La Follette, Philip

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Philip Fox ("Phil") La Follette (May 8, 1897–August 18, 1965), three-term governor of Wisconsin (1931–1933, 1935–1939), was one of the most creative and controversial politicians of the Depression era. In appearance, demeanor, and ambition, he resembled his father, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., a former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator. Phil La Follette was educated in Madison and Washington, D.C., schools and at the University of Wisconsin, where he also obtained a law degree. After engaging in private practice, serving for two years as district attorney of Wisconsin's Dane County, and doing some teaching at the University of Wisconsin law school, La Follette was elected governor on the Republican ticket in 1930. Although he persuaded the legislature to pass the nation's first unemployment compensation law and several other significant measures, he, like many other incumbents that year, lost in his bid for reelection during the desperate economic circumstances of 1932. After spurning offers of a high-level job in Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic administration, he allied himself politically with the president during the early New Deal years. La Follette played the leading role in launching the new Wisconsin Progressive Party in 1934 and recaptured the governorship that fall, while his brother Bob went back to the U.S. Senate on the same ticket.

La Follette's focus during his second term as governor was on a massive public-works program. His cooperative relationship with Roosevelt enabled the state to administer federal relief monies outside the normal bureaucratic channels of the Works Progress Administration. During his third term, with Progressives commanding a tenuous majority in the legislature and amid great acrimony, La Follette rammed through measures for governmental reorganization, a labor relations act, an agricultural authority, and a public power plan that collectively constituted a "Little New Deal" for the state. Meanwhile, political ambition led him to distance himself from the president and launch the National Progressives of America in April 1938. The new party went nowhere and La Follette lost in his run for a fourth term that fall. After service on General Douglas MacArthur's staff during World War II, La Follette practiced law, dabbled in business and politics, and wrote his memoirs.



La Follette, Philip F. Papers. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.

La Follette, Philip F. Adventure in Politics: The Memoirs of Philip La Follette, edited by Donald Young. 1970.

McCoy, Donald R. Angry Voices: Left-of-Center Politics in the New Deal Era. 1958.

Miller, John E. Governor Philip F. La Follette, the Wisconsin Progressives, and the New Deal. 1982.

John E. Miller

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La Follette, Philip

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