Progressive Party (United States, 1924–34)

This article is about the 1924 Progressive Party. For other uses, see Progressive Party (disambiguation).
Progressive Party
Chairmen Robert M. La Follette Sr.
Robert M. La Follette Jr.
Founded 1924 (1924)
Dissolved 1934 (1934)
Split from Republican Party
Succeeded by Wisconsin Progressive Party
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Ideology Populism
International affiliation None
Colors      Green

The Progressive Party of 1924 was a new party created as a vehicle for Robert M. La Follette, Sr. to run for president in the 1924 election. It did not run candidates for other offices, and it disappeared after the election except in Wisconsin. Its name coincides with the 1912 Progressive Party, which La Follette opposed and which was defunct by 1919. The 1924 party was composed of La Follette supporters, who were distinguished from the earlier Roosevelt supporters by being generally more agrarian, populist, and midwestern in perspective, as opposed to urban, elite, and eastern. The 1924 party carried only Wisconsin with thirteen electoral votes, but carried many counties in the Midwest and West with large German American elements or strong labor union movements.[1]

Wisconsin Progressives

1924 Presidential election results by county. — light green = plurality, dark green = over 50%

Years before, La Follette had created the "Progressive" faction inside the Republican Party of Wisconsin in 1900. In 1912 he attempted to create a Progressive Party but lost control to Theodore Roosevelt, who became his bitter enemy.[2]

In 1924 his new party (using the old 1912 name) called for public ownership of railroads, which catered to the Railroad brotherhoods. La Follette ran with Senator Burton K. Wheeler, Democratic Senator from Montana. The party represented a farmer/labor coalition and was endorsed by the Socialist Party of America, the American Federation of Labor and many railroad brotherhoods. The party did not run candidates for other offices, and only carried one state, Wisconsin. La Follette continued to serve in the Senate as a Republican until his death the following year, and was succeeded in a special election in 1925 by his son, Robert M. La Follette, Jr.[3]

The La Follette family continued his political legacy in Wisconsin, publishing The Progressive magazine and pushing for liberal reforms. In 1934, La Follette's two sons began the Wisconsin Progressive Party, which briefly held power in the state and was for some time one of the state's major parties, often ahead of the Democrats.[4]

California Progressives

Hiram W. Johnson, backed by suffragette and early feminist Katherine Philips Edson,[5] was a candidate for California governor in 1910, the Progressive Party vice presidential nominee in 1912, and was reelected as Governor of California on the Progressive ticket in 1914. In 1916, he was elected as a Progressive to the U.S. Senate and continued his affiliation with the state party throughout his decades in the Senate, while simultaneously winning the Republican nomination. While Johnson was personally close to Theodore Roosevelt, he was much closer ideologically to Robert La Follette. Johnson sat out the general election in 1924 after unsuccessfully challenging President Calvin Coolidge for the Republican nomination. Johnson personally disliked La Follette but grudgingly admired his quixotic third-party bid and generally agreed with his 1924 platform.[6]

In 1934, when the La Follettes founded the Wisconsin Progressive Party, the California Progressive Party obtained a ballot line in California and ran seven candidates (all unsuccessful, although Raymond L. Haight got 13% of the vote for Governor of California, running as a moderate against socialist and Democratic nominee Upton Sinclair). In 1936 they elected Franck R. Havenner as Congressman for California's 4th congressional district, and garnered a significant portion of the votes in some other races.

Havenner became a Democrat before the 1938 race; Haight defeated eventual winner Culbert Olson in the Progressive primary election, but received only 2.43% of the vote in the general election as a Progressive; and by the time of the 1942 gubernatorial election, the Progressives were no longer on the California ballot. By 1944, Haight was again a Republican, a delegate to the Republican National Convention.[7]


  1. See: K.C. MacKay, The Progressive Movement of 1924. New York: Columbia University Press, 1947.
  2. Nancy Unger, Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer. Second edition. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2008; pp. 221-238.
  3. Unger, Fighting Bob La Follette, pp. 281-303.
  4. Herbert F. Margulies; The Decline of the Progressive Movement in Wisconsin, 1890-1920. (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1968.)
  5. Braitman, Jacqueline R. (June 1986). "A California Stateswoman: The Public Career of Katherine Philips Edson". California History. pp. 82–95. JSTOR 25158366.
  6. See: George E. Mowry, The California Progressives. (1963).
  7. Kevin Starr, Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996; pg. 152-154.

Further reading

See also

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