A recent article about St. Paul’s long-forgotten Nobel peace laureate, Frank Kellogg, didn’t tell the whole story (“Kellogg stands for peace, not cereal,” Aug. 23). True, Kellogg’s name is attached to that pathetic historical curiosity, the Kellogg-Briand Peace Treaty.
In life, however, Kellogg wasn’t a brave crusader for peace, but a typical politician playing to popular sentiment while enriching himself as a lawyer for companies like United States Steel.
It was easy to denounce war in 1928, an era of isolationism. It was a lot harder to speak out for peace in 1917, the year our nation got tangled up in the hideous slaughter of “The Great War” — World War I.
In 1917, war hawk Frank Kellogg eagerly pushed a resolution to expel Wisconsin’s Robert M. La Follette from the U.S. Senate on grounds of “disloyalty” — tantamount to treason — because of a misquoted statement La Follette allegedly made in a speech to a Nonpartisan League rally in St. Paul.
La Follette, a true Midwestern progressive, was one of the handful of men in Congress who voted against the war and who demanded conscription of wealth — to prevent war profiteering — once the declaration of war had been passed.
Once the war was over, many Americans decided that La Follette, though vilified, had been right after all. Furthermore, with the original misquotation debunked, the Senate rejected Kellogg’s attempt to expel La Follette.
“Fighting Bob” La Follette returned to Minnesota when Kellogg stood for re-election in 1920. In St. Paul, a huge crowd heard La Follette’s scornful denunciation: “Your senator had bowed obsequiously to wealth and to corporations’ orders …”
Minnesota voters repudiated Kellogg and elected the Farmer-Labor candidate Henrik Shipstead. Across the river, La Follette was re-elected, carrying every single county in Wisconsin. Let honor be given where honor is due. The antiwar cause has always been better served by brave dissenters like La Follette than by political chameleons like Kellogg.
Oliver Steinberg lives in St. Paul.