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Progressive Party

Timeframe: 1912 - 1952

The Progressive Party was the name used to designate several political organizations in the United States, associating with the presidential campaigns of Theodore Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, and Henry Wallace.

The Progressive Party, first known colloquially as the Bull Moose party, was founded after a bitter fight for the Republican presidential nomination between William H. Taft, Robert La Follette and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, a dynamic leader of the Progressive Movement, soon grew impatient with Taft’s relatively cautious approaches to reform. Taft’s dismissal of Gifford Pinchot as chief forester angered Roosevelt, who was an ardent conservationist. At the Republican convention in June 1912, most La Follette supporters switched to Roosevelt, but the nomination went to Taft because Taft controlled the party machinery.

Roosevelt, incensed at Taft’s conservative bent, formed the Progressive party, saying he was as fit as a bull moose. His platform called for tariff reform, stricter regulation of industrial combinations, women’s suffrage, prohibition of child labor, and other reforms. Many liberal Republicans went to the new party which nominated Roosevelt for president and Hiram W. Johnson for vice president. Although the Progressives greatly outpolled Republicans in the election the net result was a victory for the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Progressive candidates for state and local offices did poorly, and the party dissapeared in 1916 when Roosevelt returned to the Republican Party.

In 1924, a liberal coalition, frustrated by conservative domination of both parties, formed the League of Progressive Political Action, popularly called the Progressive party. Robert La Follette, nominally a Republican, decided to run for president on his own. Fearing that a formal party organization would be infiltrated by Communists, he ran as an independent, but later accepted the nomination of the Progressive party. Senator Burton K. Wheeler was nominated for vice-president. The party advocated government ownership of public utilities and labor reforms such as collective bargaining. It also supported farm-relief measures, lower taxes for persons with moderate incomes, and other such laws. His candidacy was thus supported by the Socialist Party.

LaFollette received 17% of the popular vote but only carried Wisconsin. In 1934, LaFollette’s sons organized a Progressive Party in Wisconsin, after being defeated for nomination as a Republican. Under the Progressive ticket, the LaFollettes scored many victories, but disappeared in 1946.

A third Progressive party was formed in 1948 by dissident Democrats, most of whom had been prominent in developing the New Deal program. With former vice-president Henry Wallace and Tugwell among their leaders, Wallace was nominated for the party’s presidential nominee. Charging that both major parties advocated policies that would lead to economic crisis and a war with the Soviet Union, they favored high-level international conferences. They advocated rights for all minority and political groups, curbs on the power of monopolies, and anti-inflation measures such as price and rent controls, and the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law.

He expected support from blacks, intellectuals and other groups that admired his militant liberalism. However, the support of the Communist Party damaged the Progressives, as the Democrats and Republicans attacked them as Communist-dominated. The progressives maintained their right to accept support from any group backing their program. Wallace only received 2.4% of the vote. In 1950 the party was further weakened when it denounced U.S. entry into the Korean War, and Wallace left the party. They disappeared after the 1952 election.

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