Huey Pierce Long Jr. (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935), self-nicknamed The Kingfish, was an American politician who served as the 40th governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United States Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935. As the political leader of Louisiana, he commanded wide networks of supporters and was willing to take forceful action. He established the long-term political prominence of the Long family.
A Democrat and an outspoken populist, Long denounced the wealthy and the banks. Initially a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first 100 days in office, Long eventually came to believe that Roosevelt's "New Deal" policies did not do enough to alleviate the issues of the poor. In time, he developed his own solution: the "Share Our Wealth" program, which would establish a net asset tax, the earnings of which would be redistributed so as to curb the poverty and homelessness epidemic nationwide during the Great Depression. Long's Share Our Wealth plan was established on February 23rd, 1934 with the motto "Every Man a King". To stimulate the economy, Long advocated federal spending on public works, schools and colleges, and old age pensions. Long argued that his plan would enable everyone to have at least a car, a radio, and a home worth 5,000 dollars. Long split with Roosevelt in June 1933 to plan his own presidential bid for 1936 in alliance with the influential Catholic priest and radio commentator Charles Coughlin. Long was assassinated in 1935, and his national movement soon faded, but his legacy continued in Louisiana through his wife, Senator Rose McConnell Long; his son, Senator Russell B. Long, and his brothers, Earl Kemp Long and George S. Long, as well as several other more distant relatives.
Under Long's leadership, hospitals and educational institutions were expanded, a system of charity hospitals was set up that provided health care for the poor, massive highway construction and free bridges brought an end to rural isolation, and textbooks, bought with tax money rather than individually by parents, were provided to schoolchildren. He remains a controversial figure in Louisiana history, with critics and supporters debating whether he could have potentially become a dictator or was a demagogue. The success of The King Fish is largely attributed to his support and popularity given to him by the lower classes in the Louisiana.
Childhood and education
Long was born on August 30, 1893, near Winnfield, a small town in the north-central part of Louisiana and the seat of Winn Parish. He was the son of Huey Pierce Long, Sr. (1852–1937) and the Caledonia Palestine Tison (1860–1913), and the seventh of the couple's nine surviving children. At the time of his youth, Winn Parish was a deeply impoverished region whose people, mostly modest Southern Baptists were known for their cantankerous stubbornness and for being outsiders in Louisiana's political system. During the Civil War, Winn Parish had been a stronghold of Unionism in an otherwise solidly Confederate state, in the 1890s a bastion of the Populist Party, and in 1912 the majority in Winn Parish had voted for the Socialist Party's presidential candidate, Eugene Debs. The degree of poverty in Winn Parish was extreme, but in general Louisiana was a very poor state, with the 1930 census showing that one-fifth of white Louisianans were illiterate, with rates for black Louisianans being much higher. As someone who was born and grew up in Winn Parish, Long inherited all of the resentments of its people against the elite in Baton Rouge who ruled Louisiana. And while Long often told his followers that he came from the lowest possible social and economic stratum, the reality is that Long's family were well-off compared to others in the largely destitute community of Winnfield.
For people of their time and socio-economic standing, Long's parents were well-educated, and stressed often to their child the importance of learning. For many years, Long was home-schooled, although when he was 11 he began attending local schools. During his time in the public system, he earned a reputation as an excellent student with a remarkable memory. After growing bored with his required schoolwork, he eventually convinced his teachers to let him skip seventh grade. When he was a student at Winnfield High School, he and his friends formed a secret society, which they broadcast to others by wearing a red ribbon. According to Long, his club's mission was "to run things, laying down certain rules the students would have to follow." The teachers at the school eventually learned of Long's antics and warned him to obey the school and its faculty's' rules. Long continued to rebel, eventually writing and distributing a flyer that criticized both his teachers and the necessity of a recently-mandated twelfth grade. This resulted in his expulsion in 1910. Long sought revenge by drafting up a petition calling for the principal of Winnfield High School to be removed from his post. He managed to convince enough people in his town to sign it, resulting in the principal being fired. Despite this success, Long never returned to high school (although he was awarded a degree posthumously).
During his time at Winnfield High School, Long proved himself to be a capable debater, and at a statewide debating competition in Baton Rouge, he won a debating scholarship to Louisiana State University (LSU). However, because the award did not include money for textbooks or living expenses, he was unable to attend. Long's would long regret that he had been unable to pursue an education at LSU. Instead of immediately pursuing a higher education, he spent most of the early 1910s as a traveling salesman, selling books, canned goods and patent medicines, as well as working as an auctioneer.
In 1913, Long married Rose McConnell. She was a stenographer who had won a baking contest which he promoted to sell "Cottolene", one of the most popular of the early vegetable shortenings to come on the market. The two began a two and a half year courtship that finally ended with their marriage on April 12, 1913 in Memphis, Tennessee. The wedding took place at the Grayoso Hotel; Huey, who was broke at the time, had to borrow $10 from his fiancée to pay the officiant's services. The Longs had a daughter, also named Rose, and two sons: Russell B. Long, who subsequently became a long-term U.S. senator, and Palmer Reid Long (1921–2010), who became a Shreveport oilman. Long wrote in his 1933 autobiography, Every Man a King "If the loyalty of a wife and children could have elevated anyone in public life, I had that for complete success."
In September of 1911, when sales jobs grew scarce during World War I, Long attended seminary classes at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma at the urging of his mother, a devout Baptist. Living with his brother, George, Long attended the school for only a semester, and barely went to any lectures. After awhile, Long decided he was not suited to preaching and instead began to focus on law. Borrowing one hundred dollars from his brother (which he later lost playing roulette in Oklahoma City), Long briefly attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law in Norman, Oklahoma for a semester in 1912. To earn money while in the Norman area, he worked for the Dawson Produce Company, selling produce while studying law part-time. Of the four classes that Long took, he received one incomplete and three C's. He later confessed that he "didn't learn much law there" because there was "too much excitement, all those gambling houses and everything." After working as a traveling salesman for a few more years, Long enrolled in Tulane University Law School in New Orleans in the fall of 1914. After only a year at Tulane, he convinced a board to let him take the state bar exam, which he passed.
Early career and rise to power
In 1915, Long began a private practice in Winnfield. Later, in Shreveport, he spent ten years representing small plaintiffs against large businesses, including workers' compensation cases. He often said proudly that he never took a case against a poor man, and he once famously—and successfully—defended a widow against the Winnfield Bank (the president of which was Long's uncle George).
In 1918, Long invested $1,050 in an oil well that eventually struck oil. Despite this bounty, the well was unable to make any money because the powerful Standard Oil Company refused to accept any of its oil, costing Long his investment. This episode served as the catalyst for Long's lifelong hatred of the Standard Oil Company, which he would later go on to call a "Invisible Empire" run by "petroleumites". In 1921, Long waged his first legal battle with Standard Oil when he represented a small oil firm that was suing the giant over a lease dispute.
In 1918, Long entered into the race to serve on the three-seat Louisiana Railroad Commission. According to William Ivy Hair, Long's political message with which he used to campaign for a seat on the commission:
... would be repeated until the end of his days: he was a young warrior of and for the plain people, battling the evil giants of Wall Street and their corporations; too much of America's wealth was concentrated in too few hands, and this unfairness was perpetuated by an educational system so stacked against the poor that (according to his statistics) only fourteen out of every thousand children obtained a college education. The way to begin rectifying these wrongs was to turn out of office the corrupt local flunkies of big business ... and elect instead true men of the people, such as [himself].
In the Democratic primary, Long came in second behind incumbent Burk Bridges. Since no candidate managed to garner a majority of the votes, a run-off election was held, for which Long campaigned tirelessly across the whole north of the state. When the final counts were in, Long managed to defeat Burk by 636 votes. Long did extremely poorly in the urban areas of Alexandria, Shreveport, and Monroe but won over the country crowd in large numbers. Soon thereafter, State Senator Delos Johnson of Franklinton sent the young Long a letter of congratulations that "recognized [him] as a comer".
Prior to Long's having been elected to it, the Louisiana Railroad Commission and its members largely yielded to the whims of the state's more powerful, but once sworn in as a member, Long refused to play by the rules that had previously governed the commission. According to Richard D. White, Jr., Long "crusaded for lower utility rates, forced the railroads to extend their service to small villages and hamlets, and demanded that the Standard Oil Company end the importation of Mexican crude oil and use more oil from Louisiana wells."
In the gubernatorial election of 1920, he campaigned prominently for John M. Parker, and today Long is often credited with helping Parker to win in the northern Louisiana parishes. However, after Parker was elected to the gubernatorial office, the two became bitter rivals. This break was largely the result of Long having demanded that Parker declare the state's oil pipelines to be public utilities and Parker having refused to do so. In particular, Long was horrified and became furious when Parker allowed the oil companies the legal team of Standard Oil to assist in the writing of the state's severance tax laws—laws that decreed how much money corporations such as Standard Oil had to pay the state for the extraction of natural resources. Because the governor was willing to go along with companies like Standard Oil, Huey began calling Parker the "chattel" of the corporations. After butting heads, Parker eventually tried to have Huey ousted from his position on the Louisiana Railroad Commission in 1921, although he was unable to do so.
By 1922, the Railroad Commission had been renamed "the Public Service Commission", on which Long retained a seat. He soon dedicated his life to adding "new energy and independence into the agency", as well as increasing the commission's (and, by extension, his own) power. In 1922, Long won a lawsuit against the Cumberland Telephone & Telegraph Company for unfair rate increases, Long successfully argued the case on appeal before the United States Supreme Court resulting in cash refunds totally $440,000 being sent to 80,000 overcharged customers. After the case, Chief Justice William Howard Taft described Long as one of the best legal minds he had ever encountered.
Election of 1924
Long ran for governor of Louisiana in the election of 1924, attacking outgoing Governor Parker, Standard Oil, and the established political hierarchy both locally and statewide. In that campaign, he became one of the first Southern politicians to use radio addresses and sound trucks. Long also began wearing a distinctive white linen suit. He came in third and although he and another candidate had privately opposed the powerful Ku Klux Klan, a third candidate had openly supported it. The Klan's prominence in Louisiana was the primary issue of the campaign. Long cited rain on election day as suppressing voter turnout among his base in rural north Louisiana, where voters were unable to reach the polls on dirt roads that had turned to mud.
Instead, Long was reelected later in the year to the Public Service Commission. His former law partner and political ally, Harvey Fields, a former state senator for Union and Morehouse parishes, succeeded Long on the PSC, with service from 1927 to 1936.
Gubernatorial election of 1928
Long spent the intervening four years building his reputation and his political organization, including supporting Roman Catholic candidates to build support in southern Louisiana, which was heavily Catholic due to its French and Spanish heritage. In 1928 he again ran for governor, campaigning with the slogan, "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown," a phrase adopted from Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Long's attacks on the utilities industry and corporate privileges were enormously popular, as was his depiction of the wealthy as parasites who grabbed more than their fair share of the public wealth while marginalizing the poor.
Long criss-crossed the state, campaigning in rural areas disenfranchised by the New Orleans-based political establishment, known as the "Old Regulars" or "the Ring." They controlled the state through alliances with sheriffs and other local officials. At the time, the rural poor comprised 60 percent of the state's population. The entire state had roughly three hundred miles of paved roads and only three major bridges. The literacy rate was the lowest in the nation (75 percent illiterate), as most families could not afford to purchase the textbooks required for their children to attend school. A poll tax kept many poor whites from voting; of the two million residents, only 300,000 could afford to register to vote. In addition, with selective application of literacy tests, blacks had been effectively and completely disenfranchised since soon after the state legislature passed the new constitution in 1898.
One of the campaign issues, Long's proposal to let contracts for "free bridges" over Lake Pontchartrain, was ultimately endorsed by his two 1928 opponents, sitting Governor Oramel H. Simpson and U.S. Representative Riley J. Wilson of Louisiana's 8th congressional district, since disbanded. Free ferries ran while construction proceeded on the bridges. The previous toll bridge charge of $8.40 was reduced to 60 cents.
Long won the 1928 gubernatorial election in large part by tapping into the class resentment of rural residents. He proposed government services far more expansive than anything in his state's history. His campaign manager was the Catholic Cajun Harvey Peltier, Sr., a state representative and lawyer/banker from Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish. Long had the backing of the timber businessman Swords Lee, his cousin by marriage and a former state representative for Grant Parish.
On January 17, 1928, Long won the Democratic primary election but failed to secure a majority of the vote. He polled 126,842 votes (43.9 percent). His opponents split the remaining 56 percent of the ballots. Representative Riley J. Wilson earned 81,747 votes (28.3 percent), and the short-term incumbent Governor Oramel Simpson garnered 80,326 (27.8 percent). At the time, Long's margin was the largest in state history, and neither opponent chose to face him in a runoff election as was permitted in Louisiana. He was elected governor in the general election on April 17, 1928, with 92,941 votes (96.1 percent), to 3,733 for the Republican candidate, Etienne J. Caire. Caire's running mate, John E. Jackson, a New Orleans lawyer who later took over the state Republican chairmanship, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor against Paul N. Cyr, with whom Long later had an irreconcilable break.
The next Republican gubernatorial candidate, Harrison Bagwell, a Baton Rouge attorney who supported Dwight Eisenhower for U.S. President, also polled 4 percent of the vote in his 1952 contest against Democrat Robert F. Kennon, a leader of the anti-Long forces.
Long consolidated the Democratic factions in New Orleans and after his election drew the support of Rudolph Hecht, the president of Hibernia Bank who advocated industrial and commercial expansion, and Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley, who declared
an obligation I owe to my people and the people of this state to join hands with Governor Long and bury our political tomahawk so that the city and state can forge ahead ... The governor worked hard to develop a program we could all unite on; he was the victor, and he showed himself more generous ... When the roads and bridges he is planning are completed, more of the city people will be going to the country, and more people will be coming to the city ... Let us therefore forget all bickerings and let the capitalists and the laboring interests ... join hands as we have joined hands."
A few years later, however, Long and Walmsley returned to a state of hostility, as the legislature stripped many of the municipal powers from the domain of the mayor.
Three Louisiana State University (LSU) scholars contend that before his governorship "political power in Louisiana had been nearly a monopoly of the coalition of businessmen and planters, reinforced by the oil and other industrial interests. This situation was changed when Long won the hearts and votes of the farmers and other 'small people' and created a countervailing power combination."
At least one statewide official bucked the Long trend. Percy Saint of St. Mary Parish was reelected to a second term as Attorney General independent of Long and several times ruled against Long during his gubernatorial term.
Once in office as governor on May 21, 1928, Long moved quickly to consolidate his power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy, at all ranks from cabinet-level heads of departments and board members to rank-and-file civil servants and state road workers. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters. Every state employee who depended on Long for a job was expected to pay a portion of his or her salary at election time directly into Long's political war-chest, which raised $50,000 to $75,000 (equivalent to about $700,000 to $1,000,000 in 2013 dollars) each election cycle. The funds were kept in a famous locked "deduct box" to be used at Long's discretion for political and personal purposes. The American historian David Kennedy wrote that the extremely authoritarian regime Long established in Louisiana was "... the closest thing to a dictatorship that America has ever known".
Once his control over the state's political apparatus was strengthened, Long pushed a number of bills through the 1929 session of the Louisiana State Legislature to fulfill campaign promises. These included a free textbook program for schoolchildren, an idea advanced by John Sparks Patton, the Claiborne Parish school superintendent, and the Long confidant, Representative Harley Bozeman of Winnfield. Long also supported night courses for adult literacy (which taught 100,000 adults to read by the end of his term), and a supply of cheap natural gas for the city of New Orleans.
Long began an unprecedented public works program, building roads, bridges, hospitals, and educational institutions. Huey P. Long's reign of legislation brought textbooks, a highway, natural gas heating to New Orleans, and buildings still standing at LSU. His bills met opposition from many legislators, wealthy citizens, and the media, but Long used aggressive tactics to ensure passage of the legislation he favored. He would show up unannounced on the floor of both the House and Senate or in House committees, corralling reluctant representatives and state senators and bullying opponents. These tactics were unprecedented, but they resulted in the passage of most of Long's legislative agenda. By delivering on his campaign promises, Long achieved hero status among the state's rural poor population.
When Long secured passage of his free textbook program, the school board of Caddo Parish, home of conservative Shreveport, sued to prevent the books from being distributed, saying it would not accept "charity" from the state. Long responded by withholding authorization for locating an Army Air Corps base nearby until the parish accepted the books.
Impeachment attempt (1929)
In 1929, Long called a special session of both houses of the legislature to enact a new five-cent per barrel "occupational license tax" on production of refined oil, to help fund his social programs. The bill met with fierce opposition from the state's oil interests. Opponents in the legislature, led by freshman lawmakers Cecil Morgan of Shreveport and Ralph Norman Bauer of Franklin in St. Mary Parish, moved to impeach Long on charges ranging from blasphemy to abuses of power, bribery, and the misuse of state funds. Long tried to cut the session short, but after an infamous brawl that spilled across the State Legislature on what was known as "Bloody Monday," the Legislature voted to remain in session and proceed with the impeachment.
In his autobiography, Long indicates that he and his friends "were outraged at the persistence with which the big oil companies [which he called the Oil Trust] resisted the payment of taxes and with the political opposition they continued to give us."
Long took his case to the people using his characteristic speaking tours. His ally Oscar K. Allen urged him to:
... fight fire with fire in this thing ... Get those circulars going. You'll sit here and be ruined. Get up a mass meeting! Get it up quick! In that instance, as I have many time of my life, I took the advice of O. K. Allen ... Immediately we set forth to call a mass meeting in the hostile center of Baton Rouge, calling upon people from all parts of the state to attend our first gathering to formulate plans to resist the impeachment.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune, once the official organ of the Louisiana Lottery, was leading the fight editorially against Long's proposed tax on oil. Long discovered that the petroleum companies had increased their advertising dollars in the newspaper. And he found that the attorney Arthur Hammond, a brother-in-law of The Times-Picayune's principal lawyer, was drawing $400 per month on two separate state payrolls. Quickly Hammond was removed from both positions.
Long argued that Standard Oil, the corporate interests, and the conservative political opposition were conspiring to stop him from providing roads, books, and other programs to develop the state and to assist the poor and downtrodden. The House referred many charges to the Senate. Conviction required a two-thirds majority of the Senate, but Long produced a "Round Robin" statement signed by fifteen senators pledging to vote "not guilty" regardless of the evidence. These senators claimed that the trial was illegal, and even if proved, the charges did not warrant impeachment. The impeachment process, now futile, was suspended. It has been alleged that both sides used bribes to buy votes, and that Long later rewarded the Round Robin signers with state jobs or other favors.
Following the failed impeachment attempt in the Senate, Long became ruthless when dealing with his enemies. He fired their relatives from state jobs and supported candidates to defeat them in elections. After impeachment, Long appeared to have concluded that extra-legal means would be needed to defend the interests of the common people against the powerful money interests. "I used to try to get things done by saying 'please'," said Long. "Now... I dynamite 'em out of my path." Since the state's newspapers were financed by the opposition, in March 1930 Long founded his own paper, the Louisiana Progress, which he used to broadcast achievements and denounce his enemies. To receive lucrative state contracts, companies were first expected to buy advertisements in Long's newspaper. Long attempted to pass laws placing a surtax on newspapers and forbidding the publishing of "slanderous material," but these efforts were defeated. After the impeachment attempt, Long received death threats. Fearing for his personal safety, he surrounded himself with armed bodyguards at all times.
Change of course (1930)
In the 1930 legislative session, Long proposed another major road-building initiative as well as the construction of a new capitol building in Baton Rouge. The State Legislature defeated the bond issue necessary to build the roads, and his other initiatives failed as well.
Long responded by suddenly announcing his intention to run for the U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary of September 9, 1930. He portrayed his campaign as a referendum on his programs: if he won he would take it as a sign that the public supported his programs over the opposition of the legislature, and if he lost he promised to resign. Long defeated incumbent Senator Joseph E. Ransdell, an Alexandria native from Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish, by 149,640 (57.3 percent) to 111,451 (42.7 percent).
Although his Senate term began on March 4, 1931, Long completed most of his four-year term as governor, which did not end until May 1932. He declared that leaving the seat vacant for so long would not hurt Louisiana; "with Ransdell as Senator, the seat was vacant anyway." By not leaving the governor's mansion until January 25, 1932, Long prevented Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr, a former ally, from succeeding to the office. A dentist and geologist from Jeanerette in Iberia Parish, Cyr had subsequently broken with Long and been threatening to roll back his reforms if he succeeded to the governorship. In his autobiography, Long recalled:
On another occasion the greatest publicity was given to a charge made by Lieutenant Governor Cyr that I had performed a swindle worse than that of Teapot Dome in the execution of an oil lease ... The oil lease in question had been made by Governor Parker, and no act had been taken by me, except to permit the holder to enter into a drilling contract. Our reply was practically buried by most of the newspapers.
Renewed strength (1930–32)
Having won the overwhelming support of the Louisiana electorate, Long returned to pushing his legislative program with renewed strength. Bargaining from an advantageous position, Long entered an agreement with his longtime New Orleans rivals, the Regular Democratic Organization and their leader, New Orleans mayor T. Semmes Walmsley. They would support his legislation and candidates in future elections in return for his support of the building of a bridge over the Mississippi River, an airport for New Orleans, and infrastructure improvements in the city. Support from the Old Regulars enabled Long to pass an increase in the gasoline tax to finance road construction projects, new school spending, a construction of a new Louisiana State Capitol, and a $75 million bond for road construction. Including the Airline Highway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Long's road network gave Louisiana some of the most modern roads in the country and formed the state's highway system. Long's opponents charged that he had become virtual dictator of the state.
Long retained New Orleans architect Leon C. Weiss to design the state capitol, built in skyscraper style, a new governor's mansion, the Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and many Louisiana State University buildings, and other college buildings throughout the state.
State Representative Gilbert L. Dupré of Opelousas once complained about a leak in the House roof just over his own desk in the chamber. When he demanded that Governor Long repair the leak at once, Long said that he would do so only if Dupré would vote for the planned new state capitol building. When Dupré refused to commit his vote, Long told him, "Die, damn you, in the faith!"
As governor, Long was not popular among the "old families" of Baton Rouge society or indeed in most of the state. He instead held gatherings of his leaders and friends who listened to the popular radio show Amos 'n' Andy. One of Long's followers dubbed him "the Kingfish" after the master of the Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge to which the fictional Amos and Andy belonged. The character of the "Kingfish" was a stereotypical, smooth-talking African-American conman who was forever trying to trick Amos and Andy into various get-rich schemes. The nickname stuck with Long's encouragement.
As governor, Long became an ardent supporter of the state's primary public university, Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. He greatly increased LSU's state funding and expanded its enrollment from study programs that enabled poor students to attend LSU and he established the LSU Medical School in New Orleans. He also intervened in the university's affairs, choosing its president. To generate excitement for the university, he quadrupled the size of the LSU band and co-wrote some of the music that is still played during football games, including "Touchdown for LSU." Once, he had the football team run a play he created. He also chartered trains to take LSU students to out-of-state football games.
In October 1931, Lieutenant Governor Cyr, by then Long's avowed enemy, argued that the Senator-elect could no longer remain governor. Cyr declared himself the state's legitimate governor. In response, Long ordered state National Guard troops to surround the State Capitol and fended off Cyr's proposed "coup d'état."
Long then went to the Louisiana Supreme Court to have Cyr ousted as lieutenant governor. He argued that the office of lieutenant-governor was vacant because Cyr had resigned when he attempted to assume the governorship. His suit was successful. Under the state constitution, Senate president and Long ally Alvin Olin King became lieutenant-governor and then, briefly from January to May 1932, governor.
Long chose his childhood friend, Oscar K. Allen, to succeed King in the January, 1932, election on a "Complete the Work" ticket. With the support of Long's voter base and the Old Regular machine, Allen won easily, permitting Long to resign as governor and take his seat in the U.S. Senate in January 1932.
In the U.S. Senate (1932–35)
Long's three-year tenure in the Senate overlapped an important time in American history as Herbert Hoover and then FDR attempted to deal with the Great Depression. Long often attempted to upstage FDR and the congressional leadership by mounting populist appeals of his own, most notably his "Share Our Wealth" program.
Long arrived in Washington, D.C., to take his seat in the United States Senate in January 1932, although he was absent for more than half the days in the 1932 session. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, he made characteristically fiery speeches which denounced the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. He also criticized the leaders of both parties for failing to address the crisis adequately, most notably attacking conservative Senate Democratic Leader Joseph Robinson of Arkansas for his apparent closeness with President Herbert Hoover and ties to big business. Robinson had been the vice-presidential candidate in 1928 on the Democratic ticket opposite Hoover.
Long had now earned a reputation, as Williams reports, as "a leading member of the progressive bloc in the Senate." in the year 1935, a headline was titled "Huey Long – Louisiana's Hitler is a Sole Lawmaker" by the Daily Worker. In the presidential election of 1932, Long became a vocal supporter of the candidacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He believed Roosevelt to be the only candidate willing and able to carry out the drastic redistribution of wealth that Long believed was necessary to end the Great Depression. At the Democratic National Convention, Long was instrumental in keeping the delegations of several wavering states in the Roosevelt camp. Long expected to be featured prominently in Roosevelt's campaign, but he was disappointed with a speaking tour limited to four Midwestern states.
Long managed to find other venues for his populist message. He campaigned to elect Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, the underdog candidate in a crowded field, to her first full term in the Senate by conducting a whirlwind, seven-day tour of that state. (Caraway had been appointed to the seat after her husband's death.) He raised his national prominence and defeated by a landslide the candidate backed by Senator Robinson. With Long's help, Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Caraway told Long, however, that she would continue to use independent judgment and not allow him to dictate how she would vote on Senate bills. She also insisted that he stop attacking Robinson while he was in Arkansas.
In the critical 100 days in spring 1933, Long was generally a strong supporter of the New Deal, but differed with the president on patronage. Roosevelt wanted control of the patronage and the two men broke in late 1933. Aware that Roosevelt had no intention to radically redistribute the country's wealth, Long became one of the few national politicians to oppose Roosevelt's New Deal policies from the left. He considered them inadequate in the face of the escalating economic crisis. Long sometimes supported Roosevelt's programs in the Senate, saying that "Whenever this administration has gone to the left I have voted with it, and whenever it has gone to the right I have voted against it." He opposed the National Recovery Act, calling it a sellout to big business. In 1933, he was a leader of a three-week Senate filibuster against the Glass banking bill for favoring the interests of national banks over state banks. He later supported the Glass–Steagall Act after provisions were made to extend government deposit insurance to state banks as well as national banks. Long was known as one of the most colorful Senators of all time, leading Kennedy to write that "... Long strode into the national arena in the role of the hillbilly hero and played it with gusto. He wore white silk suits and pink silk ties, womanized openly, swilled whiskey in the finest bars, swaggered his way around Washington, and breathed defiance into the teeth of his critics. The president's mother called him "that awful man". His friends called him "the Kingfish", after a character on the radio program Amos 'n' Andy ("Der Kingfish", said Long's critics, seeing parallels with another dangerous demagogue.) The New York Times called him "a man with a front of brass and lungs of leather"". Long's flamboyant ways and populist style made him into one of the best known Senators in the nation.
Roosevelt considered Long a radical demagogue. The president privately said of Long that along with General Douglas MacArthur, "He was one of the two most dangerous men in America." In June 1933, Long visited the White House to meet President Roosevelt. The meeting was a disaster with Long engaging in an act of flagrant disrespect by refusing to take off his straw hat and addressing Roosevelt as "Frank", instead of the normal "Mr. President". Shortly after that meeting in June 1933, in an effort to undermine Long's political dominance, Roosevelt cut Long out of consultation on the distribution of federal funds or patronage in Louisiana and placed Long's opponents in charge of federal programs in the state. Roosevelt also supported a Senate inquiry into the election of Long ally John H. Overton to the Senate in 1932. The Long machine was charged with election fraud and voter intimidation but the inquiry came up empty, and Overton was seated. To discredit Long and damage his support base, in 1934 Roosevelt had Long's finances investigated by the Internal Revenue Service. Though they failed to link Long to any illegality, some of Long's lieutenants were charged with income tax evasion, but only one had been convicted by the time of Long's death.
Until 1934, Long was not known for his opinions on foreign policy. On 30 May 1934, Long took to the Senate floor to debate the abrogation of the Platt amendment. Instead of debating the Platt amendment, Long gave his views on the Chaco War, coming out in support of Paraguay against Bolivia as he maintained that President Hayes had awarded the Chaco to Paraguay in 1878. Long blamed the entire war on "the forces of imperialistic finance", claiming that Paraguay was the rightful owner of the Chaco, but that Standard Oil, whom Long called "promoter of revolutions in Central America, South America and Mexico" had "bought" the Bolivian government and started the war because Paraguay was unwilling to grant them oil concessions. Long ended his speech by claiming the entire bloody Chaco War was due to the machinations of Wall Street, called the American arms embargo to both sides as subservience to the "big papa" of Wall Street and stated: "Well should we begin on Memorial Day, the hour of mourning to understand that the imperialistic principles of the Standard Oil Company have become mightier than the solemn treaties and pronouncements of the United States government". Long's speech made him a national hero in Paraguay while leading to protests from the Bolivian legation in Washington. Long's thesis that the U.S policy towards Latin America was dictated solely by the selfish concerns of oil companies, and the U.S. was maintaining a pro-Bolivian neutrality only because that is what Standard Oil wanted, attracted much attention in Latin American newspapers. The State Department was greatly concerned about the damage Long was inflicting on the reputation of the U.S, and throughout the summer of 1934 American diplomats waged a sustained public relations campaign against Long throughout Latin America. In a second speech given on 7 June 1934 in response to the Bolivian protests, Long again came out in support of Paraguay and attacked Standard Oil as "domestic murderers", "foreign murderers", "international conspirators" and "rapacious thieves and robbers". Besides abusing Standard Oil, Long announced that since Bolivia was taking the Chaco dispute to the World Court, he was opposed to the United States joining the World Court, saying: "Bolivia has run over to the famous World Court and the League of Nations. So here is the Standard Oil Company of the United States sailing under the title of Bolivia, putting one of their emissaries on a boat, and skyrocketing him to Geneva to renounce the Hayes award of the United States". In July 1934, after a capturing a Bolivian fort, the Paraguayans renamed it Fort Long, much to the delight of the "Kingfish". In terms of foreign policy, Long was a firm isolationist. He argued that the United States involvement in the Spanish–American War and the First World War had been deadly mistakes conducted on behalf of Wall Street. He also opposed American entry into the World Court.
Long's radical populist rhetoric and his aggressive tactics did little to endear him to his fellow senators. Not one of his proposed bills, resolutions or motions was passed during his three years in the Senate despite an overwhelming Democratic majority. During one debate, another senator told Long, "I do not believe you could get the Lord's Prayer endorsed in this body."
Despite the senators' distaste for Long's rhetoric, Huey Long himself often praised his colleagues, whom he called "ninety-six men of varied and sundry political complexions, informed on all subjects and questions, separately and collectively, far better than I had ever expected any ninety odd men to be. Within a few days I found in that body the uncurbed kind of versatile intelligence which will be the bulwark of support to democratic governments in the United States for trying centuries to come."
According to Vanity Fair magazine, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, never a member of the Senate, told U.S. Representative James Benjamin Aswell of Louisiana that Long was "the most brilliant lawyer who ever practiced before the United States Supreme Court."
Share Our Wealth
Long was a staunch opponent of the Federal Reserve System. Together with a group of House members and senators, Long claimed that the Federal Reserve's policies were the true cause of the Great Depression. Long made speeches denouncing the large banking houses of Morgan and Rockefeller centered in New York City, which owned stock in the Federal Reserve. He believed that these large bankers manipulated the monetary system to their own benefit, instead of that of the general public.
In March 1933, Long offered a series of bills collectively known as "the Long plan" for the redistribution of wealth. The first bill proposed a new progressive tax code designed to cap personal fortunes at $100 million. Fortunes above $1 million would be taxed at 1 percent; fortunes above $2 million would be taxed at 2 percent, and so forth, up to a 100 percent tax on fortunes greater than $100 million. The second bill limited annual income to $1 million, and the third bill capped individual inheritances at $5 million.
In February 1934, Long introduced his Share Our Wealth plan over a nationwide radio broadcast. He proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million and repeated his call to limit annual income to $1 million and inheritances to $5 million. (He also suggested reducing the cap on personal fortunes to $10 million–$15 million per individual, if necessary, and later lowered the cap to $5 million–$8 million in printed materials.) The resulting funds would be used to guarantee every family a basic household grant or "household estate" as Long called it of $5,000 and a minimum annual income of $2,000–3,000, or one-third of the average family homestead value and income. Long supplemented his plan with proposals for free college education and vocational training for all able students, old-age pensions, veterans' benefits, federal assistance to farmers, public works projects, greater federal regulation of economic activity, a month's vacation for every worker and limiting the work week to thirty hours to boost employment. In his speech, Long used populist language depicting the U.S past as a lost paradise stolen by the rich, saying:
God invited us all to come and eat and drink all we wanted. He smiled on our land and we grew crops of plenty to eat and wear. He showed us in the earth the iron and other things to make everything we wanted. He unfolded to us the secrets of science so that our work might be easy. God called: 'Come to my feast.' Then what happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120 million people and left only enough for 5 million for all the other 125 million to eat. And so many millions must go hungry and without these good things God gave us unless we call on them to put some of it back.
Long's plans for the "Share Our Wealth" program attracted much criticism from economists at the time, stating that Long's plans for redistributing wealth would not result in every American family receiving a grant of $5,000 per year, but rather $400/per year and his plans for confiscatory taxation would cap the average annual income at about $3,000.
With the Senate unwilling to support his proposals, in February 1934 Long formed a national political organization, the Share Our Wealth Society. A network of local clubs led by national organizer Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, the Share Our Wealth Society was intended to operate outside of and in opposition to the Democratic Party and the Roosevelt administration. By 1935, the society had over 7.5 million members in 27,000 clubs across the country. Long's Senate office received an average of 60,000 letters a week. Some historians believe that pressure from Long and his organization contributed to Roosevelt's "turn to the left" in 1935. He enacted the Second New Deal, including the Social Security Act, the Works Progress Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, Aid to Dependent Children, the National Youth Administration, and the Wealth Tax Act of 1935. In private, Roosevelt candidly admitted to trying to "steal Long's thunder."
Continued control over Louisiana (1932–35)
Long continued to maintain effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator, blurring the boundary between federal and state politics. Though he had no constitutional authority to do so, Long continued to draft and press bills through the Louisiana State Legislature, which remained in the hands of his allies. He made frequent trips to Baton Rouge to pressure the Legislature into enacting his legislation. The program included new consumer taxes, elimination of the poll tax, a homestead tax exemption, and increases in the number of state employees. While physically in Louisiana, Long customarily stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, where he was fond of the Sazerac Bar (see Peychaud's Bitters). According to Thomas M. Mahne in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Long had a personal interest in seeing to the quick construction of Airline Highway (US 61) between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as the new road cut 40 miles from the trip.
Long's loyal lieutenant, Governor Oscar K. Allen, dutifully enacted Long's policies. Long berated the governor in public and took over the governor's office in the State Capitol when visiting Baton Rouge. On occasion, he even entered the legislative chambers, going so far as to sit on representatives' and senators' desks and sternly lecture them on his positions. He also retaliated against those who voted against him and used patronage and state funding (especially highways) to maneuver Louisiana toward what opponents called a Long "dictatorship". Having broken a second time after earlier reconciliation with the Old Regulars and Mayor Walmsley in the fall of 1933, Long inserted himself into the New Orleans mayoral election of 1934. A second rift hence developed with the city government that lasted even until after Long's assassination.
In 1934, Long and James A. Noe, an independent oilman and member of the Louisiana Senate from Ouachita Parish, formed the controversial Win or Lose Oil Company. The firm was established to obtain leases on state-owned lands so that its directors might collect bonuses and sublease the mineral rights to the major oil companies. Although ruled legal, these activities were done in secret, and the stockholders were unknown to the public. Long made a profit on the bonuses and the resale of those state leases and used the funds primarily for political purposes.
By 1934, Long began a reorganization of the state government that reduced the authority of local governments in anti-Long strongholds New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria. It further gave the governor the power to appoint all state employees. Long passed what he called "a tax on lying" and a 2 percent tax on newspaper advertising revenue. He created the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a special force of plainclothes police answerable only to the governor. He also had the legislature enact the same tax on refined oil that in 1929 had nearly led to his impeachment, which he used as a bargaining chip to promote oil drilling in Louisiana. After Standard Oil agreed that 80 percent of the oil sent to its refineries would be drilled in Louisiana, Long's government refunded most of these tax revenues.
1935: Long's final year
By the summer of 1935, Long's Share Our Wealth clubs had 7.5 million members nationwide, he regularly garnered 25 million radio listeners, and he was receiving 60,000 letters a week from supporters (more than the president). In his final year, Long was preoccupied with his presidential ambitions and attempted to limit the influence of his Louisiana opponents. After his assassination, his political machine broke up into factions, although it has remained a strong force in the state's politics into the 21st century.
Even during his days as a traveling salesman, Long had confided to his wife that his planned career trajectory would begin with election to a minor state office, then governor, then senator, and ultimately President of the United States. In his final months, Long followed up his earlier autobiography, Every Man a King, with a second book titled My First Days in the White House, laying out his plans for the presidency after the election of 1936. The book was published posthumously.
Long biographers T. Harry Williams and William Ivy Hair speculated that Long planned to challenge Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination in 1936, knowing he would lose the nomination but gain valuable publicity in the process. Then he would break from the Democrats and form a third party using the Share Our Wealth plan as its basis. He also hoped to have the public support of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest and populist talk radio personality from Royal Oak, Michigan; Iowa agrarian radical Milo Reno; and other dissidents like Francis Townshend and the remnants of the End Poverty In California movement. Long said of Father Coughlin that: "Father Coughlin has a damned good platform and I'm 100% percent for him... What he thinks is right down my alley". In Wisconsin, the Progressive newspaper in an editorial stated that the editors did not agree "with every conclusion reached by Father Coughlin and Senator Long, but when they contend... that the tremendous wealth of this country should be more equitably shared for a more abundant life for the masses of the people, we agree heartily with them".
In the spring of 1935, Long undertook a national speaking tour and regular radio appearances, attracting large crowds and increasing his stature. At a rally of the Farmers Holiday Association in Des Moines, Long was introduced by Reno and asked the crowd: "Do you believe in the redistribution of wealth?", receiving a huge "Yes!" as a response. After the rally, Long was heard to say that: "I could take this state like a whirlwind". At a well attended Long rally in Philadelphia, a former mayor told the press "There are 250,000 Long votes" in this city. The Roosevelt administration was worried by Long's growing popularity and on 4 March 1935, General Hugh S. Johnson in a radio speech denounced Long and Coughlin as this "great Louisiana demagogue and this political padre", going on to accuse the duo of speaking "with nothing of learning, knowledge nor experience to lead us through a labyrinth that has perplexed the minds of men since the beginning of time... These two men are raging up and down this land preaching not construction, but destruction-not reform, but revolution!". The Democratic National Committee chairman James Farley commissioned a secret poll in early 1935 "to find out if Huey's sales talks for his 'share the wealth' program were attracting many customers... We kept a careful eye on what Huey and his political allies... were attempting to do". Farley's poll revealed that if Long ran on a third party ticket, he would win about 4 million votes (about 10% of the electorate). In a memo to Roosevelt, Farley wrote: "It was easy to conceive of a situation whereby Long by polling more than 3,000,000 votes, might have the balance of power in the 1936 election. For example, the poll indicated that he would command upwards of 100,000 votes in New York State, a pivotal state in any national election and a vote of that size could easily mean the difference between victory and defeat... That number of votes would mostly come from our side and the result might spell disaster". In response, Roosevelt in a letter to his friend, William E. Dodd who was serving as American ambassador in Berlin wrote: "Long plans to be a candidate of the Hitler type for the presidency in 1936. He thinks he will have a hundred votes at the Democratic convention. Then he will set up as an independent with Southern and mid-western Progressives... Thus he hopes to defeat the Democratic Party and put in a reactionary Republican. That would bring the country to such a state by 1940 that Long thinks he would be made dictator. There are in fact some Southerners looking that way, and some Progressives drifting that way... Thus it is an ominous situation".
Increased tensions in Louisiana
By 1935, Long's most recent consolidation of personal power led to talk of armed opposition from his enemies. Opponents increasingly invoked the memory of the Battle of Liberty Place of 1874, in which the White League staged an uprising against Louisiana's Reconstruction-era government. In January 1935, an anti-Long paramilitary organization called the Square Deal Association was formed. Its members included former governors John M. Parker and Ruffin G. Pleasant and New Orleans Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley. On January 25, 200 armed Square Dealers took over the courthouse of East Baton Rouge Parish. Long had Governor Allen call out the National Guard, declare martial law, ban public gatherings of two or more persons, and forbid the publication of criticism of state officials. The Square Dealers left the courthouse, but there was a brief armed skirmish at the Baton Rouge Airport. Tear gas and live ammunition were fired; one person was wounded but there were no fatalities.
In the summer of 1935, Long called for two more special sessions of the legislature; bills were passed in rapid-fire succession without being read or discussed. The new laws further centralized Long's control over the state by creating several new Long-appointed state agencies: a state bond and tax board holding sole authority to approve all loans to parish and municipal governments, a new state printing board which could withhold "official printer" status from uncooperative newspapers, a new board of election supervisors which would appoint all poll watchers, and a State Board of Censors. They also stripped away the remaining lucrative powers of the mayor of New Orleans to cripple the entrenched opposition. Long boasted that he had "taken over every board and commission in New Orleans except the Community Chest and the Red Cross."
Long quarreled with former State Senator Henry E. Hardtner of La Salle Parish. While proceeding to Baton Rouge in August 1935 to confront the state government over a tax matter relating to his Urania Lumber Company, based in Urania, Hardtner, known as "the father of forestry in the South," was killed in a car-train accident.
Assassination and aftermath
Long was shot a month after announcing that he would run for president. On the day of the shooting, Sunday, September 8, 1935, Long was at the State Capitol attempting to oust a long-time opponent, Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy. "House Bill Number One," a re-redistricting plan, was Long's top priority. If it passed, Judge Pavy would be removed from the bench. At 9:20 p.m., just moments after the House passed the bill, Pavy's son-in-law Carl Weiss, a physician from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, approached Long, and, according to the generally accepted version of events, fired a handgun at him from four feet away, shooting him in the torso. Long's bodyguards returned fire, killing Weiss instantly. Long was rushed to the hospital, but he died two days later, on Tuesday, September 10, 1935, at 4:10 a.m. Long was 42 years old;  his last words were, "God, don't let me die. I have so much to do." Some historians do not accept the speculation that Long actually died after accidentally being struck by a bullet fired by one of his own bodyguards as they fired at Carl Weiss.
Edgar Hull, a founding faculty member of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, was among those called upon to treat Long for his wounds. In 1983, after nearly a half-century, Hull published his memoirs, This I Remember: An Informal History of the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans. Unlike LSU historian T. Harry Williams, who suggested Long might have survived with better medical care, Hull said that Long could not have survived the shooting. He denied that Long had died from medical or surgical incompetence. Hull also criticized his own conduct; though he had called for an autopsy, Hull had not been persistent enough and allowed himself to be overruled.
Long's body was dressed in a tuxedo and his open double casket (made of bronze with a copper inner liner covered with a glass lid) was placed in the State Capitol rotunda. An estimated 200,000 people flooded Baton Rouge to witness the event. Tens of thousands of Louisianans crowded in front of the Capitol on September 12, 1935, for the 4 p.m. funeral handled by Merle Welsh of Rabenhorst Funeral Home. Welsh was later a member of the Louisiana State Board of Education. Welsh remembered that flowers came from all over the world and extended from the House of Representatives to the Senate chamber. Airline Highway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was jammed bumper-to-bumper. The minister at the funeral service was Gerald L. K. Smith, co-founder of Share Our Wealth and subsequently of the America First Party, and the founder of the "Christ of the Ozarks" passion play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Newsreel cameras clicked while airplanes circled overhead to record the service for posterity. Long was buried on the grounds of the new State Capitol, which he championed as governor, where a statue at his grave-site now depicts his achievements. Within the Capitol, a plaque still marks the site of the assassination in the hallway near what is now the Speaker's office and what was then the Governor's office. Also, a bronze statue of Long is located in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.
Social and political positions
During his lifetime, Long's political philosophy, and especially his Share Our Wealth program, was heavily criticized by more conservative politicians, who argued that such a scheme was decidedly communist. The former Louisiana governor Ruffin G. Pleasant, for instance, decried Long as "the 'ultra Socialist' whose views outreached 'Marx, Lenin, and Trotksy.'" Similarly, in 1935, the New York American accused Long's Share the Wealth program of being "molded in the criminal brains of the leader of the Paris Commune and sanctified in the brains of an oriental fanatics, Nicolai Lenin."
Long's program, however, diverged significantly from Marxist communism. In particular, the Share Our Wealth program preserved the concept of private property and also sought to explicitly side-step the need for a violent revolution. In fact, when asked whether his plan was communist, Long replied: "Communism? Hell no! ... This plan is the only defense this country's got against communism." In a radio address on February 23, 1934, Long later stated that his ideological inspiration for the Share Our Wealth plan came from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence.
However, while conservative politicians decried Long as a communist, bona fide American communists sought to distance themselves from his project because they felt that the Share Our Wealth project both preserved the capitalist enterprise and also was diverting interest away from their own party. Some of Long's fiercest critics, in fact, were prominent American communists, such as Sender Garlin and Alexander Bittelman. For one thing, these thinkers argued that Long's populist rhetoric and antics belied a decidedly anti-labor philosophy; Garlin, for instance, noted that while Long created thousands of miles of roads and numerous bridges, Long paid his workers only 30 cents an hour—10 cents less than what the National Recovery Administration called for. American communists were also highly critical of Long's views on race, the corruption of his political machine, and his rampant abuse of power.
When giving a speech, Long would often hold a Bible in one hand and quote liberally from the scriptures. When asked about his main influence, he always cited the Bible first and foremost, and once said that he did not "know how many times [he had] read it through." However, Long's brother, Julius, later told that all the biblical material that Huey mastered was that which his mother had read to him.
For much of the 20th century, Long was viewed by a number of historians as an egalitarian in terms of race; the renowned Huey Long historian T. Harry Williams, for instance, once wrote that Long was "the first Southern mass leader to leave aside race baiting and appeals to the Southern tradition and the Southern past and address himself to the social and economic problems of the present." Other historians argued that Long's building projects and social reforms helped all of the poor populations in Louisiana—both black and white alike. However, the historian Glen Jeansonne argues that such views of Long are problematic and that Long was "more racist, less unbiased, less principled, and less different from other Louisiana politicians of his time than the [historical] literature implies."
For one thing, Jeansonne notes that Long never faced a serious election that hinged on questions of race or racism, largely because after the Louisiana Constitution of 1898 was ratified, "race was an irrelevant political issue" and black Louisianans "were segregated, ghettoized, ignored." This means that Long never had to actively discuss the subject of race. For another thing, Jeansonne argues that it is fallacious to ascribe to Long views of racial egalitarianism simply because he was not as racist as some of his peers. Finally, as Jeansonne points out, if part of the point of Long's program was to help black Louisianans, it seems likely that Long would have actively attempted to reach out to and enfranchise more black voters so as to secure their political support. This, however, was not the case; in fact, during Long's tenure as governor, the number of registered black voters actually decreased.
But while Long was by no means the racial egalitarian that he is sometimes made out to be, it would be erroneous to argue that his programs did not help the black community in any way, shape, or form. In fact, the programs that Long instituted during his time as governor and senator allowed a number of black Louisianans to receive an education, file for tax exemptions, and also vote without having to worry about poll taxes. There were also a number of black ministers who organized Share Our Wealth club chapters (although these were few and far between). Trying to strike a balance between the differing interpretations in regard to Long's racism, the historian Roy Wilkins wrote, "My guess is that Huey ... wouldn't hesitate to throw Negroes to the wolves if it became necessary; neither would he hesitate to carry them along if the good they did him was greater than the harm."
Long pioneered important innovations in campaign technique that were adopted nationally, including sound trucks and radio commercials. But his most enduring contributions were to the state of Louisiana rather than to the nation.
In search for the basis of Long's very strong support, V.O. Key, Jr. concluded that Long:
Kept faith with his people and they with him. He gave them something and the corporations paid for it... He is not to be dismissed as a mere rabble-rouser or as the leader of a gang of boodlers... He brought to his career a streak of genius, yet in his programs and tactics he was as indigenous to Louisiana as pine trees and petroleum.
Key adds that the Long organization used:
Patronage, in all its forms, deprivation of perquisites, economic pressure, political coercion in one form or another, and now and then outright thuggery... Long commanded the intense loyalties of a substantial proportion of the population... [Supporters] came to believe that here was a man with a genuine concern for their welfare, not one of the gentlemanly do-nothing governors who had ruled the state for many decades.
While his dictatorial means and motives violated American norms, Long had a genuine concern for the common people of Louisiana. Harold A. "Doc" Reaux (1921–2009), a New Iberia native who worked his way through the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, Alabama, recalls as a small boy, too poor to have shoes, his attendance at a Long campaign rally with his father. Huey Long saw the boy with his feet scorching on the hot pavement and said, "Get that boy a pair of shoes." Hence, Reaux often told how his first shoes were a gift from Long. In 1947, Reaux became the senior partner of the Reaux Animal Hospital, at which he remained until his retirement in 1977.
Long liked to help people in distress. Once while headed to Shreveport, Long stopped a woman and her two children who were hitchhiking from Alexandria to Charleston, Missouri. Without introducing himself, he took the woman and her children to the train depot and bought them tickets and placed a $10 bill in the mother's hands. "Who was that man", the woman asked the ticket agent. "Why, didn't you know? That was the governor of Louisiana, Huey P. Long", the agent replied.
During Long's years in power, great strides were made in infrastructure, education and health care. Long was notable among southern politicians for avoiding race baiting. He sought to improve the lot of poor blacks as well as poor whites.
Long created a public works program for Louisiana that was unprecedented in the South, with a plethora of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and state buildings that have endured into the 21st century. During his four years as governor, Long increased paved highways in Louisiana from 331 to 2,301 miles (533 to 3,703 km), plus an additional 2,816 miles (4,532 km) of gravel roads. By 1936, the infrastructure program begun by Long had completed some 9,700 miles (15,600 km) of new roads, doubling the size of the state's road system. He built 111 bridges and started construction on the first bridge over the Mississippi entirely in Louisiana, the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish, near New Orleans. He built a new Governor's Mansion and the new Louisiana State Capitol, at the time the tallest building in the South. All of these projects provided thousands of much-needed jobs during the Great Depression, including 22,000—or 10 percent—of the nation's highway workers.
Long's free textbooks, school-building program, and school busing improved and expanded the public education system. His night schools taught 100,000 adults to read. He expanded funding for LSU, tripled enrollment, lowered tuition, and established scholarships for low-income students. He sometimes befriended persons in need. In 1932 a young Pap Dean, later political cartoonist with the Shreveport Times, wrote to Long after hearing him speak in Dean's native Colfax to explain that Dean's college funds had been lost in a bank closing. Long helped Dean procure financial aid to attend LSU, from which he graduated in 1937.
Long founded the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also doubled funding for the public Charity Hospital System, built a new Charity Hospital building for New Orleans, and reformed and increased funding for the state's mental institutions. Long's statewide public health programs dramatically reduced the death rate in Louisiana and provided free immunizations to nearly 70 percent of the population. He also reformed the prison system by providing medical and dental care for inmates. His administration funded the piping of natural gas to New Orleans and other cities. It built the seven-mile (11 km) Lake Pontchartrain seawall and New Orleans airport.
For the people
Long slashed personal property taxes and reduced utility rates. His repeal of the poll tax in 1935 increased voter registration by 76 percent in one year. Long's popular homestead exemption eliminated personal property taxes for the majority of citizens by exempting properties valued at less than $2,000. His "Debt Moratorium Act" prevented foreclosures by giving people extra time to pay creditors and reclaim property without being forced to pay back-taxes. His personal intervention and strict regulation of the Louisiana banking system prevented bank closures and kept the system solvent—while 4,800 banks nationwide collapsed, only seven failed in Louisiana.
Within the dominant Louisiana Democratic party, Long set in motion two durable factions—"pro-Long" and "anti-Long"—which diverged meaningfully in terms of policies and voter support. A family dynasty emerged: his brother Earl Long was elected lieutenant-governor in 1936, governor in 1948 and 1956. Typically anti-Longite candidates would promise to continue popular social services delivered in Long's administration and criticized Longite corruption without directly attacking Long himself. Long's son, Russell B. Long, was a U.S. senator from 1948 to 1987. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Russell Long shaped the nation's tax laws. He was an advocate of low business taxes, but also passed the Earned Income Credit and other tax legislation beneficial to the poor and working people.
The political machine Long established was weakened by his death, but it remained a powerful force in state politics until the election of 1960. Pockets of it persisted into the 21st century. The Long platform of social programs and populist rhetoric created the state's main political division. In every state election until 1960, the main factions were organized along pro-Long and anti-Long lines. For several decades after his death, Long's personal political style inspired imitation among Louisiana politicians who borrowed his colorful speaking style, vicious verbal attacks on opponents, and promises of social programs. His brother Earl Kemp Long later inherited Long's political machine. Using his platform and rhetorical style, Earl Long became governor in 1939 following the resignation of Richard Leche and was elected to subsequent terms in 1948 and 1956.
After Earl Long's death, John McKeithen and Edwin Edwards appeared as heirs to the Long tradition. Most recently, Claude "Buddy" Leach ran a populist campaign in the Louisiana gubernatorial election of 2003 that some observers compared to Huey Long's. Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell tried the same approach without success in the 2007 jungle primary, although State Rep. John Bel Edwards was elected governor in 2015 espousing many of the same populist positions as Long, McKeithen and Edwin Edwards.
Long's death did not end the political strength of the Long family. His widow, Rose McConnell Long, was appointed to replace him in the Senate, and his son Russell B. Long was elected to the Senate in 1948, and served until his retirement in 1987. In addition to Long's brother Earl K. Long becoming governor, brother Julius Long was a Winn Parish District Attorney and brother George S. Long was elected to Congress in 1952. Long's younger sister, Lucille Long Hunt (1898–1985) of Ruston, was the mother of future Public Service Commissioner John S. Hunt, III (1928–2001), of Monroe.
Other more distant relatives, including Gillis William Long and Speedy O. Long represented Louisiana in the U.S. Congress, while Jimmy D. Long of Natchitoches Parish served for 32 years in the Louisiana House. As of 2010, Jimmy Long's younger brother Gerald Long holds the distinction of being the only current Long in public office and the first Republican among the Long Democratic dynasty. Twelve members of the Long family have held elected office.
In a press conference during which reporters were trying to analyse his political personality, Huey Long stated : "say that I am sui generis, and let it go at that. "
Two bridges crossing the Mississippi River have been named "Huey P. Long Bridge": one in Baton Rouge and one in Jefferson Parish. There are also two bridges named in honor of both Long and his successor and supporter, O.K. Allen: the Long-Allen Bridge over the Atchafalaya River between Morgan City and Berwick, and the Long-Allen Bridge/Texas Street Bridge over the Red River between Downtown Shreveport and Bossier City. There is also a Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville across the Red River from Alexandria.
Long's first autobiography, Every Man a King, was published in 1933 and priced to be affordable by poor Americans. Long laid out his plan to redistribute the nation's wealth. His second book, My First Days in the White House, was published posthumously. In it he describes his presidential ambitions for 1936.
Long's birthday, August 30, was a paid holiday in Louisiana from 1936 through 1971. This practice was ended by Governor Edwin Edwards when he took office in 1972.
In 1993, Long, along with his brother Earl, was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. In the same ceremony, his son Russell, then still living, was also among the 13 original inductees.
Long's life has held continuing fascination. In 1970, the biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in category History and Biography. Alan Brinkley won the latter award in 1983 for Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression, which describes Long's brief but vast popularity early in the 1930s.
Leading novelists have explored the regime Long created. Garry Boulard believed him to be the inspiration for Buzz Windrip in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, calling the work "the most chilling and uncanny treatment of Huey by a writer". Lewis, a liberal who in 1930 had won the Nobel Prize in literature, portrayed a genuine American dictator on the Hitler model. The lead character of It Can't Happen Here is a populist, big business-bashing senator Buzz Windrip who wins the 1936 election by promising every American family $5,000 per year. Starting in 1936 the WPA, a New Deal agency, performed the theater version across the country.
Written with the goal of hurting Long's chances in the 1936 election, Lewis's novel outfits President Berzelius Windrip with a private militia, concentration camps, and a chief of staff who sounds like Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Lewis also outfits Windrip with a racist ideology completely alien to Long and a Main Street conservatism he also never embraced. Ultimately, Windrip is a venal and cynical showman who plays to the conformist resentments Lewis diagnosed in Main Street and Babbitt. Perry (2004) argues that the key weakness of the novel is not that he decks out American politicians with sinister European touches, but that he finally conceives of fascism and totalitarianism in terms of traditional American political models rather than seeing them as introducing a new kind of society and a new kind of regime. Windrip is less a Nazi than a con-man and manipulator who knows how to appeal to people's desperation, but neither he nor his followers are in the grip of the kind of world-transforming ideology like Hitler's National Socialism.
Hamilton Basso wrote two novels looking at Long, Cinnamon Seed (1934) and Sun in Capricorn (1942). Perry (2004) says Basso was a slashingly witty critic of the moonlight and magnolia romanticism of the Old South that dominated the Southern mind before 1920. Like many proponents of a New South, he wanted modernizers to take over. Cinnamon Seed's Harry Brand incorporates more details from the historical Long than any other fictional portrayal does, and much of the novel is so lightly fictionalized that only a single letter separates the names of characters and places from their real-life counterparts. Brand is a representative of the grasping and vulgar kind of new leadership which has rightly understood that the values of the Old South are played out but has replaced them with nothing but ambition and cunning. He is a greedy climber, not a demonic leader of the masses, and in fact he is ultimately not much more than an obnoxious and sticky-fingered lout, the kind who spits tobacco juice on the marble floors of his predecessors and pockets the ashtrays. In portraying his Long figure this way, Basso finds himself between the stools, critical of the spent aristocrats who cannot imagine a modern South, but disgusted also by the figures who represent the wrong kind of newness, the kind of modern South that comes to be if its development is left to default.
John Dos Passos's Number One (1943) looks not at the politics of mass brutality whipped up by manipulative demagogues, but at the gradual ebbing away of Long's idealist convictions under the pressure of a thousand expedient compromises and betrayals in the name of institutional necessity.
Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the King's Men (1946) is the centerpiece of American political fiction. Warren charted the corruption of an idealistic politician Willie Stark, almost as much philosopher as politician. Warren did not encourage association of his character with Long and told Charles Bohner in a 1964 interview, "Willie Stark was not Huey Long. Willie was only himself, whatever that self turned out to be." Nevertheless, popular and critical opinion has held the parallels between Stark and Long to be very strong (particularly the general arc of the career: a failed bid for Governor in the mid-1920s, successful election to the governorship, and subsequent assassination); Warren's spellbinding Willie Stark has been for almost six decades Long's well-known fictional embodiment, based on the novel and well-received 1949 movie, earning Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress from the Academy Awards.
Long inspired numerous other novelists. Adria Locke Langley's 1945 novel A Lion Is in the Streets, and its 1953 film adaption starring James Cagney as the charismatic and ambitious but also unscrupulous Huey Long-like populist politician Hank Martin has often been compared to All the King's Men. Bruce Sterling's Distraction features a colorful and dictatorial Louisiana governor named "Green Huey". Harry Turtledove's American Empire trilogy drew parallels between Confederate President Jake Featherston's populist, dictatorial style of rule and Long's governorship of Louisiana. In this trilogy, Long was assassinated on orders from Featherston when he refused to side with the Confederate ruling party (though several years later than in reality). In Barry N. Malzberg's short story "Kingfish", published in the Alternate Presidents anthology, Long survives his assassination, to be elected President in 1936 with the help of John Nance Garner, and both men conspire to assassinate Hitler prior to the start of World War II. In Donald Jeffries' 2007 novel The Unreals, there is a scene featuring an imaginary meeting where FDR and other important Depression era figures are plotting the assassination of Senator Long.
In general, the novelists have portrayed Long's rise to power as a justifiable popular reaction against the selfish policies pursued by the dominant economic interests prior to 1928. They speculate the degree his extremism reflected an overreaction to his enemies, or sprang inevitably from class conflict in the state. They all try to explain why Long enjoyed majority support in Louisiana, both during and after his lifetime.
Warren's novel was the basis of two motion pictures, a 1949 film and a more recent 2006 film, and the 1981 opera Willie Stark by American composer Carlisle Floyd. The 1949 film won three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Broderick Crawford, playing the Long role.
In the Hearts of Iron IV mod, Kaiserreich, Huey Long is the leader of the America First Party, a party that combines the ideals of American nationalism and slight leftist policies, but is also heavily anti-communist. Huey Long is not assassinated in 1935 in this timeline, allowing him to run for the 1936 presidency under the aforementioned AFP. The mod still includes his most notable policies, mainly "Share Our Wealth" and "Every Man a King". These two policies have become an inside joke within the Kaiserreich community, with fans of the mod creating internet memes involving his likeness.
In 1985, Ken Burns made a documentary about Long. Robert Penn Warren, despite his attempts to disassociate his novel from the real-life politician, attended a showing of the documentary at a New York theater as a guest of Burns.
Two made-for-TV docudramas about Long have also been produced: The Life and Assassination of the Kingfish (1977), starring Ed Asner, and the fictionalized Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long (1995, TNT), starring John Goodman.
In popular music, singer-songwriter Randy Newman featured Long in two songs on the 1974 album Good Old Boys (Reprise). "Every Man a King", originally written and recorded by Long and Castro Carazo, is followed by "Kingfish" (a reference to Long's famous nickname). Sung from the point of view of Long, "Kingfish" discusses his popularity in his prime, the building of the Airline Highway, and refers to "The Kingfish" as "friend of the working man"—an allusion to Long's unwavering popularity amongst the working classes. It attributes the reason for this to his populist ideologies:
- Who took on the Standard Oil men
- And whipped their ass,
- Just like he promised he'd do?
- Ain't no Standard Oil men gonna run this state,
- Gonna be run by little folks like me and you.
- Huey Long (1985 Ken Burns documentary)
- Cat Doucet
- James Monroe Smith
- Long family
- List of assassinated American politicians
- List of United States Senators expelled or censured
- List of United States Congress members killed or wounded in office
- List of United States Congress members who died in office (1900–49)