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On July 4, 1897, former Congressman Robert M. La Follette launched the progressive crusade that would eventually make him the governor of Wisconsin, a U.S. senator from the state, and a transformational presidential candidate in 1924. Speaking in Mineral Point, he addressed the subject of "The Danger Threatening Representative Government.”

In that speech, La Follette decried “the political machine, which had come to be enthroned in American politics” through the influence of corporate interests on politics. Then, as now, wealthy and powerful elites had conspired to make government the servant of their desires at the expense of the common good.

On that distant Fourth of July, La Follette called for a radical new political vision.

“Think of the heroes who died to make this country free; think of their sons who died to keep it undivided upon the map of the world. Shall we, their children, basely surrender our birthright and say: ‘Representative government is a failure'? No, never, until Bunker Hill and Little Round Top sink into the very earth,” declared La Follette. “Let us here, today, under this flag we all love, hallowed by the memory of all that has been sacrificed for it and for us, dedicate ourselves to winning back the independence of this country, to emancipating this generation and throwing off from the neck of the freemen of America the yoke of the political machine.”

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Much changed over the ensuing 121 years. But not enough. On this July 4, we still have a duty to throw off the yoke of the political machine that favors plutocracy over democracy. 

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times