Politician and reformer, La Follette was born in Primrose, Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1879, he was admitted to the bar. With his intelligence, urbanity, charm, and an ambitious wife, Belle Case (1859–1921), the first woman graduate in law from the University of Wisconsin, La Follette soon entered politics. He served the state of Wisconsin as district attorney of Dane County (1880, 1882), and he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1885 to 1891. After his failed bid for reelection in 1891, he returned to private practice, where he developed his own political program.
His plan became nationally known as the “Wisconsin idea.” It advocated direct primaries, equalization of tax rates, and regulation of railroads. Because of his political ideas, he amassed a statewide following that elected him governor three times, 1900, 1902, and 1904. From 1906 to 1925 he served as U.S. senator. In 1911 La Follette helped organize the National Progressive Republican League. As La Follette's popularity and movement grew, Theodore Roosevelt found this new party attractive, and in 1912 Roosevelt assumed leadership of the Progressive Party.
While not always agreeing with La Follette's proposals, Du Bois endorsed La Follette's 1924 platform. However, while endorsing La Follette, Du Bois excoriated him for “avoiding direct reference to black people” (The Crisis, August 1924). But Du Bois declared that he would vote for La Follette. In 1936 Du Bois noted La Follette's efforts in attempting to transform political history.
The Crisis. (August 1924).
Maxwell, Robert S., ed. La Follette. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969.
“The Shape of Fear.” North American Review (June 1926).