Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics

Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics

Michael Wolraich

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 023034223X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


"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.

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the stage, still in his golf clothes. He was calm and smiling, a thin man with a long rectangular face, high cheekbones, and silver hair. His thoughtful blue-gray eyes surveyed the crowd through rimless glasses. When he spoke, his voice seemed to carry effortlessly. He eschewed the grand oratorical flourishes popular in those days. His words were sincere, direct, and penetrating. The speech itself was vague on specifics and full of Roosevelt-esque caveats. Reform should be undertaken “only when

Politicos, 1865–1896 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966); Jerome L. Sternstein, “King Leopold II, Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and the Strange Beginnings of American Economic Penetration of the Congo,” African Historical Studies 2, no. 2 (Jan. 1, 1969): 193. 24. Steffens, “Rhode Island,” 337. 25. Bernice Kert, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family (New York: Random House, 1993), 12. 26. Steffens, “Rhode Island,” 342. 27. “Ambrose Everett Burnside,” Encyclopedia Britannica

He capered about the floor, shouted and stamped his feet. But he was getting tired. As the night wore on, his eyelids drooped, and his voice fell to a whisper. Not allowed to sit, he folded his arms and rested his weight against the arm of his chair. The quorum calls offered his only relief. At 1 a.m., Aldrich denied him even those. Calling upon another obscure Senate precedent, he motioned that quorum calls be barred until some new business required one. For the tradition-bound Senate, the

political appointments: county assistant prosecutor, district tax collector, Ohio state judge, US solicitor general, federal judge, governor-general of the Philippines, and finally, secretary of war. At every juncture, some powerful politician had rewarded his talents by hauling him up to the next level. Now, Theodore Roosevelt had all but appointed him the Republican nominee. But not even Roosevelt could appoint a president. For the first time in his life, Taft had to fight for the job he

horseback rides through Rock Creek Park or evening jaunts in his steam-driven motorcar, he often dropped casual threats to veto the tariff bill, knowing that his remarks would get back to Aldrich.70 But in truth, he lacked the nerve to follow through on the threat. To veto the bill would alienate the congressional leaders and indefinitely delay any changes to the tariff system. He acknowledged that a veto might bring him some “cheap popularity,” but it would leave the Republican Party in

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