Then-Governor Philip Fox LaFollette in 1935
President Philip Fox LaFollette (1937 - 1949)
Born in 1897, Philip "Phil" Fox LaFollette was the second son of Wisconsin Governor and Senator, Robert M. LaFollette Sr. As the son of one of the leading Progressive leaders in the United States, LaFollette's early life was dominated by politics. From an early age, he took part in the political activities of his family, speaking on the stump, and leading the ins and outs of effective grassroots political organization. He, along with his elder brother Robert M. LaFollette Jr., also absorbed much of his father's political attitudes, which stressed an activist Federal government, strong state governments and isolationism - though this latter belief would challange him in later years. At the outbreak of The FIrst Great War, the elder LaFollette became a one of the leading anti-interentionist spokesmen in the nation - a fact which won him the general approval of Wisconsin's German-American population, but also the ire of the state and nation's pro-war factions and would eventually lead to him being burned in effigy on the campus of the University of Wisconsin - an incident which Phil LaFollette witnessed as a student.
Haunted by the scene, Phil volunteered with the US Marine Corp - a decision which lead to a major conflict between himself and his father. Serving on the Western front, LaFollette was cited cited for bravery and also wounded while storming German lines: he would later he commended for his actions by President Charles E. Hughes. Despite the strained relationship with his Father lasting throughout the war, Phil's wounding and honorable discharge mollified his father and upon his return, he continued to work toward's his Father's political interests. His status as a war veteran would serve him well on the campaign trail for his Father's campaign for the Presidency in 1924. Although the elder LaFollette was not successful, Phil's contributions helped to cement his status as heir apparent to the LaFollette political machine. Though due to his age, this status did not allow him to capture the nomination for his Father's senate seat when the elder LaFollette passed away in 1926 - the nomination, and the seat, going instead to his elder brother. A fact which caused some bitterness between the brothers for years to come.
Denied the Senate seat he desired, Phil instead threw himself into his law practice and was able to secure his election as Dane County District Attorney and from there, made his play for the GOP nomination for Wisconsin Governor in 1930. Campaigning on the need for a strong response to the then worsening Great Depression, LaFollette attacked United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his preceived inaction in dealing with the crisis, as well as painting sitting Wisconsin Governor Herbert J. Kohler as equally inept. In the GOP primary, LaFollette handedly defeated Kohler and went on to an easy victory over the Democrats as part of a national landslide. At the age of 33, LaFollette would be the youngest governor in the history of the State and the youngest then serving.
The LaFollette adminsitration won national laudations for its response to the Depression, but Phil's age would prevent him from securing the nomination for President in 1932. Instead, the GOP nominated Herbert Hoover who campaigned on his record of bring relief to war-torn Europe after the Great War. LaFollette campaigned vigoriously for the candidate, and many believed he was angling for a position in the Hoover cabinet, though such an appointment never came - whether this was because he believed "I could do more work in Wisconsin" as he later claimed, or whether he was snubbed by Hoover is still a matter of debate. Some believed that Hoover feared being upstaged by the young LaFollette, who was already becoming known as a colorful and engaging speaker, and who's war record made him a dashing figure in his own right. for LaFollette's part, though he refused to criticize Hoover openly, LaFollette Monthly the family's political mouthpiece did so frequently in veiled terms for the next four years, pushing for a more vigorious engagement with the Depression.
Whatever bad feelings may have existed between Hoover and LaFollette, they were mollified in 1936. Hoover's response to the Depression had been more moderate than many had hoped, and the economic conditions had yet to greatly improve. Sensing an opportunity, the Democrats nominated the flamboyant and mercurial Huey P. Long for the Presidency. Hoover wished to stay above the fray and continue to be seen as an statesman, and this neccesitated a member of the ticket who could take on Long openly. And so, Phil LaFollette was offered the vice-presidency - a position which he later claimed that he had not wished as it would take him away from the State, and the Senate seat he desired. He would later claim that it was his brother who talked him into accepting the spot on the ticket.
Hoover decisively won reelection in 1936, and much of the credit went to LaFollette who tirelessly toured the nation, speaking out against Long and praising the work of the administration (drawing some questions from those who remembered his criticisms of Hoover from just a year prior). LaFollette immeidately set in, attemptign to make his Vice-Presidency the most influential in American history - efforts which immediately won the ire of Hoover loyalists and the President himself, who felt that the new Vice-President was "getting too big for his britches."
Conflicts between LaFollette and Hoover became a moot point on October 9, 1937 however, when the President was gunned down by a Long-loyalist while visiting Florida. LaFollette was sworn in later that day and, at only 40 years of age, becoming the youngest President in American history. Following a short preiving period, LaFollette set to work putting his stamp on the Presidency. What followed what a purging of the cabinet of Hoover loyalists and their replacement with younger officials - many of whom where considered experts in their field but who had not held office in the past - perhaps one his most important nominees was Governor Quintin Roosevelt of New York as Secretary of the Navy (thereby ending the family feud which had developed between their fathers). While the new President gained credit for injecting new blood into his administration, these same actions caused bad blood within some circles as well. He then turned to the Senate where he engaged his brother, Bob Jr., as the official spokesman of the administration and tasked him with guiding needed legislation through Congress. This position,though initially unofficial, would eventually grow into the modern position of Senate Majority Leader.
Having grown up in a political environment from a young age, LaFollette proved an expert at using the politicla appartus of the Republic party to further his own aims. Through the deft use of patronage, as well as the bully pulpit, he was able to rewards Progressives within the party while undermining conservative Stalwarts. Though Conservative Republicans would remain an important faction for years to come, LaFollette's administration is often credited as beginning the process of party realignment which would dominate the middle decades of the 20th century.
A dedicated isolationist like his father before him, LaFollette would be troubled by the growing strength of the Soviet Union throughout his first term but would dedicate himself to domestic issues. However, the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1941, shortly after his inaugeration for his second term (or "First full term" as he often styled it) would begin the process of dragging the United States into the Second Great War. At first, LaFollette would continue to focus primarily upon the passing of his legislation package, dubbed "The American Idea," but speed at which the Soviets conquered Poland and then pushed into Germany and other Central European nations, shocked him and other Americans, as did the Soviet alliance with Italy and Spain. LaFollette was put in an awkward political position, especially as several quotes he had made in the 1920s which appeared to paint Fascist Italy in a positive manner, came to light. As Europe began to descend into war for the second time in a generation, the United States found itself pulled pulled into it - despite his own isolationism, LaFollette began to grow closer to the interventionist wing of the government which was headed by Seretary of the Navy Roosevelt. This would eventually lead to a public break with his own brother - a relationship which would not be fully mended until after the war had ended.
The United States' entry into the Second Great War occurred on May 24th, 1942 when a United States merchant vessel was sunk by a Soviet submarine. The resulting furor made continued neutrality impossible, and LaFollette formally asked Congress for a declaration of war. One of the only votes in the negative was cast by his own brother. The US' entry into the war is considered to be instrumental in the eventual defeat of Soviet forces and their allies. Despite this, the war itself would last until 1946. By this time, LaFollette had secured election to what many considered to be an unprecidented third term in 1944, but which he, sensitive to criticisms that he was attempting to secure too much power, argued was in line with tradition as it was only his second full and elected term.
In 1948, having overseen the United States during the end of the Great Depression, its entry into the Second Great War, and the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the beginnign of European Reconstruction, LaFollette chose to not run for a fourth term and retired from elected politics. Having secured the nomination of his friend Quintin Roosevelt, LaFollette returned to Wisconsin, confident that his legacy was secure. His retirment would be spent working on his memoirs and repairing relations with his brother. An consumate politician though, he was unable to stay out of the spotlight forever, and helped to manage the successful campaign of his eldest son, Robert M. LaFollette III for Wisconsin governor in 1956. He also spoke frequently and widely, stressing the continued needs for reform in the nation. LaFollete would pass away at the family home in Madison in the 8th of April, 1973 at the ae of 76.