Robert Lafollete

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Robert La Follette, the son of a small farmer, was born in Dane County, Wisconsin, on 14th June, 1855. He worked as a farm labourer before entering the University of Wisconsin in 1875. In 1876 La Follette met Robert G. Ingersoll. He later recalled: "Ingersoll had a tremendous influence upon me, as indeed he had upon many young men at the time. It was not that he changed my beliefs, but he liberated my mind. Freedom was what preached: he wanted the shackles off everywhere. He wanted men to think boldly about all things: he demanded intellectual and moral courage." After graduating in 1879 he set up as a lawyer and the following year became District Attorney of Dane County. Elected to Congress as a Republican, La Follette was extremely critical of the behaviour of some of the party bosses. In 1891, La Follette announced that the state Republican boss, Senator Philetus Sawyer, had offered him a bribe to fix a court case. Over the next six years La Follette built up a loyal following within the Republican Party in opposition to the power of the official leadership. Proposing a programme of tax reform, corporation regulation and an extension of political democracy, La Follette was elected governor of Wisconsin in 1900. Once in power La Follette employed the academic staff of the University of Wisconsin to draft bills and administer the laws that he introduced. He later recalled: "I made it a policy, in order to bring all the reserves of knowledge and inspiration of the university more to the service of the people, to appoint experts from the university wherever possible upon the important boards of the state - the civil service commission, the railroad commission and so on - a relationship which the university has always encouraged and by which the state has greatly profited." La Follette was also successful in persuading the federal government to introduce much needed reforms. This included the regulation of the railway industry and...
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