Historical records matching Robert La Follette, Jr., U.S. Senator
About Robert La Follette, Jr., U.S. Senator
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., the brother of Philip La Follette, and Fola La Follette, whose husband was the playwright George Middleton.
La Follette was born in Madison, Wisconsin to Robert M. La Follette, Sr. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1913 to 1917, but did not graduate due to an illness (he received an Honorary LLD from Univ. of Wisconsin in 1938). This same illness prevented him from serving in the military during World War I. He served as private secretary to his father between 1919 and 1925. He married Rachel Wilson Young in 1930, and they had two sons, the late Joseph Oden La Follette and Bronson Cutting La Follette.
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 Wisconsin Progressive Party in 1934 and 1940. 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.
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. 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.)
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.
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.
He was interred at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin, and was survived by his son, Bronson La Follette, who served as Wisconsin's attorney general from 1965 to 1969, and from 1975 to 1987.
 Awards and honorsThe 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.