This may seem long and not relevant to today, but if one takes the time to read through the following, its current pertinence will become apparent.
Huey Pierce Long (1893 to 1935) of Louisiana was known as the Kingfish. He was a consummate young charismatic fiery speaking and brilliant politician, and governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 at which time he was elected to the US Senate where he served until his assassination in 1935 . In the short time he served in the Senate he was able to change the entire course of American politics and the American way of life.
Long was one of the most controversial figures in twentieth century US politics, many considering him a demagogue with almost dictatorial powers. He was hated and despised by the wealthy, corporations and the elite and politically powerful, though he was elected time and again by working class men, women and farmers.
Long was able to take the bar examine and become an attorney after attending Tulane La School for only a year. Long had an almost photographic memory. When Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Howard Taft said he had never heard a better presentation before the court than the one given by Long. Commenting on one of his presentations before the US Senate broadcast over national radio, Clarence Darrow, the famed Chicago attorney, said he had never heard a concise and succinct summation of facts.
During his time as governor of Louisiana, Long greatly lessened the impact of the depression on the sate by starting a public works building program. Nine thousand miles of cement, asphalt and graded roads were put in during these years. Free school books were provided for all children, white and black, and even those attending parochial schools. Long drove through appropriations for a Medical School for the Louisiana State University so that for the first time in its history the state would have a sufficient number of doctors. He also saw that the Charity Hospital had adequate funding for the first time. The Governor also saw that there was funding for anyone with the grades and the desire wishing to attend the university could afford to do so. Long funded these measures by taxing corporations such as Standard Oil which since from the time oil was discovered in the state had the political elite in its pocket. What the elite truly feared was Long’s elimination of the poll tax.
The political elite and the corporations were not about to go down without a fight. They fought Long at every opportunity, and Long lamented that he was forced to take almost total control if he was going to be able to help the common man of the state. The Anti-Long people tried to impeach him, and instigated various Federal investigations of Long, all which were to no avail.
In the 1932 presidential election, Long supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and helped in securing the nomination for him and getting him elected. For this support, Long felt that he had received a promise from Roosevelt to work against the extreme concentration of wealth that long saw as the greatest danger to the republic of the United States of America and its citizens.
Roosevelt was the scion of a New York banking family and during his first term he sought to prop up the large banks, just as Herbert Hoover had. This caused a split between Roosevelt and Long. Long said he supported Roosevelt’s legislation when it was progressive and benefited the common people and opposed it when it was conservative and benefited the wealthy.
When Long arrived in the US Senate and took stock of it, he earned the animosity of most of his colleagues by describing them as being in bed with corporations and against the common man and electorate of the country, with the Democrats being no better than the Republicans. Marked out for special disdain was Senator Joseph Robinson of Arkansas, the Democrat and majority leader of the Senate. Long brought to light that the law firm headed by Robinson represented corporations that benefited from legislation introduced or supported by him. This was unheard of in the gentlemanly nature of the Senate.
Hattie Caraway of Arkansas was appointed to fulfill the remainder of her late husband’s term. Long noted how the “Quiet Little Woman” always voted for and supported progressive ideas and causes. When she decided to run against the candidate selected by the Arkansas Democratic Party Machine in 1934, Long supported and actively campaigned for her. She was the first woman ever elected Senator.
Roosevelt once described General Douglas MacArthur and Senator Huey P. Long as the two most dangerous men in the country. Roosevelt withheld Federal patronage from Louisiana, and when that didn’t seem to phase Long who still effectively ran the state through Oscar K. Allen whom he had selected to replace him as governor and whose election he engineered, he placed that patronage in the hands of Anti-Long activists.
In 1934 Roosevelt had the IRS investigate the Long organization in Louisiana. NO illegal ties were connected with the Senator.
Long was a fiery and exciting speaker who often dominated the Senate. He once filibustered for three days against some Roosevelt introduce legislation he opposed. Even Long’s staunchest enemies, admitted that Long was probably the best parliamentarian the Senate had ever seen.
Long pioneered the use of the broadcast media to reach a national audience. He had a huge campaign chest from his political machine in Louisiana, and he paid for air time and addressed the US public over the radio. Long published a book called Every Man A King. Based on the ideas put forth in the book, Long started a network of Share Our Wealth Clubs. At one time there were over seven and a half million active Share Our Wealth Club members.
The following is from Wikipedia: [Huey Long – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
Long was a staunch opponent of the Federal Reserve Bank. Together with a group of Congressmen and Senators, Long believed the Federal Reserve’s policies to be the true cause of the Great Depression. Long made speeches denouncing the large banking houses of Morgan and Rockefeller centered in New York which owned stock in the Federal Reserve System. He believed that they controlled the monetary system to their own benefit, instead of the general public’s benefit.
As an alternative, Long proposed federal legislation capping personal fortunes, income and inheritances. He used radio broadcasts and founded a national newspaper, the American Progress, to promote his ideas and accomplishments before a national audience. In 1934, he unveiled an economic plan he called Share Our Wealth. Long argued there was enough wealth in the country for every individual to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, but that it was unfairly concentrated in the hands of a few millionaire bankers, businessmen and industrialists.
Long proposed a new progressive tax code designed to limit the size of personal fortunes. The new tax code would tax the first million dollars of wealth at zero. The second million dollars of wealth would be taxed at 1%. The third million at 2%; the fourth million at 4%; the fifth million at 8%; the sixth million at 16%; the seventh million at 32%; the eighth million at 64%; and the remainder at 100%. Income tax rates would be at 100% for all incomes over $1 million.
The resulting funds would be used to guarantee every family a basic household grant of $5,000 and a minimum annual income of $2,000-3,000, or one-third of the average family income. Long supplemented his plan with proposals for free primary and college education, old-age pensions, veterans’ benefits, federal assistance to farmers, public works projects, and limiting the work week to thirty hours.
Denying that his program was socialist, Long stated that his ideological inspiration for the plan came not from Karl Marx but from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. “Communism? Hell no!” he said, “This plan is the only defense this country’s got against communism.” 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.
Long believed that ending the Great Depression and staving off violent revolution required a radical restructuring of the national economy and elimination of disparities of wealth, retaining the essential features of the capitalist system. After the Senate rejected one of his wealth redistribution bills, Long told them, “[A] mob is coming to hang the other ninety-five of you damn scoundrels and I’m undecided whether to stick here with you or go out and lead them.”
Long had always intended to be president. According to T. Harry Williams in his thorough 1969 biography of Long, Long didn’t intend to run against Roosevelt for the party’s nomination in 1936, but rather would put up a third party candidate running under The Share Our Wealth label. He hoped to garner enough votes to be able to control the election. He planned on giving those votes to the Republican candidate whoever he was, and running against the Republican in 1940 after he had thoroughly mucked things up, as he believed Republicans were prone to do.
Long was assassinated by Carl Austin Weiss in Baton Rouge in 1934. Weiss was immediately killed by Long’s body guards. Weiss was a young Jewish Ear Nose and Throat Specialist. His father-in-law was Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy, an outspoken Anti-Long judge whose seat on the bench had been gerrymandered out of existence.
During Roosevelt’s second term he implemented Long’s ideas on Social Security, Veterans pensions, and a works program, though they were not implemented on the scale Long envisioned. To collect Social Security, one had to live longer than the normal life expectancy, and the public works program was so anemic that the country didn’t exit the depression until World War II.
It is interesting to speculate what would have taken place had Long lived and been elected president. Would we have the greatest concentration of wealth In this country than at any time in it’s history? Would we be having a debate about health care in this country because the insurance and pharmaceutical companies price themselves out of access? Would medical school be so priced out of reach that thousands wanting to study medicine can’t afford to? In the wealthiest country in the world, would millions of its citizens be living in poverty?
Unfortunately, no one seems to exist on the political scene today with the presence and force of a Huey Long, a politician that could probably influence Barack Obama to make the right and tough choices, and surely, a politician who most definitely would have solved the problems in New Orleans left by Katrina that still exist four years after the disastrous storm
The Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men and the novel It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis are based on the life of Huey P. Long.
Long’s political legacy in Louisiana lived on into the 1960s. His brother Earl was elected governor and his oldest son, Russell, United States Senator.