Huey Pierce Long
Huey Pierce Long
The career of the American politician Huey Pierce Long (1893-1935) grew out of and fed upon the violence, ignorance, and frustration that plagued the lives of southern poor white people in the early 20th century.
The seventh of nine children, Huey Long was born on Aug. 30, 1893, in Winnfield, a poor parish in Louisiana. Huey toiled on the farm until he was 13. He excelled as a school debater and read widely in the Bible, Shakespeare, and Victor Hugo. He worked as a typesetter and an itinerant salesman and briefly attended the University of Oklahoma. In 1913 Long married Rose McConnell, and he soon enrolled in the Tulane University Law School. After 7 months of study he was admitted to the bar.
Long established his law practice in Winnfield. Within 6 months he was elected to the state railroad commission. Cultivating a reputation as champion of the common people, he successfully attacked the utilities industries and the privileges of corporations. In 1928, after his earlier unsuccessful bid, Louisiana voters elected him governor by the largest margin in the state's history.
Long's beliefs were conditioned by his environment. Winnfield parish historically had fostered political dissent. Its residents had voted against secession in 1861, refused to fight for the planter aristocracy, and staunchly endorsed the Populist movement of the late 19th century. Unlike other southern politicians, Long did not use the Confederate legend in his speeches and rarely indulged in race baiting. He brought a realism to southern politics by focusing upon the social and economic ills of the common people.
A shrewd lawyer, Long tried to give the impression of being ignorant. Yet he approached politics as a power game and, like other Louisianians, accepted corruption as necessary to political life. He condemned the state's ruling hierarchy of planters and business groups and the New Orleans big-city political machine as an elite. He became the first southern leader of the masses to set out, not to bring the established machine to terms, but to replace it with his own.
Political leaders of the 1930s accused Long of being a dictator. Indeed, although he gave Louisiana badly needed reforms, he also flouted the processes of parliamentary democracy. However, T. Harry Williams, his biographer, views Long as within the tradition of American bossism. Williams states that Long possessed the qualities of the mass leader as described by political analysts. Besides audacity and single-mindedness, Long brought an abnormal, combative energy to his tasks. He knew which enemies to destroy and which to retain as symbols of the continuing evil against which he fought.
The basis of Long's political machine was patronage, but in the final analysis his triumph was ensured by his ability to deliver on his promises. Under Long the state actually improved the lot of the common people. Between 1928 and 1935 it constructed a modern highway system, provided free school textbooks, increased appropriations for the state university, and offered free nightschool courses for adult illiterates of both races. It also enlarged and modernized state hospitals and institutions. The money for this far-reaching social program came partly from increased taxes, bearing largely on corporate interests, but mostly from bonds and increased state indebtedness. In the process, Long revitalized state politics. He created a new political consciousness among the masses and gave Louisianians a Democratic party exhibiting many of the attributes of a two-party system.
Facing a hostile legislature, Long jammed through several valuable bills. But his lobbying tactics, raids on gambling houses, and building of a personal political machine alienated him from the ruling oligarchy and regular Democrats. Their hostility peaked when Long summoned a special session of the legislature to enact a tax on the oil industry. The House threw out the bill and impeached the governor. But the Senate failed to convict by two votes, and the matter was dropped amid accusations that Long had bribed legislators.
Fresh from this victory, Long announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. He was elected in 1930. He refused, however, to surrender the gubernatorial post to his lieutenant governor, who was an avowed political enemy. Summoning the national guard, Long installed Alvin O. King, president of the state senate, to act as governor. In fact, it was during his senatorial period that Long extended his power structure in Louisiana to its widest limits. He returned to Louisiana in 1934, convened a special session of the legislature, and pushed through bills placing the electoral machinery in the governor's hands, outlawing interference by the courts with his use of national guardsmen, and creating a secret police. He followed with a crackdown on New Orleans gambling places and nightclubs.
Always the flamboyant and active senator (though one whose name was not perpetuated by important legislation), Long served a period in Washington that coincided with the first presidential administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1932 Long disclosed his "Share Our Wealth" program, whereby the government would limit the income of all citizens through taxation. He quickly found flaws in Roosevelt's New Deal program and was soon in open revolt. More important than ideology was the fact that Roosevelt stood in the way of Long's national ambitions. In 1934 Long broke with the President and demanded that the Federal government furnish every family with a $5, 000 allowance and an annual income of $2, 000 plus benefits. Roosevelt responded by denying Long Federal patronage in Louisiana.
At the time of his death, Long was preparing to curtail New Deal programs in Louisiana drastically and was moving, with right-wing leader Father Charles Coughlin, toward a third-party challenge to the President. The "Kingfish" was assassinated in Baton Rouge on Sept. 8, 1935, by a political foe.
T. Harry Williams's Pulitzer prize-winning biography, Huey P. Long (1969), brilliantly researched and written, is the definitive study. Long's autobiography, Every Man a King (1933), an interesting comtemporary document, should be read in conjunction with the Williams study. Critical of Long, especially for his neglect of labor, is Allan P. Sindler, Huey Long's Louisiana (1956). □
Long, Huey Pierce
LONG, HUEY PIERCE
Huey Pierce Long (1893–1935) was the seventh of nine children, born in a poor area of Louisiana in 1893. Though he would build his political career on the support of poor whites living largely on farms, Long's family was middle class. In school he excelled as a debater and read widely, particularly from the Bible, Shakespeare, and the French writer Victor Hugo.
Long worked briefly as a typesetter and a traveling salesman. He then briefly attended law school, took the Louisiana State bar exam, and passed it in 1915. Long was shrewd, popular, and had a feel for communicating with the "common man;" he became an effective attorney almost immediately. Long's political career began in 1918, with his election to the Louisiana railroad commission, which later became the public service commission. There Long made a name for himself by attacking large Louisiana-based corporations, especially Standard Oil, for being concerned only with their profits and as the source of the problems of Louisiana's poor.
Running with the slogan of "Every Man a King," Long was elected governor in 1928. As governor Huey Long continued to blame big business for the financial problems of the poor in Louisiana. He introduced unprecedented programs aimed at helping the poor in exchange for their votes. He initiated a massive highway and toll-free bridge construction project that put masses of people to work, lowered utility and transportation rates, and provided free schoolbooks, school lunches, and hospital care for everyone. He established free public night schools and began a program of dramatically improving the health standards of working people by taxing large Louisiana corporations. At the same time, there were accusations of bribery and corruption against Long. It is certain that Long's control of the Louisiana Democratic Party allowed him to crush most rivals and assume near total control over the state of Louisiana. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930, but stayed on in his post as governor until his term expired in 1932, so as to prevent his lieutenant governor, a political opponent, from taking office.
In Washington, DC, Long allied himself with moderate Republicans, and yet strongly supported President Franklin Roosevelt (1933–1945). But Long quickly became impatient with Roosevelt's efforts to end the Great Depression (1929–1939), and saw the opportunity to further expand his power. In 1933 he broke with Roosevelt and began to plan for his own presidential run, using a "Share the Wealth" platform which was aimed at overhauling the tax structure in order to bring about a quick redistribution of wealth.
Under Long's plan the government would limit the income of all people through taxation, and use these funds to ensure that every family would be furnished with a $5000 allowance and an annual income of $2000 plus benefits. This idea was very attractive to millions of Americans who had lost their jobs or much of their wages in the Depression. It was met with horror by wealthier Americans, who decried the plan as communism or facism. Large businesses in particular regarded Long and his ideas as a threat.
Huey Long's dreams of the presidency ended in the Louisiana State Capitol in 1935, when he was assassinated by Carl Weiss, a political enemy. Weiss was immediately shot and killed by Long's bodyguards. The "Share the Wealth" plan died with Long. The United States would eventually emerge from the Depression, but at Roosevelt's pace, a pace that left U.S. business intact and arguably stronger after World War II (1939–1945).
See also: Louisiana, New Deal
Cortner, Richard C. The Kingfisher and the Constitution: Huey Long, the First Amendment and the Emergence of Modern Press Freedom in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Dawson, Joseph G., ed. The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.
Long, Huey. Every Man a King. New Orleans, LA: National Book Co., 1933.
Martin, Thomas. Dynasty: The Longs of Louisiana. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1960.
Williams, Thomas Harry. Huey P. Long. New York: Knopf, 1969.
every man a king.