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Robert, Louis, and Woodrow

February 1, 2018

In 1912 Republican Robert M. La Follette, Sr. was the senior U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.  He was an agrarian populist progressive.  In his quest for the Presidency he enjoyed extensive regional support.  He was not very popular in the East, but he did enjoy the support of an important Boston attorney, Louis Brandeis.

Brandeis was known as the people’s lawyer because he thought big business was both unethical and inefficient.  Whereas progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt hoped to regulate ever-growing large corporations, Brandeis wanted to limit their growth.

When La Follette dropped out of the race for President in 1912, even though the progressive mantle fell on Theodore Roosevelt, La Follette’s supporters did not automatically turn to the former President.  This can be easily seen by considering the Wisconsin vote tally in the general election.  Roosevelt received less than 16% of the popular vote.  Wilson received more than 41% of the Wisconsin vote along with all 13 Electoral votes.  Even the unpopular incumbent Taft received more than twice as many votes as Roosevelt.

Brandeis came from a family with deep Republican roots.  His uncle had been a delegate to the 1860 Republican convention that nominated Lincoln.  He had been a Republican when he supported La Follette, but when the Wisconsin Senator was no longer in the race, Brandeis switched his support to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  It was Brandeis who developed and encouraged Wilson’s simple answer to Roosevelt’s New Nationalism.

In 1916 Wilson appointed Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Because Brandeis was Jewish, there was much opposition.  Among the three Republicans who voted to confirm his nomination was La Follette.

Brandeis would serve on the Court until 1939.  During the 1930’s he would defend the New Deal, a program which went far beyond Wilson’s New Freedom or Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism.

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