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Huey Long
Huey Long (cropped).jpg
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
January 25, 1932 – September 10, 1935
Preceded byJoseph E. Ransdell
Succeeded byRose Long
Governor of Louisiana
In office
May 21, 1928 – January 25, 1932
LieutenantPaul N. Cyr
Alvin Olin King
Preceded byOramel H. Simpson
Succeeded byAlvin Olin King
Chair of the
Louisiana Public Service Commission
In office
Preceded byShelby Taylor
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner
In office
Preceded byBurk A. Bridges
Succeeded byHarvey Fields
Personal details
Huey Pierce Long Jr.

(1893-08-30)August 30, 1893
Winnfield, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedSeptember 10, 1935(1935-09-10) (aged 42)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
Cause of deathAssassination (gunshot wound)
Resting placeLouisiana State Capitol
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1913)
RelationsLong family
Children3, including Russell B. Long
Alma materOklahoma Baptist University
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Tulane University Law School

Huey Pierce Long Jr. (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935), called "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. He was a populist member of the Democratic Party and rose to national prominence during the Great Depression for his vocal criticism from the left of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. As the political leader of Louisiana, he commanded wide networks of supporters and often took forceful action. A controversial figure, Long is celebrated as a populist champion of the poor or conversely denounced as a demagogue.

Long was born in the poor north of Louisiana in 1893. After working as a traveling salesman and attending multiple colleges, Long entered the bar in Louisiana. Following a brief private legal career, in which he represented poor plaintiffs against corporations, Long was elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. As Commissioner, Long often prosecuted large corporations. In particular, Long despised the Standard Oil Company: it later became a common recipient of his rhetorical attacks. After Long successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Howard Taft praised him as "the most brilliant lawyer who ever practiced" before the court.

After a failed 1924 campaign, Long used the sharp economic and class divisions in Louisiana to win the 1928 gubernatorial election. Once in office, Long filled government jobs with patronage appointments and passed legislation distributing free textbooks to students, previously a barrier for poor Louisianians seeking an education. Accused of abuses of power, he was impeached in 1929, but the proceedings collapsed in the Louisiana Senate. During Long's years in power, he greatly expanded social programs, such as college financial aid, prison rehabilitation, and free medical care. He organized massive public work projects, including a modern highway system and the tallest state capitol-building in the nation. Through political maneuvering, Long became the political boss of Louisiana. His opponents argued that his policies and methods were unconstitutional and dictatorial.

Long successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1930, although he did not assume his seat until 1932. With an enthusiastic campaign, Long helped elect Hattie Caraway, the first woman to win a full term in the United States Senate. Long was integral in securing Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 nomination and was a supporter through Roosevelt's first 100 days in office. Long split with Roosevelt in June 1933, becoming a prominent critic of his New Deal. As an alternative, he proposed the Share Our Wealth program in 1934. To stimulate the economy, he advocated massive federal spending, a wealth tax, and wealth redistribution. These proposals drew wide support, with millions joining local Share Our Wealth clubs. Poised for a 1936 presidential bid, Long was mortally wounded by a lone assassin in 1935. Although Long's movement faded, Roosevelt adopted many of his proposals in the Second New Deal. In Louisiana, Long permanently altered the political landscape. Elections would be organized along anti- or pro-Long factions until the 1960s. He left behind a political dynasty, which included his wife, Senator Rose McConnell Long; his son, Senator Russell B. Long; and his brothers, Governor Earl Long and U.S. Representative George S. Long, among others.

Early life (1893–1915)


See caption
Huey Long (far left) with sister Lucille and brother Earl

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.[1] He was the son of Huey Pierce Long Sr. (1852–1937) and Caledonia Palestine Tison (1860–1913), and the seventh of the couple's nine surviving children. He would later claim that his heritage was a mixture of Dutch, English, French, Scottish, and Welsh.[2] When he was young, Winn Parish was a deeply impoverished region whose residents, mostly modest Southern Baptists, were often outsiders in Louisiana's political system.[1][3] During the Civil War, Winn Parish had been a stronghold of Unionism in an otherwise solidly Confederate state. At Louisiana's 1861 convention on secession, the delegate from Winn voted to remain in the union: “Who wants to fight to keep the Negroes for the wealthy planters?”[2] In the 1890s it likewise was a bastion of the Populist Party, and in the 1912 election, a plurality (35%) voted for the Socialist presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs.[3][4]

The degree of poverty in Winn Parish was extreme, but the parish was relatively wealthy compared to others in Louisiana. According to the 1930 census, one-fifth of white Louisianans were illiterate, with rates for black Louisianans being much higher because of underfunding of their education by racial discrimination. Having grown up in Winn Parish, Long absorbed all of the resentments of its people against the elite.[5] While Long often told his followers that he came from the lowest possible social and economic stratum, Long's family were well-off compared to others in the largely destitute community of Winnfield.[1][6] Although he later claimed to have been born in a log cabin, he was actually born in a "comfortable" farmhouse.[7]

For people of their time and socioeconomic standing, Long's parents were well-educated, and stressed often to their child the importance of learning. For many years Long was home-schooled; he started attending local schools at about age eleven. During his time in the public system, he earned a reputation as an excellent student with a remarkable memory. After growing bored with the 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, advertising their exclusivity 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."[8] 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 state mandated fourth year of high school. As a consequence, he was expelled in 1910. Long drafted a petition calling for the principal of Winnfield High School to be removed from his post. He convinced enough people in his town to sign it to gain the firing of the principal. Despite this success, Long never returned to high school, although he was awarded a diploma posthumously.[8]

See caption
Long as a traveling salesman in the early 1910s

In high school, Long proved himself to be a capable debater. At a state debate competition in Baton Rouge, he won a full-tuition scholarship to Louisiana State University (LSU).[9] Because the scholarship did not cover textbooks or living expenses, he was unable to attend, as his family could not afford it. Long would later regret that he had been unable to pursue an education at LSU.[9] Instead of trying to gain higher education, he entered the workforce as a traveling salesman in the rural south.[10]

Education and marriage

In September 1911, Long began attending seminary classes at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma at the urging of his mother, a devout Baptist. While living with his brother George, Long attended for only one semester, rarely appearing at lectures. After deciding he was not suited to preaching, Long instead began to focus on law.[11] Borrowing one hundred dollars from his brother (which he later lost playing roulette in Oklahoma City), he attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law in Norman, Oklahoma for a semester in 1912.[11] To earn money while studying law part-time, he worked as a salesman for the Dawson Produce Company. Of the four classes 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."[11] He was arrested in 1912, reportedly for creating a disturbance in a brothel.[12] In Long's version of events, the police mistakenly arrested him after one man shot at another, but Long was able to prove he had been attending a play with girlfriend Rose McConnell at the time of the incident and he was released.[13]

McConnell was a stenographer who had won a baking contest which Long promoted to sell "Cottolene," a popular vegetable shortening.[14] The two had begun a two-and-a-half-year courtship and married on April 12, 1913 at the Gayoso Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.[15] On their wedding day, Long had no cash with him and had to borrow $10 from his fiancée to pay for the officiant.[16] Shortly after their marriage, Long explained to his wife his aspirations to run for a state-wide office, the governorship, the U.S. Senate, and ultimately the presidency.[17][18] The Longs had a daughter, named Rose, and two sons: Russell B. Long (1918–2003), who became a long-term U.S. senator, and Palmer Reid Long (1921–2010), who became an oilman in Shreveport, Louisiana.[19]

Long enrolled at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans in the fall of 1914.[20] After a year of study that concentrated on the courses necessary for the bar exam, he successfully petitioned the Louisiana Supreme Court for permission to take the test before its scheduled June 1915 date. He was examined in May, passed, and received his license to practice.[21] According to Long: "I came out of that courtroom running for office."[22]

Legal career (1915–1923)

In 1915, Long established a private practice in Winnfield, through which he typically represented small plaintiffs, "the small man – the under-dog" according to Long. These were usually workers' compensation cases.[23][24] He often said proudly that he never took a case against a poor man. He was noted for successfully defending an impoverished widow against the Winnfield Bank.[24] Around this time, Long evaded fighting in World War I, claiming "I was not mad at anybody over there," and successfully defended a state senator from prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917.[22][25] In 1918, Long invested $1,050 in an oil well that eventually struck oil. But the well was unable to generate any income because the powerful Standard Oil Company refused to accept any of the oil in its pipelines, costing Long his investment.[26] This episode served as the catalyst for Long's lifelong hatred of Standard Oil, which he later denounced as an "invisible empire" run by "petroleumites."[27]

See caption
Card for Long's 1918 campaign for railroad commissioner

That same year, Long entered into the race to serve on the three-seat Louisiana Railroad Commission. According to historian William Ivy Hair, Long's political message:

... 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].[28]

In the Democratic primary, Long came in second behind incumbent Burk Bridges. Since no candidate garnered a majority of the votes, a run-off election was held, for which Long campaigned tirelessly across the whole north of the state. The race was incredibly close: Long defeated Burk by just 636 votes.[29] Although the returns revealed wide support for Long in rural areas, Long performed poorly in the urban areas of Alexandria, Shreveport, and Monroe.[23] The Louisiana Railroad Commission and its members were known for largely having yielded to businesses and their owners. Once sworn in to office, however, Long refused to conform to their norms. He forced utilities to lower rates, ordered railroads to extend service to small towns, and demanded that Standard Oil cease the importation of Mexican crude oil and use more oil from Louisianian wells.[30][31]

In the gubernatorial election of 1920, Long campaigned heavily for John M. Parker; today Long is often credited with helping Parker to win in the northern Louisiana parishes.[32][33] But after Parker was elected, the two became bitter rivals. This break was largely the result of Long demanding that Parker declare the state's oil pipelines to be public utilities, and Parker refusing to do so.[32] In particular, Long was infuriated when Parker allowed the oil companies, led by the legal team of Standard Oil, to assist in writing the state's severance tax laws, which decreed the amount corporations such as Standard Oil had to pay the state for the extraction of natural resources. Long denounced Parker as corporate "chattel". The feud climaxed in 1921, when Parker tried, unsuccessfully, to have Long ousted from his position on the commission.[32][31]

By 1922, the Railroad Commission had been renamed the "Public Service Commission" and Long had gained the more powerful position of chairman.[25][30] That year, Long prosecuted the Cumberland Telephone & Telegraph Company for unfair rate increases; he successfully argued the case on appeal before the United States Supreme Court, resulting in cash refunds totaling $440,000 (equivalent to $6,720,716 in 2019) being sent to 80,000 overcharged customers. After the decision, Chief Justice William Howard Taft praised Long as "the most brilliant lawyer who ever practiced before the United States Supreme Court."[18][34][35][36]

Gubernatorial campaigns (1924–1928)

1924 election

See caption
Card for Long's 1924 gubernatorial campaign

On August 30, 1923, his thirtieth birthday, Long announced his candidacy for the governorship of Louisiana.[2] Long stumped throughout the state, personally distributing circulars and nailing posters to trees. He denounced Governor Parker as a corporate stooge, vilified Standard Oil, and assailed local political bosses.[37]

Long campaigned in rural areas disenfranchised by the New Orleans-based political establishment, known as the "Old Regulars" or "the Ring." Since the fall of the Republican-controlled reconstruction government in 1877, they had controlled most of the state through alliances with sheriffs and other local officials.[37][38] With negligible support for Republicans, Louisiana was essentially a one-party state under the Democratic Old Regulars. Holding mock elections in which they invoked the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, the Old Regulars presided over a corrupt government which largely benefited the planter class.[38][39] Consequently, Louisiana was one of the least developed states in the nation: the entire state had just 300 miles of cement roads and had the lowest literacy rate of any state.[40][41] A poll tax kept many poor whites from voting; of the two million residents, only 300,000 could afford to register to vote.[42]

Despite an enthusiastic campaign, Long came in third, missing the runoff by 7,400 votes.[18] Long still performed well, especially for a man of his age. Despite polls predicting only a few thousand votes for Long, he attracted almost 72,000 votes, around 31% of the electorate. He carried 28 parishes, more than either opponent. However, he was limited to sectional appeal, performing best in the poorer and less populous rural north.[2][37]

The Ku Klux Klan's prominence in Louisiana was the primary issue of the campaign. While the two other candidates either strongly opposed or supported the Klan, Long attempted to remain neutral on the topic, alienating both sides. He also failed to attract Catholic voters, limiting his chances in the South. This was clearly seen in the majority Catholic New Orleans, where he polled 12,000 votes, just 17%.[37] Long blamed heavy rain on election day for suppressing voter turnout among his base in rural north Louisiana, where voters were unable to reach the polls over the dirt roads that had turned to mud.[37][43] It was the only election that Long ever lost.[44]

1928 election

And it is here, under this oak, where Evangeline waited in vain for her lover, Gabriel, who never came. This oak is an immortal spot, made so by Longfellow's poem, but Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment. Where are the schools that you have waited for your children to have, that have never come? Where are the roads and the highways that you sent your money to build, that are no nearer now than ever before? Where are the institutions to care for the sick and disabled? Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance to dry the eyes of those who still weep here.

– An example of Long's 1928 campaign rhetoric[18][45]

Long spent the intervening four years building his reputation and political organization, particularly in the more urban South, which was heavily Roman Catholic due to its French and Spanish heritage. Despite disagreeing with their politics, Long endorsed and campaigned for Catholic US Senators in 1924 and 1926.[37] Thanks to alleged government mismanagement during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which has been compared to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,[46] Long gained the support of Cajuns, rural Catholics whose land had been heavily affected.[47] He officially launched his campaign in 1927, campaigning with the slogan, "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown," a phrase adopted from Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.[48] By 1928, Long had gained such momentum, that he became one of the major talking points of his opponents; opposing political conventions chanted "It won't be Long now."[48]

Long was a fervent critic of a toll bridge being constructed across Lake Pontchartrain by incumbent Governor Oramel H. Simpson, instead promising a toll-free bridge.[48] Long developed novel campaign techniques, including the use of sound trucks at mass meetings and radio commercials.[37] His stance on race was unorthodox. Unlike other southern demagogues, Long was, according to T. Harry Williams, "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."[49][50][note 1] The campaign sometimes descended into brutality. When the 60-year-old Simpson called Long a liar during a chance encounter in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, Long punched him in the face.[52]

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). Representative Riley J. Wilson earned 81,747 votes (28.3 percent), and the incumbent 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. After earning the Democratic nomination, he was easily 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.[53] At age 35, Long was the youngest person ever elected governor of Louisiana.[54][55]

Some fifteen-thousand Louisianians travelled to Baton Rouge to witness Long's inauguration.[22] Long set up large tents, free drinks, and jazz bands on the capitol grounds, evoking Andrew Jackson's 1829 inaugural festivities.[56] Long's victory was widely seen as a public backlash against the urban establishment; journalist Hodding Carter described it as a "fantastic vengeance upon the Sodom and Gomorrah that was called New Orleans."[22] While previous elections were normally divided culturally and religiously, Long highlighted the sharp economic divide in the state and built a new coalition based on class.[55][57] Long's strength, said the contemporary novelist Sherwood Anderson, relied on "the terrible South… the beaten, ignorant, Bible-ridden, white South. Faulkner occasionally really touches it. It has yet to be paid for."[22]

Louisiana Governorship (1928–32)

First year

A desk in an office
Long's office in the Governor's Mansion

Once in office as governor on May 21, 1928, Long moved quickly to consolidate power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy, at all ranks from cabinet-level heads of departments to state road workers. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters.[58][59][36] Every state employee who depended on Long for a job was expected to pay a portion of their salary at election time directly into Long's campaign fund, which raised $50,000 to $75,000 each election cycle.[60] Some higher level officials had the portions directly deducted from their paychecks by the state government.[61] The funds were kept in a locked "deduct box" to be used at Long's discretion for political and personal purposes. It was rumored that this box contained over a million dollars.[60]

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. 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.[62][63] When an opposing legislator suggested that Long was not familiar with the Louisiana Constitution, he declared "I'm the Constitution around here now."[64][65]

One of the programs which Long had approved was a free textbook program for schoolchildren. Long's free school-books angered Catholics, who usually sent their children to private schools. Long assured them that the books were to be granted directly to all children, regardless of whether they attended public-school. This was criticized by conservative constitutionalists who claimed it was a violation of the separation of church and state and sued Long. The case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Long.[2][66]

Irritated by what he saw as immoral gambling dens and brothels in New Orleans, Long sent the National Guard to raid these establishments with orders to "shoot without hesitation." Gambling equipment was burned, prostitutes were arrested, and over $25,000 was confiscated for government funds. Local newspapers ran photos of nude women being forcibly searched by National Guardsmen. City authorities had not requested military force and martial law had not been declared. The state's Attorney General denounced Long's actions as illegal, but was rebuked by Long: "Nobody asked him for his opinion."[67]

Despite wide disapproval, Long had the Governor's Mansion, built in 1887, razed by convicts from the State Penitentiary under his personal supervision.[59] In its place, Long had a much larger Georgian mansion built. It bore a strong resemblance to the White House as he reportedly wanted to be familiar with the residence when he became president.[68][69]


The Old Louisiana State Capitol, a Gothic style building
Long's impeachment was conducted at the Old Louisiana State Capitol.

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.[70] The bill was met with fierce opposition from the state's oil interests. Long declared in a radio address that any legislator who refused to support the tax had been "bought" by the oil companies. Instead of placing pressure on the legislature, the accusation infuriated many of its members, who felt that Long was no longer fit to serve as governor.[71] The "dynamite squad", a caucus of opponents in the legislature led by freshman lawmakers Cecil Morgan and Ralph Norman Bauer, introduced an impeachment resolution against Long.[72][73] Nineteen charges were listed. They ranged from blasphemy to abuses of power, bribery, and the misuse of state funds. The most serious was subornation of murder. One of Long's subordinates claimed in an affidavit that an intoxicated Long had told him to kill Representative J. Y. Sanders Jr., the son of a former governor, and "leave him in the ditch where nobody will know how or when he got there." Long allegedly promised him "a full pardon and many gold dollars."[72][74][75] Even Long's Lieutenant Governor, Paul Cyr, supported the impeachment: he accused Long of nepotism and alleged that he had made corrupt dealings with a Texan oil company.[76][note 2]

Concerned by the progression of the impeachment trial, Long attempted to shut down the session. Pro-Long Speaker John B. Fournet called for a vote to adjourn. Despite a majority of representatives opposing adjournment, the electronic voting board showed 68 ayes and 13 nays. This sparked confusion and the anti-Long representatives began chanting that the voting machine had been rigged.[note 3] Some of them ran for the speaker's chair to call for a new vote, but met resistance from their pro-Long colleagues,[81] sparking a brawl across the floor of the state legislature later known as "Bloody Monday".[74] In the scuffle, inkwells were thrown, several legislators attacked others with brass knuckles, and Long's brother Earl bit a legislator on the neck.[2][75][82] Following the fight, the legislature voted to remain in session and proceed with the impeachment.[75][83] A trial in the house took place with dozens of witnesses, including a hula dancer who claimed that Long had been "frisky" with her.[36] Impeached on 8 of the 19 charges,[note 4] Long was the first Louisiana governor to be charged in the state's history under four different nations.[72][75][82]

Paper document with signatures arranged in circle
A round robin, such as this one from 1623, organizes signatures in a circle, making it difficult to discern who signed first.

In response to his impeachment, Long took his case to the people using his characteristic speaking tours. He argued that it was a conspiracy by Standard Oil, corporate interests, and conservative political opponents. He claimed that Standard Oil had used up to $25,000 to bribe the legislature, which he called "enough money to burn a wet mule".[18] The House referred the charges to the Louisiana Senate. Conviction required a two-thirds majority in 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.[85][86]

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 concluded that extra-legal means would be needed to accomplish his goals: "I used to try to get things done by saying 'please'," said Long. "Now ... I dynamite 'em out of my path."[87] He had his bodyguards "let go" on reporters, assaulting photographers, smashing cameras, and evicting them from government buildings. He became a persistent critic of the press, denouncing the "lying newspapers".[59] In March 1930, Long established his own newspaper: the Louisiana Progress. The paper was extremely popular, widely distributed by policeman, highway workers, and government truckers.[59][88][89] To receive lucrative state contracts, companies were first expected to buy advertisements in the Progress. 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.[18][90]

Senate campaign

Shortly after the failed impeachment, Long suddenly announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate in the 1930 Democratic primary. 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.[2]

His opponent was incumbent Senator Joseph E. Ransdell, the Catholic senator whom Long had endorsed in 1924.[91] At 72 years old, Ransdell had been in the Senate since Long was four years old. Ransdell was anti-Long, aligned with the Constitutional League, whom Long mocked as the "Constipational League",[2] and the New Orleans Ring. Ransdell had the support of all 18 of the state's daily newspapers. Although initially promising not to issue personal attacks, Long seized on the issue of Ransdell's age. He claimed that Ransdell was senile and too old to purchase life-insurance, donning him "Old Feather Duster."[92] Long purchased two new $30,000 sound trucks and had inmates paint campaign signs. He distributed over two million circulars attacking his opponent.[93] The campaign became increasingly vicious, with The New York Times calling it "as amusing as it was depressing."[94] Long critic Sam Irby[note 5], who was set to testify on Long's corruption to state authorities, was abducted by Long's bodyguards shortly before the election. Irby emerged after the election, having been missing for four days. Surrounded by Long's guards, he gave a radio address in which he "confessed" that he had actually asked Long for protection.[2][36][95] The New Orleans mayor labelled it "the most heinous public crime in Louisiana history."[36]

Ultimately, on September 9, 1930, Long defeated Ransdell by 149,640 (57.3 percent) to 111,451 (42.7 percent).[96][97] There were wide accusations of voter fraud against Long; voting records showed people voting in alphabetical order, among them celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Jack Dempsey, and Babe Ruth.[52]

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. Cyr had broken with Long and had been threatening to roll back his reforms if he succeeded to the governorship.[98][99] On one occasion, Cyr attempted to seize the office after learning that Long had spent a night in Mississippi. Long had the state capitol surrounded by armed National Guardsmen, blocking Cyr's bid.[100] 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 attempted "coup d'état," as Long labelled it. Long then brought the issue to the Louisiana Supreme Court, hoping to have Cyr ousted as lieutenant governor.[98][91] 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 and Cyr was ejected from office.[98]

Renewed strength

Now governor and senator-elect, Long returned to completing his legislative agenda with renewed strength. He continued his intimidating practice of presiding over the legislature[note 6]; when legislators voiced their concerns, Long would shout "Shut up!" or "Sit down!" In a single night, Long was able to pass 44 bills in just two hours, or one every 3 minutes. He later explained his tactics: "The end justifies the means."[101] Long strengthened his power, endorsing pro-Long candidates and wooing others with favors; he often joked that his legislature was the "finest collection of lawmakers money can buy."[22] He organized and concentrated his power into a political machine: "a one-man operation," according to Williams.[102] Feeling he had to counter the organizational strength of his opponents, he used his old campaign network of parish officials to craft a system for maintaining and exerting his power. He placed his brother Earl in charge of allotting patronage appointments to local politicians and signing state contracts with businessmen in exchange for loyalty. Long appointed allies to key government positions, such as giving Robert Maestri the office of Conservation Commissioner and making Oscar K. Allen head of the Louisiana Highway Commission. Maestri would be deliberately neglectful in regulating energy companies in exchange for industry donations to Long's campaign fund while Allen took direction from Earl on which construction and supply companies to contract for road work.[61] Concerned by these tactics, Long's opponents charged that he had become the virtual dictator of the state.[103]

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 black conman who was forever trying to trick Amos and Andy into various get-rich schemes. The nickname stuck with Long's encouragement.[22][104]

In addition to the new nickname, Long cultivated his mass-appeal, furthering the public perception of him as a common-man. He espoused the merit of "potlikker," the leftover water from boiling vegetables and meat. He declared it the "poor folks' staple – the food of the gods." He would often conduct government business barefoot in his pajamas.[105] On one occasion, he sported striped pajamas while he boarded a visiting German warship carrying a German commander. Long's attire and the outraged German response became national news.[106] Long was showered with pajamas by supporters, and some campaign posters would even feature pajamas in reference to the event. Long repeated this crude reception when, only wearing underwear, he received a United States general and his aides. The Baton Rouge State-Times reflected, "If General McCoy is loath to believe that he had a narrow escape, and that the governor does not receive visitors in the nude, he is just not acquainted with our governor."[2]

Accomplishments as governor

Tall art-deco tower illuminated at night
Long constructed a new capitol building, seen here in 1932. At 450 feet (140 m), it is the tallest capitol in the United States.

Long was unique among southern populist leaders in that he achieved tangible progress. T. Harry Williams concluded that "the secret of Long's power, in the final analysis, was not in his machine or his political dealings but in his record – he delivered something." Robert Penn Warren[note 7] stated it more bluntly: "Dictators, always give something for what they get."[108]

As governor, Long created a public works program for Louisiana that was unprecedented in the South, constructing numerous 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. 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.[109] 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 constructed the Charity Hospital in New Orleans.[110] Long built a new State Capitol, which at 450 feet (140 m) tall is the tallest capitol, state or federal, in the United States.[111] Upon its completion, Long claimed, "Only one building compares with [the Capitol] in architecture. That's St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, Italy."[2][110] Long's massive infrastructure spending greatly increased the state government's debt. From 1928 to 1935 it rose from $11 million to $150 million.[112]

Long became an ardent supporter of the state's primary public university, Louisiana State University (LSU). Having been unable to attend, Long now regarded it as "his" university.[113] He greatly increased LSU's funding, expanded its enrollment, and authorized financial support for poorer students. He intervened in the university's affairs, choosing its president and expelling seven students who criticized him in the school newspaper.[114][115] He constructed several new buildings, including a field-house that reportedly contained the longest pool in the United States.[113][116][117] Long founded a LSU Medical School in New Orleans. Although he claimed it was to educate poor doctors, it may have been based on a personal vendetta against Tulane University, which had declined to grant him an honorary degree.[118] To generate excitement for the university, he converted the school's military marching band into a flashy "Show Band of the South". Quadrupling the band's size, he hired Costa Rican composer Castro Carazo as the band director. Long worked with Carazo on several new songs, many of which are still played today.[113][119] Long expressed his avid support for the school's football program, nearly doubling the size of the stadium.[113] He would often tread the sidelines during football games and give locker-room talks to the team,[18] even having the football team run a play he created on one occasion.[119] He arranged for lowered train-fares so students could travel to out-of-town games. Long's contributions resulted in LSU gaining a class A accreditation from the Association of American Universities.[113]

Long's free textbooks, school-building program, and school busing improved and expanded the public education system.[120] His night schools taught 100,000 adults to read.[22] His provision of free textbooks resulted in a 20% increase in school enrollment.[121] Long modernized the public health facilities, ensuring adequate conditions for the mentally ill.[117] He is credited with establishing the first rehabilitation program for penitentiary inmates in Louisiana history.[122]

U.S. Senate (1932–1935)


See caption
Long delivering a speech

In January 1932, Long traveled to the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., where he took his oath and seat, which once belonged to John C. Calhoun.[18] At the time of Long's arrival, America was in the throes of the Great Depression, worsened by Republican President Herbert Hoover's handling of the crisis. With this backdrop, Long made characteristically fiery speeches that denounced the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. He 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.[123] Long launched personal attacks, deriding Robinson's appearance: "he doesn't look really as well with his hair dyed."[18]

In the presidential election of 1932, Long became a vocal supporter of New York Governor 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.[124] At the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Long was instrumental in keeping the delegations of several wavering southern states in the Roosevelt camp.[2] His appeal for the delegates to support Roosevelt was noted for its eloquence. The New York Times' Washington correspondent described Long's speech as "the finest legal argument that anybody has ever heard—or that I ever heard—at a national convention."[22] Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana claimed that, "Roosevelt would never have won the Democratic nomination in 1932, in my opinion, but for Huey Long."[2] Bronx County boss Edward J. Flynn shared a similar sentiment: "There is no question in my mind... that without Long’s work Roosevelt might not have been nominated."[22] Due to this, Long expected to be featured prominently in Roosevelt's campaign, but he was disappointed with a peripheral speaking tour limited to four Midwestern states.[124]

Long seated in the US Senate
Long in the Senate

Not discouraged after being snubbed, Long found other venues for his populist message. He endorsed Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, a widow and the underdog candidate in a crowded field, and conducted a whirlwind, seven-day tour of that state.[125][note 8] During the campaign, Long gave 39 speeches, traveled 2,100 miles, and spoke to over 200,000 people.[127] In an upset win over a Robinson-endorsed candidate, Caraway became the first woman elected to a full-term in the Senate, largely thanks to Long.[125]

Returning to Washington, Long gave theatrical speeches which drew wide attention. Public viewing areas were crowded with onlookers, among them a young Lyndon B. Johnson, who later claimed he was "simply entranced".[36][128] Long sometimes spent weeks obstructing bills, launching hour-long filibusters and having the Senate registrar read superfluous documents. Long's antics, one editorial claimed, had made the Senate "impotent".[129] In May 1932, The Washington Post called for his resignation.[36] Outside the Capitol, his vulgar behavior was well publicized at a 1933 charity dinner in Long Island, to which he arrived already intoxicated. According to Time, "Spotting a plump girl with a full plate before her, he marched to her table, snatched the plate from her, yapped: 'You're too fat already. I'll eat this.'" Long's night culminated in him urinating on a man in the restroom. The man punched Long, giving him a black-eye. When asked about the injury, Long claimed that four men had ambushed him.[130][131] This and Long's radical rhetoric 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."[2][132] Fellow Senator Carter Glass said of Long, "I understand that in the ultimate decadence of Rome they elected a horse to the Senate. At least it was a whole horse."[133] Long's flamboyant ways and populist style made him one of the best known senators in the nation.[134] Regarding his unrefined behavior, historian David M. Kennedy wrote 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'."[134]

Roosevelt and the New Deal

A portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Upon his election to the US Senate, Long quickly became one of the most prominent critics of Franklin Roosevelt.

During the critical first 100 days of Roosevelt's presidency 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 Long wanted to control it for his state. The two men publicly split in late 1933.[135] Long mocked Roosevelt's patrician background, calling him "Prince Franklin, Knight of the Nourmahal," a reference to the yacht of Roosevelt's billionaire friend Vincent Astor.[2] 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.[note 9] He considered them inadequate in the face of the escalating economic crisis. Long still sometimes supported Roosevelt's programs in the Senate, explaining: "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."[137]

Long opposed the National Recovery Act, denouncing it as a sellout to big business. On the Senate floor, he attacked the bill as having "every fault of socialism" yet not "one of its virtues." He claimed, correctly, that its wage and price codes would be created by, and in the favor of, industrialists.[138] In an attempt to prevent its passage, Long held a lone filibuster, speaking for 15 hours and 30 minutes, the second longest filibuster at the time.[139][140] His attempts were in vain, and the act established the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which Long quickly nicknamed "Nuts Running America".[2] He also criticized Social Security, calling it inadequate and expressing his concerns that states would administer it in a way discriminatory to blacks.[141] 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.[142]

Whenever this administration has gone to the left I have voted for it, and whenever it has gone to the right I have voted against it."

– Huey Long on Roosevelt's policies[143]

Roosevelt considered Long a radical demagogue. The president told economic advisor Rexford Tugwell that Long, along with General Douglas MacArthur, "was one of the two most dangerous men in America."[22][144][145] In June 1933, Long visited the White House to meet President Roosevelt, but the meeting was a disaster: Long was flagrantly disrespectful, refusing to take off his straw hat and addressing Roosevelt as "Frank", instead of the normal "Mr. President".[5]

Shortly thereafter, in June 1933, in an effort to undermine Long's political dominance, Roosevelt cut him 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 supported a Senate inquiry into the election of Long ally John H. Overton to the Senate in 1932. The Long machine was accused of election fraud and voter intimidation, but the inquiry came up empty, and Overton was seated.[146] To discredit Long and damage his support base, Roosevelt had Long's finances investigated by the Internal Revenue Service in 1934.[147] Although they failed to link Long to any illegality, some of his lieutenants were charged with income tax evasion. Only one had been convicted by the time of Long's death.[22][148] Roosevelt's son would later note that in this instance, his father "may have been the originator of the concept of employing the IRS as a weapon of political retribution".[149]

Chaco War and foreign policy

Paraguayan troops lined up in a jungle
Paraguayan troops during the Chaco War. Long strongly supported Paraguay during the conflict.

On May 30, 1934, Long took to the Senate floor to debate the abrogation of the Platt amendment.[150] But instead of debating the amendment, Long declared his stance on the Chaco War. He proclaimed support for Paraguay against Bolivia, as he maintained that US President Rutherford B. Hayes had awarded the Chaco region to Paraguay in 1878.[151] Long blamed the entire war on "the forces of imperialistic finance", claiming that Paraguay was the rightful owner of the Chaco. He said 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.[151] Long ended his speech by claiming the entire 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".[152]

Long's speech made him a national hero in Paraguay while leading to protests from the Bolivian legation in Washington.[153] Long's thesis that the U.S. policy toward Latin America was dictated solely by the selfish concerns of oil companies, and that 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. Throughout the summer of 1934, American diplomats waged a sustained public relations campaign against Long throughout Latin America.[154]

In a second speech given on June 7, 1934, in response to the Bolivian protests, Long again supported Paraguay and attacked Standard Oil as "foreign murderers" and "imperialist oppressors of the freedom of the South American people".[155] 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".[154]

After capturing a Bolivian fort in July 1934, the Paraguayans renamed it Fort Long.[154] Thanks to Long's outspoken stance on the war, he had established himself as one of the most ardent isolationists in the Senate. He further 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.[156][157] Consequently, Long demanded the immediate independence of the Philippines, which had been occupied by the United States since 1899.[129][158] He also opposed American entry into the World Court.[159]

Share Our Wealth

See caption
Long speaking from behind his desk at the Capitol, 1935

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.[160][161] The second bill would limit annual income to $1 million, and the third bill would cap individual inheritances at $5 million.[160]

External video
video icon Long's "Share the Wealth" speech on YouTube

In February 1934, Long introduced his Share Our Wealth plan over a nationwide radio broadcast.[162][163] 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, with admission based on an IQ test,[164] 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. He proposed a $10 billion land reclamation project to end the Dust Bowl. Long promised free medical service and what he called a "war on disease" led by the Mayo brothers.[164] 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.[162][165]

Long's plans for the "Share Our Wealth" program attracted much criticism from economists at the time, who stated 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 that his plans for confiscatory taxation would cap the average annual income at about $3,000.[166][167] They noted that the confiscated fortunes would only yield $1.50 per each poor family.[168] In 1934, Long held a public debate with Norman Thomas, the leader of the Socialist Party of America, on the merits of Share Our Wealth versus socialism.[169]

Some issues of American Progress reached a circulation of over 1.5 million.
Some issues of American Progress reached a circulation of over 1.5 million.

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.[170] Long's Senate office received an average of 60,000 letters a week, resulting in Long hiring 48 stenographers to type responses.[2] Of the two trucks that delivered mail to the Senate, one was devoted solely to mail for Long.[171] Long's newspaper, now renamed American Progress, averaged a circulation of 300,000, with some issues reaching over 1.5 million.[141] Long's radical programs were very attractive to union-members; Teamsters president Daniel J. Tobin expressed his growing concerns to Roosevelt.[172] Long drew international attention: writer H. G. Wells traveled across the Atlantic just to interview Long. Wells noted that Long was "like a Winston Churchill who has never been at Harrow. He abounds in promises."[22]

Some historians believe that pressure from Long and his organization contributed to Roosevelt's "turn to the left" in the Second New Deal (1935), which consisted of the Social Security Act, the Works Progress Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, Aid to Dependent Children, and the Wealth Tax Act of 1935. Each tenet of the Second New Deal seemed to foil one of Long's corresponding proposals. For example, Roosevelt's National Youth Administration provided part-time employment to the country's youth, counteracting the appeal for Long's free college proposal.[22][173] Roosevelt reportedly admitted in private to trying to "steal Long's thunder."[174]

Continued control over Louisiana

A portrait of Oscar K. Allen
Oscar K. Allen succeeded Long as governor of Louisiana and continued to enact Long's policies.

Long continued to maintain effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator, blurring the boundary between federal and state politics.[175] Long chose his childhood friend, Oscar K. Allen, to succeed King in the January 1932 election. With the support of Long's voter base, Allen won easily, permitting Long to resign as governor and take his seat in the U.S. Senate in January 1932.[176][177] 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.[178] One of the laws passed was what Long called "a tax on lying" – a 2 percent tax on newspaper advertising revenue.[179]

Allen, widely viewed as a puppet, dutifully enacted Long's policies. When Long visited Louisiana, Allen would relinquish his office for the Senator, instead working at his receptionist's desk.[180] Long berated the governor in public and took over the governor's office in the State Capitol when visiting Baton Rouge.[181] 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.[182] He retaliated against those who voted against him and used patronage and state funding (especially highways) to maneuver Louisiana toward what opponents called a "dictatorship".[183]

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.[184]

1935: Final year

Presidential ambitions

See caption
"Candidate" Long on the cover of Time magazine, April 1935

Popular support for Long's Share Our Wealth program raised the possibility of a 1936 presidential bid against incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt.[185][22] When questioned by the press, Long gave conflicting answers on his plans for 1936. While promising to support a progressive Republican like Sen. William Borah, Long claimed that he would only support a Share Our Wealth candidate.[172] At times, he even expressed the wish to retire: "I have less ambition to hold office than I ever had." However, in a later Senate speech, he admitted that he "might have a good parade to offer before I get through".[186] Long's son Russell B. Long believed that his father would have run on a third party ticket in 1936.[187] This is evidenced by Long's writing of a speculative book, My First Days in the White House, which laid out his plans for the presidency after the 1936 election.[188][189][note 10]

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 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 Townsend and the remnants of the End Poverty in California movement.[190] Diplomat Edward M. House warned Roosevelt "many people believe that he can do to your administration what Theodore Roosevelt did to the Taft administration in '12."[186]

In spring 1935, Long undertook a national speaking tour and regular radio appearances, attracting large crowds and increasing his stature.[191] At a well attended Long rally in Philadelphia, a former mayor told the press "There are 250,000 Long votes" in this city.[192] Regarding Roosevelt, Long boasted to the New York Times' Arthur Krock: "He's scared of me. I can out promise him, and he knows it."[193] While addressing reporters in late summer of 1935, Long proclaimed:

"I’ll tell you here and now that Franklin Roosevelt will not be the next President of the United States. If the Democrats nominate Roosevelt and the Republicans nominate Hoover, Huey Long will be your next President."[22]

As the 1936 election approached, the Roosevelt administration grew increasingly concerned by Long's popularity.[192] 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".[194] 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).[195] 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".[195]

In response, Roosevelt in a letter to his friend William E. Dodd, the US ambassador to Germany, 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".[195]

Increased tensions in Louisiana

Huey Long standing in a doorway smiling
Long after giving a successful five-hour filibuster, about two weeks before his death

By 1935, Long's most recent consolidation of personal power led to talk of armed opposition from his enemies in Louisiana. 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.[196][97] When Long finally passed the five-cent per barrel oil tax for which he had been impeached in 1929, Standard Oil threatened to leave the state. Concerned Standard Oil employees formed a Square Deal association in Baton Rouge, organizing themselves in militant companies and demanding "direct action".[197]

On January 25, 1935, these Square Dealers, now armed, seized the East Baton Rouge Parish courthouse. Long had Governor Allen execute emergency measures in Baton Rouge: he called in the National Guard, declared martial law, banned 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.[196][197][198] At a legal hearing, an alleged spy within the Square Dealers testified that the Square Dealers were conspiring to assassinate the Senator; Long quickly publicized the claim.[199]

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 powers of the Mayor of New Orleans. Long boasted that he had "taken over every board and commission in New Orleans except the Community Chest and the Red Cross."[200]

Long had previously acknowledged the possibility of his own death, reportedly even having a morbid fascination with it.[2][60] In a 1935 speech, he claimed that his political enemies had a plot to kill him with "one man, one gun, one bullet."[201] Long also sensationally claimed that Chicago gangsters were trying to kill him.[202] His own right-hand-man Gerald L. K. Smith declared that "the only way they will keep Huey Long from the White House is to kill him." In spring 1935, one of the last office-holding Long opponents in Louisiana warned, "I am not gifted with second sight. … But I can see blood on the polished floor of this Capitol. For if you ride this thing through, you will travel with the white horse of death."[22]


See caption
Long's grave and statue before the capitol

On Sunday morning, September 8, 1935, Long travelled to the State Capitol in order to pass a re-redistricting plan which would oust political opponent Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy.[203] At 9:20 p.m., just after passage of the bill effectively removing Pavy, Pavy's son-in-law, Carl Weiss, approached Long, and, according to the generally accepted version of events, fired a single shot with a handgun from four feet (1.2 m) away, striking Long in the torso. Long's bodyguards, nicknamed the "Cossacks" or "skullcrushers", responded by firing at Weiss with their own pistols, killing him. An autopsy found that Weiss had been shot at least 60 times.[204] Long was able to run down a flight of stairs and across the capitol grounds, hailing a car to take him to the Our Lady of the Lake Hospital.[201] Long was rushed to the operating room, where emergency surgery attempted to close perforations in his intestines, but ultimately failed in trying to stop his internal bleeding.[201][203] Long died at 4:10 a.m. on September 10, 31 hours after being shot.[205] According to different sources, his last words were either, "I wonder what will happen to my poor university boys", or "God, don't let me die. I have so much to do."[203][206]

Over 200,000 people travelled to Baton Rouge to attend Long's funeral on September 12.[207] His remains were buried on the grounds of the State Capitol, and a statue at his grave depicts his achievements.[201][204] Although Long's allies claimed that he was assassinated by political opponents, a federal probe found no evidence of a conspiracy.[205] Long's death brought relief to the Roosevelt administration, which would win in a landslide in the 1936 election. Farley publicly admitted his apprehension of campaigning against Long: "I always laughed Huey off, but I did not feel that way about him." Roosevelt's close economic advisor Rexford Tugwell would later write: "When he was gone it seemed that a beneficent peace had fallen on the land. Father Coughlin, Reno, Townsend, et al., were after all pygmies compared with Huey. He had been a major phenomenon." Tugwell also wrote that Roosevelt regarded Long's assassination as a "providential occurrence".[22]

Recent evidence has surfaced that suggests that Long was accidentally shot by his bodyguards.[208] Proponents of this theory assert that Long was caught in the cross fire as his bodyguards shot Weiss, and was hit by one of the bullets which ricocheted off the marble walls.[204][209]


Memorials and honors

A testament to Long's contributions to the state's infrastructure, two bridges crossing the Mississippi River have been named "Huey P. Long Bridge": one in Baton Rouge and one in Jefferson Parish.[210][211] Long's contributions to LSU are recorded in multiple monuments and plaques.[212] Illustrative of his divisive legacy, a plaque featuring his name was defaced with the word "Fascist" in March 2020.[213]

In 1941, Louisiana donated a statue of Long to the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.[214] The statue was accepted in the collection by Senator Allen Ellender on April 25. At that time Ellender said, "He was a doer of things for the benefit of the masses; and his philosophy of distribution of wealth, his advocacy of pensions for the aged, shorter work hours for labor and his continued fight for the masses ... marked him for death."[215]

Long's birthday, August 30, was a paid state holiday in Louisiana from 1936 through 1971. This practice was ended by Governor Edwin Edwards when he took office in 1972.[216]


Russell B. Long and Lyndon B. Johnson talking over a table
Long's son Russell, seen here with President Lyndon B. Johnson, later became a US Senator.

Long's assassination turned him into a near legendary figure in some parts of Louisiana. In 1938, Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal encountered rural children who not only insisted Long was alive, but that he was president.[36] Although no longer personally governing in the state, Long's policies continued to be enacted in Louisiana by his political machine, which remained a powerful force in state politics until the election of 1960. 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. 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. The Long platform of social programs and populist rhetoric created the state's main political division. 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.[217][218][219]

After Long's death, a family dynasty emerged: his brother Earl was elected lieutenant-governor in 1936, and governor in 1948 and 1956. Long's widow, Rose McConnell Long, was appointed to replace him in the Senate, and his son Russell B. Long, was a U.S. senator from 1948 to 1987. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Russell shaped the nation's tax laws. He was an advocate of low business taxes, but passed the Earned Income Credit and other tax legislation beneficial to the poor.[2][220] In addition to Long's brother Earl K. Long becoming governor,[221] brother Julius Long was a Winn Parish District Attorney, and brother George S. Long was elected to Congress in 1952.[222] Other more distant relatives, including Gillis William Long and Speedy O. Long, have represented Louisiana in the U.S. Congress.[223][224] Gerald Long holds the distinction of being the first office-holder to be a registered Republican among the Long Democratic dynasty.[225]

Historical reputation

Academics and historians have found difficulty categorizing Long and his ideology.[226][227] His platform has been compared to everything from European Fascism, Stalinism, to the later McCarthyism.[228] When asked about his own philosophy, Long simply replied: "Oh, hell, say that I’m sui generis and let it go at that."[22] Robert Penn Warren described him as a "remarkable set of contradictions."[199]

A majority of academics, biographers, and writers who have examined Long view him negatively.[229] Henry C. Dethloff described Long as "one of the most controversial modern American political figures."[227] The American historian David Kennedy wrote that Long's regime in Louisiana was "the closest thing to a dictatorship that America has ever known".[5] Journalist Hodding Carter described him as "the first true dictator out of the soil of America".[52] Peter Viereck categorized Long's movement as "chauvinist thought control". Victor Ferkiss described Long's beliefs as "incipient fascism".[230] One of the few biographers to praise Long was T. Harry Williams, who classified Long's ideas as modified or neo-populism.[231][232] He labeled Long a democratic "mass leader" rather than a demagogue.[232][233] Besides Williams, leftist intellectual Gore Vidal expressed admiration for Long, even naming him as his favorite politician.[234]

Beginning in the 2016 presidential race, many publications, including The Advocate, NPR, and The Saturday Evening Post, have noted similarities between Long and U.S. President Donald Trump.[235][236][237] Long has been called a "Trumpian figure" by The Atlantic, which noted similarities between their anti-establishment populism and aggressive use of executive power.[238] Others have claimed that Long is more akin to democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.[236][239][240]


See caption
1936 poster for the WPA stage adaptation of It Can't Happen Here

In popular culture, Long has served as a template for multiple populist, or fascistic, fictional politicians.[241] He is widely believed to be the inspiration for Buzz Windrip in Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here (1935).[242] Windrip is a populist, big business-bashing senator who wins the 1936 election by promising every American family $5,000 per year. Written with the goal of hurting Long's chances in the 1936 election, a stage adaptation was performed in theaters across the country by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1935.[243]

After his assassination, Long continued to inspire novelists. One of the earliest was John Dos Passos' Number One (1943).[244] Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the King's Men (1946) featured demagogue Willie Stark, who many believe was based on Long.[245][246][247] Warren did not encourage association of his character with Long. In a 1964 interview, he told Charles Bohner: "Willie Stark was not Huey Long. Willie was only himself, whatever that self turned out to be."[248] The novel was adapted into a 1949 movie, which won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress from the Academy Awards.[249] Adria Locke Langley's 1945 novel A Lion Is in the Streets featured the Huey Long-like populist politician Hank Martin. The 1953 film adaption won three Oscars.[250][251] Long's name was the inspiration for the Disney cartoon character "Huey" of the duck triplets Huey, Dewey, and Louie.[252]

Long's cultural influence is also felt in drama. In Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Stanley Kowalski cites Long while claiming that he is "king" of his New Orleans apartment.[253] Two made-for-TV docudramas about Long have been produced: The Life and Assassination of the Kingfish (1977), starring Ed Asner, and Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long (1995), starring John Goodman.[254][255] Long was the subject of a 1985 Ken Burns-directed documentary.[256][257] In music, singer-songwriter Randy Newman featured Long in two songs on the 1974 album Good Old Boys.[258][259]

Long has been the subject of dozens of biographies and academic texts. In fact, more has been written about Long than any other Louisianan.[260] Most notably, the 1970 biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in category History and Biography.[261][262] Alan Brinkley won the latter award in 1983 for Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression, which explored criticism of the New Deal from the left.[263][264][265]




Long also collaborated with composer Castro Carazo on the following songs:[266][267]

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ The conclusion that Long was progressive on the issue of race, widely repeated in the decades after Long's death, has faced increased scrutiny in recent years.[49][51]
  2. ^ Cyr's public turn against Long was largely motivated by Cyr's opposition to the executions of alleged murderers Thomas Dreher and Ada LeBoeuf, the first white woman executed in Louisiana's history. Cyr was a personal friend of Dreher and sat on the Board of Pardons which had reversed their death sentence. Long wholeheartedly supported their execution, ultimately overruling the Board's decision.[77][78][79]
  3. ^ Fournet later apologized for the confusion caused by the inaccurate tally, but denied having rigged the outcome. According to Hair, "there is no evidence that he did; electrical contrivances of that sort were primitive, and apparently the machine simply repeated the roll call vote of a few minutes earlier."[80]
  4. ^ The charges were as follows: attempted bribery of state legislators, demanding and receiving undated letters of resignation from appointees, intimidating publisher Charles P. Manship by threatening to disclose Manship's brother's poor mental condition, misappropriating portions of a $6,000 dollar fund allocated for receiving other governors, forcing a state board to dismiss its secretary to open up a position for a political ally and paying the incumbent secretary $5,400 in hush money, illegally paying his cousin W. O. Long $728.25 from the governor's office expense fund, using $1,112.40 from the office expense fund to purchase personal law books, forcing the Highway Commission accede to a contractor's demand for $4,000 in payment for their installation of defective curbs, and incompetency.[84]
  5. ^ Irby was the uncle of Alice Lee Grosjean, Long's young personal secretary whom he appointed to the position of Secretary of State. She was rumored to be Long's mistress.[2][36]
  6. ^ Long would stand directly below the Speaker's podium while strongarming the legislators into passing his agenda.[101]
  7. ^ Warren was a professor at Louisiana State University while Long was Governor.[107]
  8. ^ According to Brinkley, "Long's reasons for this decision were not entirely clear." Long himself noted that he felt a chivalric impulse to help this "brave little woman" and that Caraway was one of the only other senators to vote for his many wealth-limiting proposals. Long also appreciated that she often voted against her senior Arkansas Senator Robinson. However, many observers speculate that Long's true intent was to further establish a national reputation for himself. The New York Times contemporarily suggested that he was plotting to "yield him control of the [Senate] minority – or perhaps the majority." Brinkley claims that it was Long's first effort to propel himself to national leadership, which required him to directly appeal to the people rather than through political channels in Washington.[126]
  9. ^ The other most notable leftist critic was Catholic preacher and radio-host Father Coughlin.[136]
  10. ^ The book was published posthumously in 1935.[188]


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Works cited

Further reading


  • Boulard, Garry. Huey Long: His Life in Photos, Drawings, and Cartoons. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2003. 127 pp.
  • Reed, Ed (1986). Requiem for a Kingfish. Baton Rouge: Award Publications.

Scholarly topical studies

  • Amenta, Edwin; Dunleavy, Kathleen; Bernstein, Mary (October 1994). "Stolen Thunder? Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth," Political Mediation, and the Second New Deal". American Sociological Review. 59 (5): 678–702. doi:10.2307/2096443. JSTOR 2096443.
  • Dodd, William J. "Bill". "Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics." Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing Co., 1991.
  • Cortner, Richard C. The Kingfish and the Constitution: Huey Long, the First Amendment, and the Emergence of Modern Press Freedom in America. Greenwood, 1996.
  • Haas, Edward F., ed. The Age of the Longs: Louisiana, 1928–1960. (Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Series, vol. 8.) Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2001.
  • Heppen, John. "The Electoral Geography of Class, Race, and Religion in Huey Long's Louisiana," Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South, Spring/Summer2010, Vol. 17 Issue 1, pp. 1–23
  • Howard, Perry H. Political Tendencies in Louisiana (1971), by political scientist online edition
  • Jeansonne, Glen. Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, 1997).
  • Pavy, Donald A. Accident and Deception: the Huey Long Shooting. New Iberia: Cajun Publications, 1999.


Primary sources


  • Jeansonne, Glen (ed.). Huey at 100: Centennial Essays on Huey P. Long. Ruston, LA: McGinty Publications (for Dept. of History, Louisiana Tech University), 1995.
  • Moreau, John Adam (Spring 1965). "Huey Long and His Chroniclers". The Journal of Louisiana Historical. 6 (2): 121–139. JSTOR 4230837.

External links

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