Long, Russell Billiu
Long, Russell Billiu
(b. 3 November 1918 in Shreveport, Louisiana; d. 9 May 2003 in Washington, D.C.), United States senator from Louisiana who rose from the shadow of his father, former Louisiana governor and U.S. Senator Huey P. Long, to become one of the most prominent and powerful Washington insiders during a thirty-eight-year Senate career.
The second of Huey Pierce Long and Rose (McConnell) Long’s three children, Long was born in 1918—the same year his father won a seat on the Louisiana Railroad Commission (later the Public Service Commission), on which he served until his election as Louisiana’s governor in 1928. In 1930 Huey Long won a seat in the United States Senate but did not leave the governor’s office and take his place in the Senate until 1932, when a handpicked successor could assume the governor’s chair. Huey Long was assassinated in 1935, and his wife, a homemaker up until that point, served as senator briefly in his stead. Russell Long was educated in the public schools of Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, Louisiana, before receiving a BA (1941) and LLB (1942) from Louisiana State University. Long married Katherine Mae Hattic on 3 June 1939. He served in the United States Naval Reserve between 1942 and 1945, rising to the rank of lieutenant. In 1946 he established a Baton Rouge law firm with a former college classmate.
In 1948 Long campaigned for the election of his uncle, Earl Long, to Louisiana’s governorship. Upon Earl Long’s election Long worked as his executive counsel until resigning in July 1948 and entering as a Democrat in the race to fill the unfinished term of the late U.S. Senator John Overton. Long won. On 31 December 1948 Long, thirty years old and the only senator to have had both parents precede him in office, took his Senate seat alongside other members of the famed “Class of 48.” He would be elected in 1950 to a full term and would win reelection every six years until his retirement in 1987.
Early on Long exhibited a realistic approach to politics, espousing what might be considered both conservative and liberal positions on the major issues of the day. He opposed President Harry S Truman’s call for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission and served as a chief opponent of Truman’s attempt at federalizing offshore oil reserves in the so-called Tidelands Dispute. Long staunchly endorsed a strong cold war posture, and he supported military containment as expressed in the Truman Doctrine, the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the decision to send American troops to Korea. Long’s commitment to economic containment, as embodied in the Marshall Plan, was tempered, however, by his feelings that the money might be better spent at home.
Long first faced an opposition presidential administration when Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed the Oval Office in 1952. During the Eisenhower years Long opposed both the Saint Lawrence Seaway project and the Federal-Aid Highway Act (1954) because of funding issues. He voted reluctantly in favor of censuring Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. Long took a “loose money,” low interest rate stance in reaction to the recession of the late 1950s, and he continually supported increases in social-welfare programs such as Social Security and unemployment coverage.
In terms of race relations Long maintained a conservative stance during the 1950s. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision, Long called for term limits for Supreme Court justices. In 1956 he signed the Declaration of Constitutional Principles, more famously known as the Southern Manifesto, urging southerners to resist desegregation. Long opposed the relatively weak Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960.
In May 1956 Long took a seat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In 1957 he voted against implementation of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which declared that the peace and safety of the nations of the Middle East were of vital interest to the United States, and, therefore, the United States would economically and militarily aid any Middle East nation threatened or attacked by the forces of international communism. At the time Long’s vote probably reflected partisan leanings rather than cold war misgivings. Long also dabbled in Louisiana politics during the 1950s, but after his Uncle Earl’s mental breakdown in 1959, he largely focused on his role as a national politician.
Long supported most of President John F. Kennedy’s so-called New Frontier programs, and his cold war stances hardened in the early 1960s. Long also championed most of the non–civil rights proposals of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. He guided a 1964 tax cut bill through the Senate and was one of only four southern senators to vote for the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which included most of Johnson’s anti-poverty programs.
On 4 January 1965 Senate Democrats elected Long majority whip. In November of that same year he became chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance. As whip, Long guided through the Senate much Great Society legislation, including the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965 (known as the Appalachian Aid Bill), the Economic Opportunity amendments, the Clean Water Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act. Breaking with an earlier stance against what he called “socialized medicine,” Long served as floor manager for the legislation creating Medicare. In 1966 Long first proposed public funding for presidential campaigns by means of a voluntary check box on income tax returns; the proposal eventually was enacted in 1971.
Long’s conservative stance on race relations and foreign policy continued to be evident in the 1960s. He filibustered against the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964 and voiced his displeasure with the Civil Rights Acts of 1966 and 1968. Long less forcefully opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was a hawkish backer of escalation in Vietnam, a stance that led to his 1966 resignation from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a body that increasingly criticized the conflict.
Long’s conservative positions on race and diplomacy conflicted with the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and this fact, along with his increasingly public battles with alcohol, led to his removal as whip in 1969. That same year Long and his wife, Katherine Long, after thirty years of marriage and the birth of two daughters, divorced; he married the legislative aide Carolyn Bason on 23 December 1969. From this point Long focused more on his duties as chair of the Senate Committee on Finance.
Long supported many of Richard M. Nixon’s proposals, including the president’s 1969 and 1971 tax reform policies. He applauded Nixon’s widening of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. His support for the Republican president was not monolithic, however, and he vehemently opposed Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan welfare-reform package. In the wake of the Watergate break-in, Long supported creation of a Senate select committee to investigate the 1972 presidential campaigns, and he cochaired the special Joint Congressional Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation that determined Nixon owed back taxes.
The mid-1970s brought the American economy the twin difficulties of high unemployment and inflation, a condition known as “stagflation.” They also brought a new president, Gerald R. Ford, who assumed the office following Nixon’s resignation. Long generally supported Ford’s policies, particularly the president’s attempts to cure the nation’s economic ills. He served as floor leader of the 1974 Trade Reform Act and guided through the legislature Ford’s 1975 tax cut bill, which created tax cuts of $29 billion and included a new earned income credit that Long had long espoused. Long also backed the administration’s 1976 Tax Reform Act.
Long was less supportive of fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter’s domestic initiatives than he had been of those of Nixon and Ford. He viewed President Carter as politically inflexible, and he opposed the administration’s energy bills and its 1979 windfall profits tax. Long supported deregulating the gas industry and cutting capital gains taxes, both of which Carter opposed, as a means of dealing with the nation’s economic doldrums. Long supported Carter on the implementation of economic stimulus tax cuts, the creation of the U.S. Department of Energy, the negotiation of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties (also known as the Panama Canal Treaty), and the floating of loan guaranties to help save the near-bankrupt Chrysler Corporation. The latter included tax deductions for the creation of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Long was a champion of these plans to redistribute capital ownership and to raise funding for capital growth as a way of dealing with the “stagflation.”
The so-called Reagan Revolution of 1980 brought a Republican majority to Congress, and Long thus lost his chairmanship of the Committee on Finance. He continued to influence fiscal policy as ranking minority member, however. Long expressed reservations about the Reagan administration’s supply-side economics, but because of their popularity with the public he voted in 1981 for both the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and the Economic Recovery Tax Act. In 1986 Long gave his support to the Reagan administration’s Tax Reform Act in exchange for oil and gas industry preferences and tax incentives for ESOPs. In terms of foreign policy Long enthusiastically supported Reagan’s tough cold war stances.
Long did not run for reelection in 1986 and retired from the Senate on 3 January 1987. He then practiced law and remained active in national politics as a lobbyist while dividing his time between Baton Rouge, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. In 1995 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Long died of heart failure (some sources say a heart attack) at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on 9 May 2003, and was interred at Roselawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 13 May 2003.
More of a political realist than a strict liberal or conservative, Long exhibited characteristics of both ends of the political spectrum. He endorsed the growth of such liberal programs as the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and he supported the creation of new ones such as the New Frontier and the Great Society. Although he consistently supported tax cuts, he espoused liberal Keynesian fiscal policies and was not a part of the conservative tax revolt that developed in the 1970s. Such liberal stances were only one portion of his political philosophy, however. His conservatism, which generally emerged from states’-rights and strict construction understandings of the U.S. Constitution or as reflections of his Louisiana constituents, shone through on such issues as race relations and foreign policy. Long’s most notable career achievement was his monumental influence on U.S. taxation policies, resulting from his positions as chairman of the Committee on Finance (1965–1980) and as a member, cochair, and chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation (1965–1980).
Long’s papers are available in the Russell B. Long Collection, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, LSU Libraries, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. The only biography of Long is Robert Mann, Legacy to Power: Senator Russell Long of Louisiana (1992). Michael S. Martin’s doctoral dissertation, “Senator Russell B. Long of Louisiana: A Political Biography, 1948–1987” (2003), is the first scholarly account of Long’s career. Martin, ‘High Time We Put Behind Us the Blind Prejudice of the Past’: Russell Long and Louisiana Politics, 1948–1952,” Louisiana History 46 (Spring 2005), 133–153, and Keith M. Finley, “Balancing Liberal and Conservative Policy Preferences: Russell B. Long’s Early United States Senate Career, 1948–1957,” Louisiana History 45 (Winter 2004), 5–35, are dedicated to Long’s career. For a brief overview of Long’s life, see Jennifer Ritter Cooper, “A Biographical Sketch: Russell Billiu Long,” Louisiana History 45 (winter 2004), 36. Obituaries are in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (10 May 2003) and the New York Times and Washington Post (both 11 May 2003).
Michael S. Martin
"Long, Russell Billiu." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/long-russell-billiu
"Long, Russell Billiu." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Retrieved November 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/long-russell-billiu
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