Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics
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"As Michael Wolraich argues in his sharp, streamlined new book, Unreasonable Men, it was 'the greatest period of political change in American history.'" -Washington Post, 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Republican Party stood at the brink of an internal civil war. After a devastating financial crisis, furious voters sent a new breed of politician to Washington. These young Republican firebrands, led by "Fighting Bob" La Follette of Wisconsin, vowed to overthrow the party leaders and purge Wall Street's corrupting influence from Washington. Their opponents called them "radicals," and "fanatics." They called themselves Progressives.
President Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of La Follette's confrontational methods. Fearful of splitting the party, he compromised with the conservative House Speaker, "Uncle Joe" Cannon, to pass modest reforms. But as La Follette's crusade gathered momentum, the country polarized, and the middle ground melted away. Three years after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt embraced La Follette's militant tactics and went to war against the Republican establishment, bringing him face to face with his handpicked successor, William Taft. Their epic battle shattered the Republican Party and permanently realigned the electorate, dividing the country into two camps: Progressive and Conservative.
Unreasonable Men takes us into the heart of the epic power struggle that created the progressive movement and defined modern American politics. Recounting the fateful clash between the pragmatic Roosevelt and the radical La Follette, Wolraich's riveting narrative reveals how a few Republican insurgents broke the conservative chokehold on Congress and initiated the greatest period of political change in America's history.
exculpations to representatives of the groups he had offended, alternately praising the “the great people of Italy” and expressing his “admiration of the Polish character.” It wasn’t enough. At last, a Polish-American group suggested that he insert erratum slips into unsold copies of the book and rewrite the offensive passages in the next edition. Wilson, after some hesitation, agreed to literally rewrite his past.28 Despite these efforts, his campaign was foundering. He had counted on his
very natural thing that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers . . . they cannot month in and month out and year in and year out make the kind of untruthful, of bitter assaults that they have made and not expect that brutal violent natures . . . will be unaffected by it.” As he spoke, his friends kept trying to persuade him to stop talking, but Roosevelt waved
Republican, Nov. 27, 1910; Ray Stannard Baker to RMLF, Nov. 29, 1910, in La Follette and La Follette, Robert M. La Follette, 312. 19. Robert Marion La Follette, “The Beginning of a Great Movement,” La Follette’s Magazine, Feb. 4, 1911, 7–9. 20. Variations of this quote have been ascribed to all of Roosevelt’s children. For one example, see, “Writes of Roosevelt’s Ego,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 31, 1909. 21. Biographer Nancy Unger writes that La Follette was eager to add Roosevelt’s name
easy sell. Roosevelt was acutely conscious of the public’s discontent, and he was eager to add currency reform to his list of accomplishments. Unlike other issues over which he and Aldrich had clashed, he had no particular demands for the legislation. Finance bored him. “I have not the kind of mind that fits me to take the lead in the currency,” he confessed. With his advisers offering him conflicting opinions, he was willing to let Aldrich lead the way.6 The House was thornier. Charles Fowler,
disappeared. Half an hour later, Senator Lodge finally restored order. The New York Times clocked the ovation at 46 minutes, 55 seconds, a magnificent display of Republican fervor. The only problem was that it was for the wrong man.11 WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 18, 1908 Roosevelt fussed nervously in his office. Down the hall, the stutter of the telegraph machine announced the progress of the third and final day of the convention. The previous day’s four-years-more demonstration had gratified and