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.
From 1904-1912, the American political system underwent enormous growing pains, and political writer Wolraich (Blowing Smoke) gives this decade an exhaustive, detailed examination, from the first "creeping sense" of a new political body into a "war with only two sides" that birthed America's enduring bipartisan identities. He chronicles the mobilization of a group behind a unified ideology and the book's massive cast provides the means to deliver a character-driven historical narrative. It a story of change, with larger societal shifts traced back to individual transformations, embodied in Roosevelt's initially pragmatic middle-ground political stance giving way to an embrace of a divisive progressivism that articulated a "historic conflict between privilege and democracy." The pressing issues of this first progressive era became ongoing touchstones for inter-party debate and lasting national concerns, including environmental conservation, overhaul of tariff systems, centralization of banking, modification of Congressional responsibilities, and the introduction of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments. Wolraich probes this historic moment in light of an American political reawakening to the idea of the interests of the citizens as separate from, and potentially victim to, the interests of corporations and capital holders; it is a mighty and relevant insight into the cyclical nature of history.