La Follette’s speech to be re-enacted at NL Fair Centennial Celebration
“Every line of this autobiography is written for the express purpose of exhibiting the struggle for a more representative government,” said Robert La Follette in relating the story of his life.
This premise already was paramount to La Follette when he appeared at the New London Fair on Sept. 15, 1897.
La Follette’s speech will be impersonated by Tony Fuller at the New London Fair Centennial Celebration slated for Saturday, Oct. 6. Fuller is pastor of congregational care for a Neenah church and a consultant on Senegal, Africa, for the General Board of Global Ministries. He previously re-enacted La Follette for New London’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2005.
Follette was born in 1855 and raised in Dane county. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, studied law, and in 1880 was admitted to the bar. His first attempt at public office was to run for district attorney of Dane county. To a young lawyer without clients, he says the district attorney’s office, paying a salary of $800 annually, seemed like a golden opportunity. He took his campaign directly to the people, driving a horse and buggy from farm to farm.
He found many supporters throughout the county, until one day when he was called into the office of “The Boss” of the county. This man controlled the political party of the county, and La Follette was told emphatically that he would not be the next district attorney of Dane county. This experience only intensified La Follette’s resolve and he won the election.
In 1884 at the age 29, La Follette won the Republican nomination and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the youngest member of the 49th Congress. After several years, La Follette was defeated in his bid for re-election and returned to his private law practice.
The year 1897 was a non-election year, but La Follette seized the opportunity to argue for establishing a primary election system in the state. To this end, he travelled the fair circuit that year, delivering an address on a variation of the theme, “The Dangers Threatening Representative Government.” It rained on the day La Follette came to New London. He delivered his speech from the judge’s stand in front of the grandstand, but he reported that his voice took in all the fairgrounds, and a newspaper account stated that he was listened to attentively by the audience.
Fuller states that he has a lot of admiration for Robert La Follette. “La Follette was known as “Fighting Bob,” Fuller says; “La Follette always stood for the rights of the individual in the struggle against the powerful few.”
The New London Fair Centennial Celebration is being held on former fairgrounds site, which is now farmland located along Hwy. 54 just east of the U.S. Hwy. 45 bypass. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to the public. Admission is free. More information about the New London Fair Centennial Celebration, including a full schedule of activities, is available at www.newlondontourism.com/events/nlfair/. Information is also available by contacting the New London Area Chamber of Commerce at 920-982-5822.