The American Progressive Movement
What every Conservative needs to know
The Second Progressive Movement 1924-1947
Robert M La Follette Sr.
This era started with Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. when he created the Progressive Party to run for President in the 1924 Election. He would run against Republican Calvin Coolidge, Democrat John W. Davis and La Follette as the Progressive. Coolidge had been Vice President under Warren G. Harding and took over as President when Harding died in office. Coolidge was popular because of a booming economy and there were no great problems in the world at that particular time so the voters elected him in hopes of the good times continuing. Davis had been a lesser know Congressman from West Virginia and a Diplomat but he was considered a Conservative by the Liberal Democrats who subsequently abandoned him in favor of Progressive La Follette. Splitting the Democratic vote made for an easy election win for Coolidge with 54% of the vote while Davis got 28.8% and La Follette ended up only getting 16.6%.
Following his defeat La Follette ran as a Republican for the Senate in 1925 after his father died and won. He was called “Young Bob” and was the champion of organized labor. Between 1936 and 1940 he chaired what would be called the La Follette Civil Liberties Committe. The committee investigated the practice of some big business using physical intimidation and unauthorized surveillance to prevent their employees from forming unions. He was also a big supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. La Follette was unsuccessful in his re-election Senatorial bid in 1946 narrowly losing in the Republican Primary to Joseph McCarty. After that loss he served as a foreign aid during the Truman Administration. On Feb. 8,1947 in a Colliers Weekly article he reported on the infiltration of Communists onto Congressional Staffs Later the Verona Project would reveal just how deeply the Communists had gained access to top secret materials and the reign of Joseph McCartly began. On Feb. 24, 1953 La Follette was found dead of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It would later be charged that La Follette had Communists working on his own staff, whether these charges was the reason for his suicide are unclear but seem reasonable. Thus ended the career of the very controversial Robert M. La Follette Sr.
The next big chance for the Progressive movement came with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President 1933-1945
Roosevelt began the roots of his political career in 1910 running for the New York State Senate. Because of his family’s wealth and influence and a Democratic landslide the won the election and took his place in Albany, New York on Jan.1,1911. He soon became the leader of a group known as the “Insurgents” who opposed the then powerful Democratic Tammany machine run under the Bossism system that centered on a single leader often called “The Boss” that with the help of other committees used financing political careers and seeking support from Labor Unions and big city political machines who could get out the vote. With the Democratic caucus deadlocked in Jan. of 1911 Roosevelt successfully backed James A. O’Gorman who defeated the Tammany candidate William F. Sheehan. This action helped propel Roosevelt to national recognition and popularity with New York Democrats. It was also at this time that Roosevelt started to become more and more a believer and supporter of the Progressive movement and its philosophies. He was also influenced by his cousin Teddy Roosevelt and his work in conservation and his support of the labor movement. Roosevelt was developing his political experience and he started to polish his political speech making. Roosevelt won a second term as a New York State Senator and was to serve as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. Roosevelt was a strong backer of Woodrow Wilson in opposition to the Tammany Hall candidate. Wilson rewarded him with the appointment of Assistant Secretary of the Navy and on March 17, 1913 he resigned his seat as a State Senator to accept his appointment. During his time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt developed a strong liking for the Navy that would last throughout the rest of his life. Roosevelt supported the idea of a large and expanded navy and founded the United States Navy Reserve . He was instrumental in getting bigger naval budgets approved by Congress and was supportive of the Labor Unions who fought against the “Stopwatch” system favored by the shipbuilding companies and during his time that he served as Assistant Secretary there were no union strikes.
After an unsuccessful run as the Vice Presidential Candidate for James M Cox Roosevelt developed what was then called Polio and would end up being paralyzed from the waist down, although he tried many different treatments he would remain paralyzed for the rest of his life. That didn’t stop him though and with the help of powerful people such as William Randolph Hearst, Joseph P Kennedy Sr., William Gibbs McAdoo and John Nance Garner Roosevelt secured the nomination for the 1933 Presidential Election which he won and was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. This was the middle of The Great Depression when 25% of the workforce was unemployed and millions of Americans were homeless. Roosevelt’s answer to the problem was to start blaming the economic crisis on bankers and financiers. Big corporations were also included for their supposed quest for profit on the backs of the working public. Roosevelt was determined to put the tens of millions of the unemployed back to work and to strengthen the Unions in their effort to organize the labor force. Roosevelt started a series of radio broadcast also called “Fireside Chats” to take his ideas directly to the American people. Roosevelt’s famous quote of “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” that was delivered in the middle of the banking crisis. Roosevelt was carefully laying the groundwork for his Progressive plans for the future of America. Roosevelt played on the fears the average American had about losing their jobs and homes and the building resentment of the rich and powerful. Congress was under great pressure to help this new hero of the disadvantaged and the day after his “Fear” speech Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act. To reverse the lack of confidence in the banking system that had failed and wiped out the savings of so many Americans Roosevelt pushed for and got passed and signed the Glass-Steagall Act that established the “FDIC” Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. To help put some of the younger Americans back to work Roosevelt created the “C.C.C.” Civilian Conservation Corps, this was Roosevelt’s favorite agency and it immediately put 250,000 men to work on local rural projects. As Roosevelt’s popularity grew with the people he accelerated as many public programs as he could ramrod through Congress. As more and more homeowners and farmers received financial relief his popularity continued to grow and the start of the Entitlement Society began to take root. Roosevelt’s idea that the more people became dependent on the government the more power government had to control their lives. The creation of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 that forced industries to adopt a series of codes designed to control their operation and to give the unions greater access and power to organize the labor force. Class Warfare was being seeded in the minds of the working class and has been a tool of the Progressives and Liberals ever since. Unemployment dropped from its 25% high at the start of his administration but had dropped to an amazing 1.9% during WW2 due to wartime manufacturing to support the war effort. All of this was part of the first part of the “New Deal” with yet more to come. The Securities and Exchange Commission was created to regulate the stock market along with the TVA Tennessee Valley Authority that was to become the largest government owned industry in American history. Prohibition was repealed and the taxes collected from the sale of now legal alcohol brought in much needed revenue. The second part of the New Deal was accelerated when the Democrats gained large majorities in both houses during the 1934 Congressional Election. With the control of the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives, Roosevelt bulldozed the Republican minority and enacted Bill after Bill including Works Progress Administration, Social Security Act that promised to provide economic security. Roosevelt also kept his promise to the unions with the Wagner Act that would become The National Labor Relations Act. This act established as a Federal Right for workers to organize Unions and join collective bargaining with their employers. A coalition and partnership was thus formed between the Democrats and the Unions that still holds today.
With the advent of WW2 the economy boomed because of the war production of Arms, Ammunition and the tools to fight both the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific. During Roosevelt’s second term 1937-1941 Roosevelt added the Housing Act of 1937 and the Fair Standards Act. All of these laws and acts furthered Roosevelt’s Progressive plan to make the Government the provider and America to become a Welfare State.
- a system whereby the state undertakes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, especially those in financial or social need, by means of grants, pensions, and other benefits
Because the 22nd Amendment had not yet been passed Roosevelt secured a 3rd term as President that was pre occupied with WW2 and little was done to further the Progressive cause. On Jan. 20, 1945 Roosevelt was re-elected to an unprecedented 4th term but died in office ending his Progressive campaign to change America.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt will be remembered as the Progressives movements’ greatest achiever who did more to promote and further the Progressives ideals that any person in history to that time. We will learn more of the Progressive movement after Roosevelt in Part 3