Share-the-Wealth Movements

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SHARE-THE-WEALTH MOVEMENTS. At the lowest point of the Great Depression in 1932–1933, the popular mind embraced two contradictory notions: a prophecy of impending doom and a promise of potential utopia. These ideas, together with high unemployment, an insecure middle class, and the deepening plight of the aged, formed the common basis of appeal for the great mass organizations that sprang into existence in the South and West between 1933 and 1936. Among those promoting the redistribution of wealth were Francis E. Townsend's plan; Louisiana Sen. Huey P. Long's Share-Our-Wealth Clubs; the National Union for Social Justice party, started by Father Charles E. Coughlin, Townsend, and Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith; and Upton Sinclair's! EPIC (End Poverty in California).

Differing widely in their proposals, all but the EPIC depended on inflationist doctrine, and all utilized national radio hookups, skilled pressure politics, huge mass meetings, and frenzied emotionalism. Moving in and out of alliance with the New Deal and with one another, they ran the gamut of reform tactics: charismatic leaders driving for power, attempts to capture an old party, forming a third party, backing candidates of either party who supported "the plan," and attempts to perfect schemes within single states. All these movements shared anxious disillusionment, distress, an experimental frame of mind, and the complete unreality of party divisions in the United States.


Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. New York: Knopf, 1982.

Burns, James MacGregor. The Crosswinds of Freedom. New York: Knopf, 1989.

C. VannWoodward/c. w.

See alsoTechnocracy Movement ; Third Parties .