Senator Morse’s political philosophy developed out of the Progressive movement, which was largely a response to rapid industrialization and urbanization. Farmers and other rural residents witnessed the sprouting up of railroads, factories, and big cities in their own backyards, while corporate empires began to take over the government through machine politics. Progressives argued that for social justice to thrive amid such rapid growth, the democratic process needed to be upheld and corporate interests held at bay. Progressives opposed corporate domination of the political process and championed the democratic rights of the working class and the disenfranchised.
The movement’s call for social reform rang loudest in Morse’s home state of Wisconsin, particularly in the Madison area where he grew up. Wisconsin Progressive leader “Fighting Bob” La Follette passed exemplary reforms as governor and senator. A neighbor and friend of the Morse family, La Follette campaigned for women’s suffrage, vigorous labor rights, civil liberties, and a government that provided better public facilities.
Many of Morse’s actions as a senator embodied Progressive ideals—in particular, his championing of civil rights laws and federal support for education, and his opposition to legislation that rolled back workers’ rights to collectively bargain. As senator, Morse voiced the liberal conviction that the general welfare requires civil rights protected by the questioning disposition of a well-educated and informed citizenry. Like liberal and conservative Progressives alike, Morse perceived a chasm between the ideals of democracy and their translation into legislation. Something, he felt, had gotten terribly lost in the translation, and he was willing to go to great lengths to correct this.