Huey Long

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Huey Long

Huey Pierce Long (August 30, 1893September 10, 1935), known as "The Kingfish," was an American politician of the Democratic Party; he was governor of Louisiana (19281932), Senator (19321935) and a presidential hopeful before his assassination. He was a populist whose controversial governing style brought allegations of dictatorial tendencies quite unprecedented in modern American politics.


Early life

Long was born in Winnfield, Louisiana, the seventh of nine children. He attended several local schools before leaving in 1910 and becoming a salesman. He then attended the University of Oklahoma and Tulane University Law School, but never passed the bar exam. However, he practiced law in Shreveport and specialised in compensation suits. He was elected chairman of the Louisiana Railroad Commission in 1918. That body was renamed the Public Service Commission in 1921. In the 1920s he was one of the early adopters of radio for political campaigning and also took to always wearing a white linen suit in public. He ran for governor of Louisiana in 1924 but failed, although he was re-elected to the Public Service Commission. However, in 1928 he ran again for Louisiana governor, campaigning under the slogan of "every man a king, but no one wears a crown." Long's attacks on the utilities industries and the privileges of corporations were popular and he won the election by the largest margin in the state's history (92,941 votes to 3,733). Long took the nickname "Kingfish" after a character on the popular Amos & Andy radio program.

As a politician, Long was highly unusual in the respect that he made frequent disparaging remarks about the rich as a class; though some say he lived as if he were among them. Huey Long constantly depicted the wealthy as parasites that grabbed more than their fair share of the public wealth while marginalizing the poor. In public and in private, these remarks annoyed the rich and their defenders greatly and, some say, may have contributed to his assassination. Without doubt, Long's caustic remarks about the wealthy endeared him to Louisiana's poor, many of whom felt greatly oppressed by their rich landlords, employers, and moneylenders.


Long introduced several major reforms once in office, including free textbooks and free night courses for adult learning, increased expenditures on the state university, and a program to build a school within walking distance of every child in the state. Once in office Long also financed a wide-ranging program of public works; over 12,000 miles of road were paved and over 100 bridges were built, as well as a new airport in New Orleans, and a medical school at Louisiana State University (LSU). The programs were financed by increased taxes on the rich and on big business; the new roads were paid for with a tax on gasoline. Long was so determined to have his way that, bypassing the state legislature, he put considerable effort into ensuring that his own people controlled every level of the state political system, thereby paving the way for levels of graft that were high even by the standards of Louisiana politics.

His efforts in Louisiana were the subject of an IRS investigation; he had increased annual state government expenditure three-fold and the state debt over ten-fold. In 1929, he was impeached on charges of bribery and gross misconduct, but the state senate failed to convict him by a narrow margin of two votes. It was often alleged that Long had concentrated power to the point where he had become a dictator of sorts; this was unprecedented.

In the Senate

In 1930 he was elected to the United States Senate. He went to Washington in 1932 after having ensured that Alvin Olin King was elected to replace him as governor. Long continued to be in effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator. Though he had no constitutional authority to do so, he continued to draft and press bills through the Louisiana legislature, which remained controlled by his supporters. He was vigorous in his efforts to try to counter the excesses of the Great Depression. By 1934 he began a reorganization of the state that all but abolished local government and gave himself the power to appoint all state employees.

He was a vocal supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election, but when Long was not offered a federal post, he turned against Roosevelt. In 1933 he was part of the three week Senate filibuster against the Glass-Steagall Act. In another famous filibuster on June 12June 13, 1935, Long made the longest speech of his Senate career. The speech took 15½ hours and comprised 150,000 words. [1] In 1934 he created the Share Our Wealth program, proposing heavy new taxes on the super-rich. Though he was a Democrat, President Roosevelt considered Long a demagogue and privately said of him that "he was one of the… most dangerous men in America." Long positioned himself to run against Roosevelt in the 1936 elections, announcing his bid in August 1935. One month later, he was dead.

Assassination and legacy

On September 8, 1935, Huey Long was apparently shot once by Carl Weiss in the Capitol building at Baton Rouge. Weiss was immediately shot dead by Long's bodyguards. The walls of the capitol hallway are still nicked from the bullets fired in the shootout. Weiss was the son-in-law of Judge Benjamin Pavy, a long-time political opponent of Long. Long died two days later from internal bleeding following an incompetent attempt to close the wounds by Dr. Arthur Vidrine. Some say that Huey should have recovered from the wounds, and that his doctors killed him. According to his sister, Lucille Long Hunt, his last words were: "Don't let me die, I have got so much to do."

Persistent rumors allege that Weiss actually had no gun and only struck Long with his hand, and Long was accidentally shot by his own guards when they opened fire on Weiss [2]. These rumors are supported by several witnesses and the fact that Long had a bruised lip when he went in for surgery. Other theories hold that Long's assassination was arranged to prevent him from winning the presidency in 1936, either from within the Democratic Party or as a third party candidate backed by the Share Our Wealth organization. It was widely understood that Long's populist progressive policies had earned him many powerful enemies who would not have wanted him to become president [3]. Two months prior to his death, in July 1935, Long had claimed that he had uncovered a plot to assassinate him [4].

Huey's brother, Earl Long, was elected governor of Louisiana on three occasions. Huey Long's wife, Rose McConnell Long, was appointed to replace him in the Senate, and his son Russell B. Long was elected to the Senate in 1948, serving from 1949 until his retirement in 1987.

Long's first autobiography, Every Man a King was published in 1933. His second book, My First Days in the White House, was published posthumously. It emphatically laid out his presidential ambitions for the election of 1936 [5].

In culture

The character of Buzz Windrip who in Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here becomes US President ("The Chief") on a strongly populist platform that quickly turns into home-grown American fascism was speculated to have been based on either Long or Gerald B. Winrod. The book 1946 All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, charting the corruption of a politician, Willie Stark, is clearly based on Long. The book was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1949, and a 2005 remake is also set to be released.

Huey Long by T. (Thomas) Harry Williams won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Huey P. Long was also the subject of an early documentary film by Ken Burns, who went on to direct epic documentaries about jazz, baseball, and the American Civil War. Long's career is the subject of the biographical song "Kingfish" by Randy Newman on his 1974 album, Good Old Boys. The album also features a cover of Long's campaign song, "Every Man a King", which Long himself co-wrote; Long is also said to have helped compose the LSU marching band pregame song.

Disney comic strip artist and creator of the Huey, Dewey and Louie ducklings, Al Taliaferro, named Huey after Huey Long.

Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party and also born in Lousiana, was named by his father after Huey Long.

The Life and Assassination of the Kingfish (1977) and Kingfish (1995) are two made-for-TV docu-dramas about Long.

In the Timeline-191 series' American Empire subtrilogy, parallels are drawn between Confederate President Jake Featherston's populist, dictatorial style of rule and Huey Long's governorship of Lousiana. Long is ultimately assassinated on orders from Featherston when he refuses to side with the Confederate ruling party.

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