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Progressive Party of 1924, La Follette's


PROGRESSIVE PARTY OF 1924, LA FOLLETTE'S. The Progressive Party of 1924 originated in 1922 as the Conference for Progressive Political Action (CPPA), organized by leaders of the railroad brotherhoods. After liberal gains in the congressional elections of that year, state and local branches of the CPPA were organized, but the CPPA initially opposed the formation of a political party. The scandals of the Warren G. Harding administration altered its opinion and led it to view Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin as a suitable presidential challenger, though it did not officially nominate him, so that he could continue to run as an independent. The CPPA platform called for a reduction in the power of the judiciary, construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, public control of money and credit, public ownership of waterpower and railroads, and the provision of federal public works at times of depression. It also attempted to empower the weak by seeking to give workers the right to organize and bargain collectively and by offering greater aid to farmers' cooperatives.

Interest groups formed a key component of the progressive movement, but not all were sympathetic to the idea of a third party. Railroad unions had come to advocate government intervention to improve their wages and working conditions, particularly after the railroadswhich had been government-run during World War Ireturned to private ownership in 1920. They were instrumental in creating the People's Legislative Service to support prolabor candidates and saw the La Follette candidacy as a means of exerting pressure in pursuit of their objectives. The American Federation of Labor (AFL)had also been interested in increasing workers' job control after World War I, but had been defeated by employers' resistance and various court decisions. The AFL worked for the election of Progressive candidates in 1922, and backed La Follette in 1924 because he was an independent rather than a third party candidate, viewing the movement as a chance to elect friendly members of Congress. Farming groups also saw in the La Follette candidacy a chance to advance their agenda of agricultural protection and farm subsidies. Such groups all saw their support for the Progressive campaign as a way to articulate their particular interests without sacrificing their independence.

By contrast, a number of state Farmer-Labor parties backed the movement in the hope of creating a national third party organization. The same was true of middle-class reformers in the Committee of Forty-Eight, who favored a broad-based liberal party. A clear division existed within the movement between those prewar Progressives (like La Follette)who inclined toward consumer-oriented political democracy and those who favored job-oriented economic democracy. La Follette's belief in the malignant power of economic monopoly meant that he was generally critical of all interest-group activity and often ignored the consumer benefits of economic concentration. Future New Deal theorists like Rexford Tugwell and Felix Frankfurter favored government planning and the involvement of interest groups in reform.

La Follette added to his appeal when he picked Democratic Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana as his running mate and carried out a major speaking campaign. Nevertheless, the campaign was poorly coordinated, had little funding, and lacked a strong precinct organization. La Follette received 4,814,050 votes, or 16.6 percent of the popular vote. Although he finished second in eleven states in the West and Midwest, he carried only his home state of Wisconsin. The ticket had sectional appeal and was also strong among Scandinavians and in certain Catholic communities in the urban Northeast. After the election, the progressive movement quickly dissolved as the unions abandoned it. It did, however, lay the groundwork for the New Deal coalition of the 1930s and served as a stepping-stone for the rise of interest-group liberalism.


Briley, Ronald F. "Insurgency and Political Realignment: Regionalism and the Senatorial Elections of 1922 in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Minnesota." Mid America 72, no. 1 (1990): 4969.

MacKay, Kenneth C. The Progressive Movement of 1924. New York: Octagon Books, 1972. Reprint of original 1947 edition.

Waterhouse, David L. The Progressive Movement of 1924 and the Development of Interest Group Liberalism. New York: Garland, 1991.

Jeremy Bonner

See also Farmer-Labor Party of 1920 ; Political Parties ; Progressive Movement ; Railroad Brotherhoods .

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