e convention lasted two days. The machine united on W. H. Upham, who was finally nominated. Our forces had passed through such a struggle for election that they were fused together as one man. It was a rigid line-up against the bosses, and while we lost the nomination for governor, their forces so scattered ~on the remaining nominations that we held the balance of power, and named practically every other man on the ticket. The old machine was tried to the breaking point, and we came out of that campaign tremendously enthused and stimulated for the work ahead.. Sawyer, Payne, and the other big ones had been pressed into strenuous and continuous activity throughout the convention to hold their forces in line.

[185] Haugen accepted his, defeat with fine spirit. Expressing no regrets, he went back to his home in the little town of River Falls, Pierce County, and resumed his law practice. It was not without a keen pang that I saw him retired from public life, but defeated though we were, the spirit of the campaignof 1894 and the evidence of a growing conviction that held our forces unwaveringly throughout the convention struggle, gave me strong assurance for the future. We had gone down to our defeat in the first battle, but I never doubted we should rise again to fight, and win final victory over the old machine. And when we did win, one of my earliest acts as governor was to bring Haugen s great abilities to the service of the state as a member of the tax commission. He has served continuously in that position since, is now its chairman, and has become a leading authority on taxation in the United States.
         I did not at that period put forward a broadly constructive policy. My correspondence of that time shows that appeal was made for support primarily with a view to overthrowing corrupt

[186] machine control. It was clear to me that the single issue against boss rule would be more immediately effective in securing support in the first contest than a program for legislation which would necessarily require much more time for educational work.
         As I considered the future, it was clear that it would be necessary to devote six weeks to two months out of each biennial period, and possibly each year, in speaking and pamphleteering the state. I therefore withdrew from the firm of La Follette, Harper, Roe & Zimmerman and opened an office by myself. I found it necessary, owing to the steady growth of my law business, to employ two attorneys most of the time to aid me in briefing and preparing cases for trial. But the new arrangement gave me perfect freedom and independence. While I applied myself industriously to my profession, I set aside a brief period in the autumn of each year, which I devoted to speeches and addresses throughout the state.
         The campaign of 1894 resulted in a sweeping victory for the Republicans. Upham was elected

[187] governor and the old Sawyer-Payne-Spooner machine came back to power with restored confidence. Almost the first thing they did was to tamper with the work of the former Democratic administration in connection with the treasury cases. When the legislature assembled there had already been returned to the state, as a result of the prosecutions of former state treasurers, no less than $427,902.55, and there had been put into judgment the further sum of $181,015.68, making a total of $608,918.23. Other cases were still pending. The bosses at once began developing a plan to relieve the extreasurers from the "hardship" of paying their full indebtedness to the state, and, as a feeler, put through legislation releasing one of the treasurers from the payment of a portion of the judgment secured against him, and providing for the discontinuance of all the cases against two of the other ex-treasurers.
         Members of the legislature were fearful of public sentiment and reluctant to pass the measures, but a powerful lobby was organized under the immediate charge of Charles F.

[188] Pfister of Milwaukee, who had recently appeared as a power in Wisconsin politics. Pfister had inherited several millions from his father, Guido Pfister, who had been a bondsman for one of the state treasurers, against whom a judgment amounting to $106,683.90 had been obtained.
         Pfister had been associated with Henry C. Payne and Frank G. Bigelow, president of the First National Bank of Milwaukee, in street railway and other municipal enterprises, and had been rapidly promoted to a position of authority in the Wisconsin machine.
         The audacity of this attempt to relieve the ex-treasurers by legislation passed under the whip and spur of a powerful lobby is more apparent when it is understood that throughout the campaign of 1894 the Democrats warned voters that if a Republican governor and legislature were elected the ex-treasurers would be "let off."
         And they were let off: obligations aggregating more than a quarter of a million dollars were cancelled, and the bills were signed by Governor Upham.

[189] At the approach of the next campaign, that of 1896, Sawyer, Spooner, Payne, and Pfister saw plainly that they would have to meet the resentment of the people upon this issue. It would not do to offer Upham again as a candidate. It is true that he had done their bidding: he had served the bosses, but by that very service he had weakened himself as a candidate. Although he was personally entitled to every consideration at their hands, he had gained no independent strength with the people, and it was easy to cast him aside.
         Strange as it may seem to the reader unacquainted with machine methods, the question of Upham's renomination in 1896 was disposed of in the Planters Hotel, at St. Louis, at the time of the national Republican convention. The bosses did not regard the selection of a candidate for governor as a matter in which the voters of Wisconsin were entitled to have any voice. During a recess in the sessions of the convention, Governor Upham was summoned before an executive session of the Wisconsin bosses, informed that he would not be given the endorse-

[190] ment of a renomination, and his successor, Edward Scofield, was chosen. Of course, they expected afterward to go through the formality of calling caucuses and conventions and declare the nomination according to party usage. But it never occurred to these political rulers of the commonwealth that there was anything grotesque in their disposing of the government of the state as a side issue to a national convention.
         I came back from the national convention in 1896, to which I had been elected as an anti- machine delegate, and conferred with friends to determine on the strongest and soundest man to stand against Sawyer and his political machine. But with the sacrifice of Haugen fresh in mind, no man was willing to go out in the open as the candidate against that great power. I was determined that the fight should go on and therefore announced myself as an anti-machine candidate. An address to the independent Republican voters of the state was issued in my behalf by a number of my supporters, headed by ex-Governor W. D. Hoard, in which they said:

[191] "The time is near at hand when the Republican voters must assemble in their respective caucuses and choose delegates to their assembly conventions where in turn delegates will be chosen to the state convention for the purpose of nominating a candidate for governor.
         In our opinion it is of the highest importance that a people s man be chosen as such candidate. There was never a time when such a man was more needed for the important office of chief executive of Wisconsin than now. Will the people take their own work in their own hands, or will they allow, as they have too often done, a ring of shrewd bosses to select their candidates for them? The discontent which has prevailed in our party for nearly two years ought to teach us a lesson. It ought to bring every Republican voter to the primary caucuses with a determination to discharge his own duty as a true Republican citizen."
         It was an exciting campaign. My candidacy was at first greeted with jeers, but as it progressed, Sawyer, Spooner, Payne, and Pflster soon realized that their organization was in danger of

[192] defeat. Against a practically united press, a veteran army of trained politicians, and the lavish expenditure of money, I came down to the convention at Milwaukee on the fifth day of August, 1896, with delegates enough pledged and instructed to nominate me on the first formal ballot.
         There were six candidates for governor, of whom Scofield was the leading machine candidate. All had headquarters at the Hotel Pfister. Shortly after ten o clock that night, Captain John T. Rice, the leader of a delegation from one of the Assembly districts in Racine County, informed me that he had been taken aside into a private room and offered seven hundred dollars in money to transfer the seven delegates from his Assembly district to Scofield's support. Between that time and twelve o'clock many other delegates reported like personal experiences. One after another these delegates, in the presence of Sam Harper, General Bryant, and other friends, made detailed statements of what had transpired with them that night. These men had rejected all offers made to them. How

[193] many of my delegates had yielded to the temptation I did not know.

Shortly after midnight Charles F. Pfister came to my headquarters and asked to see me alone.
        "La Follette," he said, "we've got you skinned. We've got enough of your delegates away from you to defeat you in the convention to-morrow. Now, we don't want any trouble or any scandal. We don't want to hurt the party. And if you will behave yourself, we will take care of you when the time comes."
         I told Mr. Pfister that I was able to take care of myself and that I would whip their machine to a standstill in the convention the next day. I was not sure but that they had me beaten, but I didn't propose to run up any white flag. I didn't have one.
         When the balloting came on the next day, I was beaten, just as Pfister said. My delegates understood what had defeated them. The work of the bosses had been coarse and rank. When it was over my steadfast supporters came back in a body to the headquarters. Wrought up to

[194] a high pitch they indignantly demanded that I stand as an independent candidate, as a rebuke to the methods employed to defeat the will of the people. I shall never forget the excited throng, their flushed faces, their bitter disappointment. One of them, a young fellow - it was his first convention - broke down and sobbed like a child. I stood up and spoke to them: they needed to know that the defeat would not turn me back but drive me on with higher resolve. There came to me those lines of Henley s which had often inspired me, and which I repeated to them:

"Out of the night that covers me, /Black as the pit from pole to pole,/ I thank whatever gods there be/ For my unconquerable soul.
"In the fell clutch of circumstance/ I have not winced nor cried aloud;/ Under the bludgeoning of chance,/ My head is bloody but unbowed.
"It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll,/ I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

[195] The outraged spirit of the group quickly changed. The mood to destroy, to get quick redress, gave way, and they faced to the front with courage to fight on. I said to them that the men who win final victories are those who are stimulated to better fighting by defeat; that the people had not betrayed us, but that they themselves had been betrayed by those whom they had sent to serve them in that convention; that the wrong was not here, it was there; that it would be weak and cowardly to abandon the rank and file who believed as we believed; that if any one was forced to leave the Republican party it should be the corrupt leaders; that the bosses were not the party; that the fault lay with the system that permitted corrupt agents to betray their principles; that the evil work of the night before had forced me to do some hard thinking, and that I was going home to find some better way; that we would never compromise, never abandon the fight until we had made government truly representative of the people.
         That little army went back to their homes and told the true story of that convention.
         At that time, I had never heard of the direct primary. Indeed, there was no direct primary statute in any state, excepting a weak optional law in Kentucky. In order to become familiar with every phase of the caucus and convention system, I briefed all the laws relative to caucuses and conventions. I had resolved to attack and, if possible, overthrow the whole system in Wisconsin.
         A little later, I accepted an invitation from President Harper of the Chicago University to make an address before the faculty and students of that institution on the 22d of February, 1897. I took as my theme, "The Menace of the Political Machine." After portraying the evils of caucuses and conventions, and showing how readily they lend themselves to manipulation, defeating the will of the majority, I outlined a complete system of direct nominations for all county, legislative, and state offices, by both parties upon the same day, under the Australian ballot. So far as I am aware, this was the first presentation of a complete direct nominating system. In that speech, I said in conclusion:

[197]"Beginning the work in the state, put aside the caucus and convention. They have been, and will continue to be prostituted to the service of corrupt organization. They answer no purpose further than to give respectable form to political robbery. Abolish the caucus and the convention. Go back to the first principles of democracy; go back to the people. Substitute for both the caucus and the convention a primary election - held under the sanctions of law which prevail at the general elections - where the citizen may cast his vote directly to nominate the candidate of the party with which he affiliates and have it canvassed and returned just as he cast it. . . . Then every citizen will share equally in the nomination of the candidates of his party and attend primary elections as a privilege as well as a duty. It will no longer be necessary to create an artificial interest in the general election to induce voters to attend. Intelligent, well-considered judgment will be substituted for unthinking enthusiasm, the lamp of reason for the torchlight. The voter will not require to be persuaded that he has

[198] an interest in the election. He will know that he has. The nominations of the party will not be the result of compromise or impulse, or evil design - the barrel and the machine - but the candidates of the majority, honestly and fairly nominated."
         Of this address the Chicago Times Herald said:

"Mr. La Follette's experience with the machine has resulted in some well considered and well matured plans for the abatement of the evils growing out of our loose primary elections. If the eminently wise and practical suggestions as to how the machine may be stripped of its power in our party politics, which Mr. La Follette elaborated in his address before the students of the University of Chicago, ultimately find embodiment in state laws, the people will have occasion to feel grateful that men of his calibre have been forced into conflict with machine fighters. . . . Laws based on the lines suggested in Mr. La Follette's admirable address will afford the only practical relief from the despotism of machine politics"

Immediately after making this address, I prepared, with the assistance of Sam Harper, a bill incorporating my plan for direct nominations

[199]which was introduced in the Legislature of 1897 by William T. Lewis, a member from Racine It was not expected that it would receive favorable consideration, but it was a beginning. I knew that it would take a long educational campaign to prepare the way for its adoption. I considered, therefore, the best and cheapest means of introducing it into every home in Wisconsin. I had a limited state list which I had used in the campaigns of 1894 and 1896, but pamphleteering through the mails entails considerable expense. I therefore wrote to the owners of country weeklies of both parties, well distributed over the state, and told them of my address at the Chicago University; that the Chicago papers had considered it of sufficient importance to give it two or three columns of space, and that I believed it would be found interesting to their readers.
         I offered to furnish the address and the draft of the bill in the form of a supplement without charge, to be folded in, and distributed in the next regular issue of their papers. Something over three hundred newspapers agreed to receive it - I do not now recall

[200]a single refusal of my offer - and I thus secured the distribution of something like 400,000 copies of my address, press comments on the same, and a copy of the bill. Having some spare space I filled it out with an address by Charles Noble Gregory, now Dean of the Law Department of the George Washington University, on the English Corrupt Practices Act. One of those old supplements lies before me as I write. I think, in all my campaigning, I never got an equal amount of publicity at less cost. There came a time later when the machine was powerful enough to prevent my publishing a line in most of these papers, and forced me to use pamphlets and letters almost entirely. But of this I shall speak later.
         I had been defeated in the state convention at Milwaukee through fraud and corruption. But I went into the campaign with zest, and spoke in every important city and town in the state, closing the campaign in Milwaukee before an immense audience. Although the paramount issue in the campaign was sound money, yet with McKinley as the candidate for Presi-

[201] dent, the recent repeal of the McKinley Tariff Act, and the enactment of the Wilson- Gorman Law, made the tariff as a matter of course also a prominent issue. My personal acquaintance with McKinley and my affection for him made my interest in the campaign one of deep feeling and conviction. Having aided in framing and passing the tariff bill, I had a familiarity with the subject which enabled me to discuss it with freedom, and confidence.
         The bosses would have been pleased had I bolted the convention of 1896. The desperate means to which they were driven to control that convention convinced Sawyer and his associates of the growing strength of the opposition to the machine, and gave them serious apprehension for the future. It was said that in a conference, when it was over, Sawyer, drawing a long breath, mopped his perspiring face and said:
        "I never want to go through so hard a fight ag'in."
         Years afterward, Stephenson, now Senator, who was then with the machine and afterward [202] from 1900 to 1908 a supporter of our movement, told me that in a conference with Sawyer and the others after my defeat, he (Stephenson) said to them:
        "I can't help feelin' a good deal of sympathy for Bob La Follette. We've got the newspapers, the organization, the railroads, and free passes, and all the money, and he is fightin' us all alone. If he'd a had money enough to buy a few more postage stamps, he'd a beat us sure."
         Yes, I think Sawyer, Spooner, Pfister, and Payne would have been glad to see me leave the party and start an independent movement. Many of my close advisers, too, believed that we should break from the Republican organization and try to build up a new reform party in the state. Many Progressives urge this same course to-day. But I do not believe that it lies in the power of any one man or group of men successfully to proclaim the creation of a new political party, and give it life, and being, and achievement, and perpetuity. New parties are brought forth from time to time, and groups of men have come forward as their heralds, and

[203] have been called to leadership and command. But the leaders did not create the party. It was the ripe issue of events. It came out of the womb of time, and no man could hinder or hasten the event. No one can foretell the coming of the hour. It may be near at hand. It may be otherwise. But if it should come quickly, we may be sure strong leadership will be there; and some will say that the leaders made the party. But all great movements in society and government, the world over, are the result of growth. Progress may seem to halt; we may even seem to lose ground, but it is my deep conviction that it is our duty to do, day by day, with all our might, as best we can for the good of our country the task which lies nearest at hand. The party does not consist of a few leaders or of a controlling political machine. It consists of the hundreds of thousands of citizens drawn together by a common belief in certain principles. And it seemed to me then that it ought to be in the power of that great body, the overwhelming majority of the party, to smash the machine, to defeat corrupt leaders

[204] and to drive the officials of every rank who betray the majority out of public life. Considered as a state problem, I never have questioned the wisdom of our course in remaining within the Republican party.
         And so; in the campaign of 1896, I know that I strengthened our movement when I followed my convictions as well as my judgment, and threw myself as strongly as I could into the campaign for the election of McKinley as President.
         McKinley carried the state by 108,000; Scofield by nearly 95,000.
         In the summer of 1897 I concluded to try the experiment of campaigning for reform in an off year. It had occurred to me that one might obtain a better hearing from people of all parties when they were not in the heat and fever of a political campaign.
         On the fourth of July, 1897, I delivered an address at Mineral Point and took as my theme the "Dangers Threatening Representative Government." I delivered substantially the same address at Fern Dell, on August 23d, at the

[205] State Fair in Milwaukee. These speeches were the subject of much controversy throughout the state. The fact that they were strongly assailed by the corporation press served only to excite interest in them, and I received many more invitations to speak than it was possible for me to accept.
         One might regard a county fair as a very unsuitable place to secure an attentive hearing upon a subject seriously treated, but in all my years of campaigning I think I never made any speeches productive of better results. I found people everywhere open-minded and eager. Almost without exception those in attendance would turn from the amusements and give me their closest and best attention. I found, at every such fair, representatives of almost every township of the county, business men and well-to-do farmers, who took away with them for discussion and consideration the matter which I submitted in the address.
         The opposition criticised the fair committees severely for setting apart a day for the appear-

[206] their grounds, but so long as the supporters and patrons of the association over the county were satisfied, the protests of the machine availed nothing. I was made, however, to feel their displeasure and resentment on various occasions. On the fair grounds at Oshkosh, which was the home of Senator Sawyer, a determined effort was made to stop my address. I was speaking from a farm wagon which had been drawn on to the race track between the pavilion and the judge's stand. I had scarcely gotten under way with my address when the bell in the judge s stand gave the usual signal for starting the horse races. Dozens of uniformed boys distributed through the audience began shouting, "Score cards for sale; score cards for sale." This was followed by the appearance of half a dozen or more horses coming on to the track a quarter of a mile away, and headed directly down upon the audience, forcing those standing upon the track to stampede to places of safety. I saw that I must act quickly or lose the day, and I directed that the wagon in which I was standing be drawn upon the track. Then, turning to

[207] the judge's stand, I announced that I was there on the invitation of the association to deliver an address, and that I should not budge from my place until I had finished and, if again interrupted, my address would occupy the balance of the afternoon to. the exclusion of any other performance on that race track. I think not fewer than five thousand people stood up and cheered their approval, and I was not again interrupted.
         In the fall of 1897 a few of the friends prominently associated with me in carrying forward our campaign, bought a country weekly then published at Madison, called Old Dane. Being busy men, it was necessary for us to select an editor for this paper, and the choice was an easy one.
         From the very beginning of our contest we had not only the support of practically all university men throughout the state, but of substantially all of the students of the university old enough to be interested. The spirit of democracy pervaded university life, and a strong body of these fine, clean, brainy fellows - really able men - have been conspicuous in all the Progressive fights of Wisconsin from that

[208] day to this. They are the Progressive leaders in their communities throughout the commonwealth, and are filling the first positions in our state - Assemblymen, Senators, the Governor s office. They are to be found upon the commissions, in journalism, in the professions - not even excepting the pulpit - all earnestly striving for civic righteousness. One of the ablest and most active of these students was a boyish-looking, tow-headed Norwegian - now Congressman John M. Nelson - one of the stanchest supporters of the Progressive movement. He came from a farm in the town of Burke, a few miles out of Madison. He had taken rank as a student and a debater in the university society work, and was one of the many students who early came to my office to volunteer his services in the Haugen campaign, and likewise in the campaign of 1896. He accepted the position of editor of Old Dane, the name of which we changed to The State. As we now had a medium through which to maintain from week to week a campaign of education, the time seemed at hand to propose a constructive program. A new

[209] heading for the paper was designed, which set forth the following platform:

Protection for the products of the factory and the farm.
Sound money, a dollar s worth of dollar.
Reciprocity in trade.
Adequate revenues for state and nation.
Equal and just taxation of all the property of each individual and every corporation transacting business within the state.
Abolish caucuses and conventions. Nominate candidates by Australian ballot at a primary election.
Enact and enforce laws to punish bribery in every form by the lobby in the legislature and wherever it assails the integrity of the, public service.
Prohibit the acceptance by public officials of railroad passes, sleeping-car passes, express, telegraph, and telephone franks.
Enact and enforce laws making character and competency the requisite for service in our penal and charitable institutions.

[210] Enact and enforce laws that will prohibit corrupt practices in campaigns and elections.
         An economical administration of public affairs, reducing expenditures to a business basis.
         From the beginning the circulation of the paper rapidly extended, and soon we had readers in every part of the state. It began to exert a strong influence upon public sentiment.
         The bosses were alarmed. Here was a publication carrying the truth week by week into every community. Its policy could not be affected in any way - neither money, advertising, nor offices would divert it from its course. Something must be done. So they sought to have the post- office department at Washington deny the paper the second-class mail privilege. I knew that the affair had been instigated by Keyes and the bosses, and I wrote the departinent, inviting the most searching inspection, but stating what I knew to be the purpose back of the attack. Inspectors from Washington took possession of our books, and made a thorough investigation. I do not know what

[211] they reported, but no order came from the post-office department denying us the second-class privilege.
         In the meantime we were not only actively at work with our political propaganda and our efforts to overturn the machine, but we were also advancing constructive measures of various sorts as rapidly as we could get them to the attention of the people.
         One of these reforms was our effort to secure the passage of a law preventing railroad companies from giving free passes to political leaders and public officials. I will relate the details of the fight to secure an anti-pass law quite fully here because it shows vividly the conditions we had to meet.
         The pass abuse had grown to extraordinary proportions in Wisconsin, and the power to give passes, franks on telegraph and telephone lines, free passage on Pullman cars, and free transportation by express companies had become a great asset of the machine politicians. These insidious privileges went far toward corrupting the politics of the state. . .


[256] When we continued to make progress in spite of all this opposition the lobby made another move against us. It brought to bear all the great influence of the federal office-holders who were especially disturbed over the possible effect of a direct primary upon their control of the state. United States District Attorney Wheeler, an appointee of Spooner, and the United States District Attorney of the Eastern District, an appointee of Quarles, were much on the ground; so were United States Marshal Monahan and Collector of Internal Revenue Fink.
         Finally, before the vote on the direct primary was taken in the senate, Senator Spooner, who rarely came to Wisconsin while Congress was in session, appeared in Madison. He was there only a few days, but he was visited by members of the senate, and we felt his influence strongly against us.
         All the efforts of the lobby, combined with the opposition of the newspapers and the federal office-holders, was not without its effect upon our forces. Every moment from the time the senate convened down to the final vote on the railroad taxation bills they were weakening us, wearing us down, getting some men one way, some another, until finally before the close of the session they had not only the senate but a majority of the Republicans in the assembly. It was a pathetic and tragic thing to see honest men falling before these insidious forces. For many of them it meant plain ruin from which they never afterward recovered.
         In order to make very clear the methods employed I shall here relate in detail the stories of several of the cases which came directly under my own observation. I shall withhold the real names of the Senators and Assemblymen concerned, because many of them were the victims of forces and temptations far greater than they could resist. If I could also give the names of the men really responsible for the corruption, bribery and debauchery - the men higher up, the men behind the lobbyists - I would do it without hesitation.
         How did the lobby get them? Various ways. There was Senator A. He was a poor fellow

[258] from a northern district; a lawyer without much practice rather a weak fellow. I can t remember just on what bill it was, but they got him. When he returned to his district after the session he built an expensive home, to the amazement of all his friends, and then came down to Washington to a federal position.
         We depended on Senator B. He made a statement that he could be relied upon to support the direct primary bill. We figured him on our list until about the time that Spooner visited Madison and he got away. Senator C. was another man we had counted upon as one of the old reliables in the movement. He was an Irishman and a good talker and debater. They finally got him, too. I remember he came to me one night and said:
        "Well, I don't know but what I'm going to disappoint you in my vote on the direct primary bill."
         I could not at first think of a word to say - it was a staggering blow.
         "Why, C.," I said finally, "if you were to go over to the other side on these measures, it

[259] would seem to me like the end of everything. You couldn't do a thing like that. You have been one of the pillars of the movement."
         I don't believe I tried to reason with him. It simply was not a case for argument. There was only one side to it, for he himself had been one of our ablest speakers on the stump in favor of the direct primary.
         Well, he voted against us, and it is significant that a few months after the legislature adjourned he was appointed to a federal office and is, I believe, still in the service.
         Another instance was that of Assemblyman D., who had been for some time quite an active supporter of the reform movement. He was a small business man and came to the legislature from a county in which I was personally very strong. When the committees were being formed, he was counted so much the friend of our measures that he was placed upon one of the most important committees.
         He stood with us in the vote on direct primaries, but some little time after that Assemblyman E., who was one of our leaders in the

[260] assembly, came into my office one morning. E. was a fine young fellow, and regarded as thoroughly reliable. He was often in the executive office and I trusted him absolutely. Upon the occasion to which I refer he said:
        "Governor, I have changed my boarding place" - he had been boarding with some private family, I think - "I have moved over to the Park Hotel."
         The Park Hotel was the principal hotel in Madison, and the headquarters of all the lobbyists. I was somewhat surprised and asked him why he had moved.
        "Well," he said, "I propose to be where I can watch the game that these lobbyists are playing. I am satisfied that they are working on some of our weak members, and I am going right into their camp to see what they are doing."
         Not long after that he came to me and said:
        "How much do you know about D.? I notice him about the Park Hotel a great deal talking with lobbyists. There's something about it that I don't like.

[261] Finally in one of his talks about D. he said:
        "You want to look out for D., they've got him; you will find him going back on railroad taxation."
         I was disturbed about it. We were up pretty close, as I remember it, to final committee action on the bill. I therefore telephoned to one of the leading bankers in the town in which D. lived and asked him to come to Madison. This banker had been a university chum of mine - a man of the highest standing, and a constant and loyal supporter of the Progressive movement. He came to Madison and brought with him a prominent merchant of the town, but before they could reach D. the vote had been taken, and the result was so close that it was found that D. had cast the decisive vote against the bill. The banker and his friends took D. into a room in the capitol, and had a very earnest talk with him. They told him he would never be able to make the people believe that he didn't have the money of the railroads in his pocket for his betrayal of our cause. He never got back to the legislature.

[262] A few days later - when this same bill was before the assembly - we were to have another and a still worse shock. I have said that we trusted E. implicitly. He was one of the most enthusiastic men we had, and being a high-spirited, energetic young fellow, he was of great assistance in our fights. Whenever we gathered a little group of the members in the executive office to talk over any critical situation in the legislature, E. was always with us. He was an active young manufacturer. He often talked with us about his business. I think he had some special machine which enabled him to make his product more cheaply than other manufacturers.
         One day E. Ray Stevens came into my office and said, "Governor, I wish you would send up and ask E. to come down here. I don t just like the way he talks."
        "Why," I said, "Ray, there can't be anything wrong with E."
         Then I began to think that he had not been in to see me for three or four days. "Well,"! said, "I will send up."

[263] When he came through the door he did not meet me with his characteristic frankness. But I greeted him exactly as usual and said, "E., I want to have a little talk with you."
         I moved my chair right up to his, placed my hands on his knees and looked him in the eye a moment before I spoke. Then I asked, "E., what's the matter?"
         The tears started in his eyes and the response came at once.
        "Governor, I can't help it. I've got to vote against the railroad taxation bill." After a moment he added, "I haven't slept any for two or three nights. I have walked the floor. I have thought of resigning and going home."
        "Tell me all about it, E.," I said.
        "Well," he replied, "you know that all I have in the world I have put into that factory of mine. I have told you about how proud I was of the thing. Now," he said, "this railroad lobby tells me that if I vote for that railroad taxation bill they will ruin me in business. They can take away everything I've got. They have threatened to give my competitors advantages

[264] over me in railroad rates that will offset any advantages I have with my new machinery. Now, I can't beggar my family. I have a wife and babies."
         I said, "E., you can't do this wrong. You can't violate your conscience." I talked to him quite a bit. He got up and walked the floor. He said he would always be for our measures, but he could not risk being driven to the wall. And then he left the office.
         A few minutes before the roll call on the bill, E., who sat next to Lenroot, turned to him and said, "Lenroot, in five minutes I am going to violate my oath of office." Lenroot was shocked and said, "What do you mean?" He replied:
        "It is a question between my honor and my bread and butter, and I propose to vote for my bread and butter." And he voted against the bill.
         Assemblyman F. was nominated by a convention that was overwhelmingly for the direct primary. It adopted a platform specifically pledging the nominee to support the direct primary bill, and F., the candidate, formally

[265] accepted and agreed faithfully to carry out the instructions of the convention.
         During the all-night session in the assembly on the primary bill, F. was called from the floor into the clerk's room by a member of the senate who offered him five hundred dollars to vote against the bill. F. told the lobbyist that he would not dare to go back to his constituents if he voted against that bill, as he had solemnly promised them when nominated to vote for it. F. said he would like to do anything the Senator wanted him to and he would like the five hundred, but he did not dare to violate his pledge. After more of this talk they left the clerk s room. The room was not lighted.
         At the time there was lying on a lounge in that room Assemblyman G., who was ill and had been brought from a sick room to attend upon this important session. He recognized F. s voice and also the name of the Senator, which F. repeatedly used during the negotiations. Assemblyman G. reported the whole matter to Lenroot, who informed me. We agreed that here was a case that we could take

[266] into the court if G. would swear to the facts as reported to Lenroot. It was hoped that a successful prosecution might check the bribers in their raid on our legislation.
         I sent for G. In Lenroot's presence he repeated the conversation between F. and the senator, just as he had given it to Lenroot. I then called F. to the executive chamber. He admitted the conversation as detailed by G., but was slow about confirming G. as to the name of the Senator which he had used again and again in discussing the five-hundred-dollar proposal while in the clerk's room.
         Another interview was arranged, at which. time he promised to tell everything. Before that interview the lobby did such effective work with both F. and G. that their memories utterly failed them as to every important detail of the whole event, and without these two witnesses there was no case.
         Such was the opposition we had to meet on all of our measures, the lobby standing together as one man against both the taxation and the direct primary bills.
         It was about the middle of March, after inconceivable delays, before the Direct Primary bill could be finally gotten up in the assembly for consideration, and it was then bitterly opposed.
         When the debate was finally exhausted there was an all-night session so managed in a parliamentary way as to prevent a vote being taken. In the meantime lobbyists were calling members of the assembly outside of the chamber, liquor was brought into the capitol, and into the committee rooms. Members were made drunk and brought back in such a condition of intoxication that they had to be supported to their seats. And yet, in spite of all this, we retained the support of enough members to pass the bill.
         When it reached the senate, though the members were hostile to it, they dared not kill it outright. The sentiment in the state, they knew, was too strong. Accordingly, they pursued the usual indirect means of accomplishing the same end - by passing a substitute measure called the Hagemeister bill, which defeated the real purpose of the reform.

[268] This substitute was indeed supported by some of our friends who were affected by the argument that it was a good thing to make a start, that "half a loaf is better than no bread"; that it was necessary at any hazard to "get something on the statute books."
         But in legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf. I believe it is usually better to be beaten and come right back at the next session and make a fight for a thoroughgoing law than to have written on the books a weak and indefinite statute. The gentlemen who opposed this were ingenious. Under the Hagemeister substitute they proposed to try out the direct primary principle with respect to county offices alone. Now, they knew well enough that county elections scarcely touch the real problem of party caucuses, conventions and legislation; that they involve little besides personal strife for small local offices. They expected by the application of such a law to discredit the direct primary by bringing out a miserably small vote with a big expense charged up against it. They knew that it would take several years to try out

[269] the experiment and that by that time the Progressive group, unable to prove the excellence of their policies, would have merited the distrust of the people.
         I had thought all this out years before. All through our earlier contests we could have obtained some mild or harmless compromises and concessions. But I was clear that we should not stand for anything that did not strike at the root of the whole boss system. So I promptly vetoed the Hagemeister bill and took the severe lashing of the same newspapers which had all along been fighting the direct primary.
         My attitude in this case, and in several other similar matters, has given me the reputation of being radical and extreme. And if this is radicalism then indeed I am a radical; but I call it common sense. It is simply the clear comprehension of the principle involved, and the clear conception of the utter destruction of that principle, if only a part of it is applied. I have always believed that anything that was worth fighting for involved a principle, and I insist on going fair enough to establish that principle and to

[270] give it a fair trial. I believe in going forward a step at a time, but it must be a full step. When I went into the primary fight, and afterward into the railroad fight - and it has been my settled policy ever since - I marked off a certain area in which I would not compromise, within which compromise would have done more harm to progress than waiting and fighting would have done.
         The Socialists, for example, assert that the regulation of railroads, for which I have always stood firmly, will not work - that it is a compromise, and that we cannot escape governmental ownership. But I say that regulation is in itself a complete step, involving a definite and clear policy or principle. I think it will work, and I know it ought to be thoroughly tested. If it proves the correct solution of the problem, we have no farther to go; if it does not, we can take the next full step with confidence that we have behind us that great body of the people who can only be convinced by events. Difficulties leading to social explosions are caused not by too lengthy or hasty strides of progress

[271] but by holding back and preventing the people from taking the next full step forward when they are ready for it.
         So I vetoed the Hagemeister bill, and decided to go again before the people with the whole issue. I knew the people of. Wisconsin thoroughly. I knew from close contact with them what they were thinking, what they believed. I knew also that I was advocating a sound principle which no amount of abuse or misrepresentation could finally defeat. I felt sure they would support me - as indeed they did when the time came, and most loyally.
         After the direct primary matter was disposed of, the railroad taxation bills took foremost place in the legislature. By this time the lobbyists had reached a good many of our men and we began to fear that we could not even control the assembly. They held back the taxation bills and were evidently trying to smother them. I waited patiently and hopefully for the legislature to act. Weeks went by. Hearings were strung out. It was perfectly plain that it was their plan to beat the bills by delay. . .


[287] So, at last, after all these years of struggle, we wrote our railroad tax legislation into the statutes of Wisconsin. As an immediate result, railroad taxes were increased more than $600,000 annually. When I came into the governor s office, on January 1, 1901, the state was in debt $330,000 and had only $4,125 in the general

[288] fund. But so great were the receipts from our new corporation taxes, and from certain other sources, that in four years time, on January 1, 1905, we had paid off all our indebtedness and had in the general fund of the treasury $407,506. We had so much on hand, indeed, that we found it unnecessary to raise any taxes for the succeeding two years.
         Indeed, we so reorganized and equalized our whole system of taxation that the state to- day is on a sounder, more businesslike foundation than ever before. We brought in so much property hitherto not taxed or unequally taxed that, while the expenses of the state have greatly increased, still the burden of taxation on the people has actually decreased. While corporations in 1900 paid taxes of $2,059,139 a year, in 1910 they paid $4,221,504 a year, or more than double. Wisconsin to-day leads all the states of the union in the proportion of its taxes collected from corporations. It derives 70 per cent. of its total state taxes from that source, while the next nearest state, Ohio, derives 52 per cent,

[289] In 1908 we passed an inheritance tax law which yielded us $26,408 in the following year and has increased steadily since.
         In 1905 I recommended a graduated income tax which has since been adopted by the state. It is the most comprehensive income tax system yet adopted in this country. Those who receive incomes of over $500 must make a return to the tax assessor. The tax at 1 per cent. begins on incomes above $800 in the case of unmarried people and above $1,200 in the case of married persons, increasing one half of 1 per cent. or thereabout for each additional $1,000, until $12,000 is reached; when the tax becomes 5 1/2 per cent. On incomes above $12,000 a year the tax is 6 per cent.
         All of these new sources of income have enabled us to increase greatly the service of the state to the people without noticeably increasing the burden upon the people. Especially have we built up our educational system. In 1900 the state was expending $550,000 a year on its university; in 1910 it appropriated over $1,700,000, and there has been a similar increase for [290] our normal and graded schools and charitable institutions. Under the constitution the state debt is limited to $100,000, so that we must practically pay as we go. Recently we have been building a state capitol to cost $6,000,000, at the rate of $700,000 to $1,000,000 a year from current funds.
         After the railroad taxation bills were out of the way in the legislature of 1903 a law was passed, upon my recommendation, providing for the appointment of a corps of expert accountants to investigate the books of the railroad companies doing business in Wisconsin with a view to ascertaining whether they were honestly and fully reporting their gross earnings upon Wisconsin business. The railroads had always been left practically free to assess themselves; that is, they transmitted annually to the state treasurer the reports of gross earnings on which they paid a license fee of 4 per cent. in lieu of all taxes, and no one connected with the state knew whether these reports were accurate or not. I was confident, also, and so stated, that such an examination of the companies books would finally settle the facts as to whether the railroads of Wisconsin were or were not paying rebates to the big shippers. And, as I have said, I wanted the legal evidence. As no one could make an argument against such an investigation, we got the law.
         Expert accountants were immediately employed and presented themselves at the main offices of the railroads in Chicago. The railroad officials did not exactly refuse them admittance, but asked them to come - again. In this way they succeeded in securing some weeks of delay; for what purpose or for what preparation we were never able to learn. But in course of time the Wisconsin accountants were admitted to their offices, and made a thorough investigation, resulting in the discovery that rebates had been given to the amount of something like $1,100,000 during the preceding period of six years. In short., we found that in reporting gross earnings the railroads had left out all account of these secret rebates and we therefore demanded the payment of taxes upon them. . . .

[311] In all of my campaigns in Wisconsin I had much impressed with the fact that women as keenly interested as men in the questions of railroad taxation, reasonable transportation charges, direct primaries, and indeed in the whole Progressive program. They compre-

[312] hended its relation to home life and all domestic problems. They understood what it meant for the railroads to escape paying a million dollars of justly due taxes every year. They knew that the educational system of the state must be supported; that every dollar lost to the educational, charitable, and other institutions of the state through tax evasions by railroad and other corporations must be borne by added taxes upon the homes and farms. They understood that freight rates were a part of the purchase price of everything necessary to their daily lives; that when they bought food and fuel and clothing they paid the freight. As a result my political meetings were generally as largely attended by women as by men, and these questions were brought directly into the home for study and consideration. It has always been inherent with me to recognize this co-equal interest of women. My widowed mother was a woman of wise judgment; my sisters were my best friends and advisers; and in all the work of my public life my wife has been my constant companion.

[313] Mrs. La Follette and I were classmates at the University of Wisconsin, and naturally we had common interests. The first year of our married life, in order to strengthen myself in the law, I was re-reading Kent and Blackstone at home evenings, and she joined me. This led later to her taking the law course as an intellectual pursuit. She never intended to practise. She was the first woman graduated from the Wisconsin University Law School.
         On one occasion when my firm was overwhelmed with work at the circuit, and the time was about to expire within which our brief should be served in a supreme court case, it having been stipulated that the case should be submitted without argument, I proposed to Mrs. La Follette that she prepare the brief. It was a case which broke new ground, and her brief won with the Supreme Court.
         About a year afterward Chief Justice Lyon, in the presence of a group of lawyers, complimented me on the brief which my firm had filed in that case, saying, "It is one of the best briefs submitted to the court in years, and in writing

[314] the opinion I quoted liberally from it because it was so admirably reasoned and so clearly stated." I said, "Mr. Chief Justice, you make me very proud. That brief was written by an unknown but very able member of our bar - altogether the brainiest member of my family. Mrs. La Follette wrote that brief, from start to finish."
         Although Mrs. La Follette never made any further practical use of her law, this training brought her into closer sympathy and companionship with me in my professional work, and in my political career she has been my wisest and best counsellor. That this is no partial judgment, the Progressive leaders of Wisconsin who welcomed her to our conferences would bear witness. Her grasp of the great problems, sociological and economic, is unsurpassed by any of the strong men who have been associated with me in my work.
         It has always seemed to me that women should play a larger part than they do in the greater housekeeping of the state. One of the factors in the improvement of conditions in Wisconsin

[315] has been the selection of able women for positions in the state service, particularly upon those boards having to do with the welfare of women.
         In my first message to the legislature, after I became governor, I recommended the appointment of a woman as factory inspector, and also that women should serve on the Boards of University and Normal School Regents, and on the very important Board of Control, which has charge of all the charitable, penal and reformatory institutions of the state.
         At first, even in our own camp, there was some opposition to the appointment of women in the state service - a survival of the old political belief that "the boys ought to have the places- and especially the places that carried good salaries - but that feeling has disappeared before the evidences of the high character of the services which these women have rendered.
         Mrs. La Follette and other interested women exercised a helpful influence in securing the legislation and in making the appointments.

[316] Dr. Almah J. Frisbey, a practicing physician of Milwaukee, was made a member of the Board of University Regents. She was graduated from the university in 1878, and is a woman of exceptionally strong character and high ability. She remained on the Board until I appointed her to a place on the State Board of Control of Charitable and Penal Institutions, where she has since served with great usefulness.
         To succeed Doctor Frisby on the Board of Regents I selected Kate Sabin Stevens, a sister of Ellen Sabin, President of Downer College, Milwaukee, and wife of Judge E. Ray Stevens. She was a graduate of the university, had been Superintendent of Schools of Dane County, and was especially qualified as a representative woman for the place.
         As State Inspector of Factories, Miss Ida M. Jackson, now wife of Professor Charles T. Burgess of the University of Wisconsin, was chosen - a bright young woman, who through her newspaper experience had become interested in social questions, and was well prepared for the

[317] Mrs. Theodora Youmans, of Waukesha, was placed on the Board of Normal School Regents, a position she has held continuously since. Mrs. Charles M. Morris, of Berlin, was appointed a member of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. Mrs. Youmans and Mrs. Morris were two out of five members selected on the Board of World s Fair Commissioners. They are women of tact and broad understanding, and unusually fitted for public work, each having served as President of the State Federation of Women s Clubs, in which they have been, since its organization, recognized leaders.
         I believe not only in using the peculiar executive abilities of women in the state service, but I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in woman suffrage. The great economic and industrial questions of to-day affect women as directly as they do men. And the interests of men and women are not antagonistic one to the other, but mutual and coordinate. Co-suffrage, like co- education, will react not to the special advantage of either men or women, but will result in a more enlightened, better balanced

[318] citizenship, and in a truer democracy. I am glad to say that the legislature of Wisconsin passed, at its last session, a suffrage law which will be submitted on referendum next November to the voters f the state. I shall support it and campaign for it.

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