Huey P. Long (1893- 1935): Governor, U.S. Senator, Radical Populist and Founder of the “Share Our Wealth Society”
Ed. Note: This entry is based entirely on material copied with permission from the “Long Legacy Project.” More details about the life and contributions of Senator Huey Long are available at the project’s Web site: (www.hueylong.com).
Huey P. Long, The Kingfish
Introduction: Huey Long was Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930. A Democrat, Huey Long was a radical populist, of a sort we are unfamiliar with in our day. As Governor, he sponsored many reforms that endeared him to the rural poor, the unemployed and young adults seeking a better education. Many of his initiatives as Governor were models for the New Deal. An ardent enemy of corporate interests, he championed the “little man” against the rich and privileged. The Kingfish wanted the government to confiscate the wealth of the nation’s rich and privileged. He called his program Share Our Wealth. It called upon the federal government to guarantee every family in the nation an annual income of $5,000, so they could have the necessities of life, including a home, a job, a radio and an automobile. (Note: A copy of the Share Our Wealth proposal can be found at the end of this entry.)
Family and Early Education: Huey Pierce Long, Jr. was born on August 30, 1893, in Winnfield, a small rural community in the piney woods of north central Louisiana. He was the seventh of nine surviving children born to Caledonia Tison Long and Huey Pierce Long, Sr., a livestock farmer. Huey’s parents were better educated than most, and they stressed the importance of education to all of their children. The Longs were also a deeply religious family, studying the Bible daily, attending church twice a week and never missing a gospel revival.
Huey’s mother was universally remembered as a remarkably tolerant and compassionate woman, often sending her children to the homes of less fortunate neighbors with gifts of food and clothing. Caledonia Long imbued her children with a strong sense of righteousness and fairness. In addition to her values, Caledonia appears to have passed her brilliant intellect and photographic memory to Huey.
Caledonia, was determined that her nine children be well educated to achieve their fullest potential. There was no public school in Winnfield, so she home-schooled her children until more formal education became available. In 1903, at age 11, Huey started fourth grade in public school. Far ahead of his class, he was quite bored. Huey was an excellent debater in high school and won a scholarship to Louisiana State University as third prize in a statewide debating competition in Baton Rouge. However, he could not afford the textbooks or room and board to attend. Instead he decided to become a traveling salesman. At age 17, he began touring the South for various companies, selling everything from cooking oil to patent medicines.
Early Career: Huey Long was a natural salesman and immediately exceeded all expectations. He learned how to advertise, draw a crowd, and dress well to make a good impression. He found that music not only attracted people but put them in a buying mood. Most importantly, by visiting people’s homes, he learned how they lived and how to connect with them. All of these elements would later appear in his campaigns for public office.
Long met Rose McConnell at a baking contest he had organized in Shreveport to promote a lard substitute called “Cottolene.” Instantly smitten, he deftly awarded the top two prizes to Rose and her mother. He married Rose in 1913, and they had three children: a daughter named Rose and two sons, Russell and Palmer.
When the sales jobs dried up Long cobbled together three semesters of law classes at the University of Oklahoma and Tulane University in New Orleans. At age 21, he convinced an examining board to allow him to take the Louisiana bar exam, and he passed easily. Long moved his family to Shreveport in 1918 where as a lawyer he primarily represented small plaintiffs against large businesses, including workers’ compensation cases. He made a name for himself as an outspoken reformer by taking on the biggest businesses in town and lobbying the state legislature for workers’ compensation reform.
Entry Into Politics: In 1918 at age 25 Long won a seat on the Louisiana Railroad Commission (later renamed the Public Service Commission). He used his position on the commission to build a name for himself as a champion of the common man, fighting against utility rate increases and oil pipeline monopolies. He became chairman of the Public Service Commission in 1922 and won statewide acclaim after he sued the Cumberland Telephone Company for unjustly raising its rates by 20 percent and successfully arguing the case on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. The phone company was forced to send refund checks to 80,000 overcharged customers.
In 1924 Long made his first statewide bid for public office by running for governor at age 30. In an election dominated by race and the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, he refused to play the race card and instead campaigned on issues of economic equality. Long ran a close third, missing the run-off election by less than 7,400 votes.
At the next election, in 1928, Long was elected Governor of Louisiana by the largest margin in the state’s history. As Governor, Long immediately pushed a number of bills through the legislature to fulfill his campaign promises. During his term these initiatives resulted in 9,700 miles of new roads, 111 new toll-free bridges, free textbooks, adult education programs, night courses for adult literacy, hospitals and piping natural gas to New Orleans and many others.
Long expanded the campus of Louisiana State University (LSU), tripled enrollment, and built LSU into one of the best schools in the South and the eleventh largest state university in the country. Long lowered tuition and instituted scholarship programs that enabled poor students to attend. He also established the LSU medical school to meet the state’s desperate need for new doctors.WPA workers laying a water main in Madisonville Louisiana in 1937 [View Image]
WPA workers laying a water main in Madisonville Louisiana in 1937
Photo: Public Domain
The public soon began to see the tangible results of a massive building and infrastructure program to modernize Louisiana. As the nation plunged into the Great Depression after the stock market crash of 1929, thousands of Louisianians were at work building the state’s new infrastructure. Louisiana employed 22,000 men just to build the roads — ten percent of the nation’s highway workers. With greater access to transportation, education and healthcare, the quality of life in Louisiana was on the upswing while the rest of the nation declined.
In order to finance his building and new social programs, Long called a special session of the legislature to enact a five cent-per-barrel tax on the production of refined oil. The bill was met with a storm of opposition from the state’s big oil interests, and opponents in the legislature moved to impeach Governor Long on charges ranging from misuse of state funds to using “abusive language.” Long responded with a statewide campaign to make his case that Standard Oil and his political opponents were conspiring to retake state government using the trumped-up charges against him. He asserted that legislators had been offered as much as $25,000 for their votes to remove him from office — or enough money “to burn a wet mule”. When the trial moved to the Senate, Long produced a document signed by over one third of the senators, stating they would vote against impeachment because the trial was illegal. With the two-thirds majority required to convict now impossible, the Governor’s opponents halted the proceedings.
Senator Huey Long: In 1930, Long ran for the U.S. Senate, characterizing the race as a referendum on his policies to strengthen his position as governor. He won easily but left the Senate seat vacant until he could install a loyal successor to continue his reform agenda in Louisiana. Senator Long arrived in Washington in January 1932. Long believed that the Great Depression was the result of the tremendous disparity between the wealthy and the poor; and he charged that the richest five percent of the population controlled 85 percent of the nation’s wealth.
In Long’s view, capitalism had run amuck and the vast majority of the population was suffering as a result of corporate greed. The nation was stuck in a vicious cycle in which people had no money to put into the economy, and jobs were drying up because there was no commerce. One in four breadwinners were out of work, and more than a million men roamed the country in search of work.Huey P. Long [View Image]
Huey P. Long
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID hec 38456
As the Great Depression worsened, Long made impassioned speeches in the Senate charging a few powerful families with hoarding the nation’s wealth. He urged Congress to address the inequality that he believed to be the source of the mass suffering. How was a recovery possible when twelve men owned more wealth than 120 million people?
In 1934 Long unveiled a program of reforms he labeled “Share Our Wealth” designed to redistribute the nation’s wealth more fairly by capping personal fortunes at $50 million (later lowered to $5 – $8 million) and distributing the rest through government programs aimed at providing opportunity and a decent standard of living to all Americans. Long believed the programs he initiated in Louisiana were effective in lifting people out of poverty, and he wanted to implement this philosophy nationally.
By 1935, Long’s Share Our Wealth Society had over 7.5 million members in 27,000 clubs across the country. Long’s Senate office was flooded with thousands of letters daily, prompting him to hire 32
typists, who worked around the clock to respond to the fan mail. As the nation’s third most photographed man (after President Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrity aviator Charles Lindberg), Long was recognized from coast to coast simply as “Huey.”
To President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, Long was “one of the two most dangerous men in America.” (The other was Gen. Douglas MacArthur.) Roosevelt sought to undercut Long’s clout by putting some of his enemies in charge of federal spending and patronage in Louisiana. The President also ordered unproductive investigations by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI into Long’s finances and other dealings. Long was also the subject of the first nationwide political poll, used by the Roosevelt campaign to assess how great a threat a Long candidacy would be to the President’s re-election in 1936.
President Roosevelt also moved to deflate Long’s appeal by incorporating some of his ideas as part of the Second New Deal, a more liberal version of FDR’s Great Depression reforms. For example, the Social Security system reflected Long’s proposal for old-age pensions, the Works Progress Administration mirrored public works programs begun by Governor Long in Louisiana, and the National Youth Administration reflected his student financial aid proposal.
Long’s Enemies Organize: After death threats, arson attempts, and a drive-by shooting at his New Orleans home, Long increased his personal security, surrounding himself with armed bodyguards from the state police. Long also worried about his family’s safety and was concerned that his children might be kidnapped. The threats only strengthened his resolve to crush his political opponents.
Completely stymied by Long’s political maneuvers and legislative victories, some of his enemies formed a paramilitary organization called the Square Deal Association to plot armed insurrection. In July 1935, Long declared that he had discovered an assassination plot against him. Long’s associates had eavesdropped on a secret meeting in New Orleans, which included four Louisiana congressmen, the New Orleans Mayor, and two former Governors.
On September 8, Long was in the State Capitol in Baton Rouge for a special session of the Louisiana legislature, pushing through a number of bills including a measure to gerrymander opponent Judge Benjamin Pavy out of his job. According to the generally accepted version of events, Pavy’s son-in-law, Dr. Carl Weiss, approached Senator Long in a corridor and shot him at close range in the abdomen. Long’s bodyguards immediately opened fired on Weiss as Huey ran to safety. Weiss was killed instantly, and Long was rushed to a nearby hospital, where emergency surgery failed to stop internal bleeding.
Senator Huey Long died two days later on September 10, 1935, eleven days after his 42nd birthday. His last words were, “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do.”
Source: The Huey Long Project Web site – www.hueylong.com
For More Information: Huey Long has been the subject of more than 70 books, countless articles, and a documentary film. A list of the most credible and accurate resources is available on the Huey Long Project Web Site: www.hueylong.com.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Long Legacy Project (2016). Huey P. Long (1893-1935): Governor, U.S. senator, radical populist and founder of the “Share Our Wealth Society.”Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/long-huey/
THE SHARE OUR WEALTH SOCIETY
By Huey P. Long, United States Senator
People of America: In every community get together at once and organize a share-our-wealth society–Motto: Every man a king
Principles and platform:
1. To limit poverty by providing that every deserving family shall share in the wealth of America for not less than one third of the average wealth, thereby to possess not less than $5,000 free of debt.
2. To limit fortunes to such a few million dollars as will allow the balance of the American people to share in the wealth and profits of the land.
3. Old-age pensions of $30 per month to persons over 60 years of age who do not earn as much as $1,000 per year or who possess less than $10,000 in cash or property, thereby to remove from the field of labor in times of unemployment those who have contributed their share to the public service.
4. To limit the hours of work to such an extent as to prevent overproduction and to give the workers of America some share in the recreations, conveniences, and luxuries of life.
5. To balance agricultural production with what can be sold and consumed according to the laws of God, which have never failed.
6. To care for the veterans of our wars.
7. Taxation to run the Government to be supported, first, by reducing big fortunes from the top, thereby to improve the country and provide employment in public works whenever agricultural surplus is such as to render unnecessary, in whole or in part, any particular crop.
To explain the title, motto, and principles of such a society I give the full information, viz:
Title: Share-our-wealth society is simply to mean that God’s creatures on this lovely American continent have a right to share in the wealth they have created in this country. They have the right to a living, with the conveniences and some of the luxuries of this life, so long as there are too many or enough for all. They have a right to raise their children in a healthy, wholesome atmosphere and to educate them, rather than to face the dread of their under-nourishment and sadness by being denied a real life.
Motto: “Every man a king” conveys the great plan of God and of the Declaration of Independence, which said: “All men are created equal.” It conveys that no one man is the lord of another, but that from the head to the foot of every man is carried his sovereignty.
Now to cover the principles of the share-our-wealth society, I give them in order:
1. To limit poverty:
We propose that a deserving family shall share in our wealth of America at least for one third the average. An average family is slightly less than five persons. The number has become less during depression. The United States total wealth in normal times is about $400 billion or about $15,000 to a family. If there were fair distribution of our things in America, our national wealth would be three or four or five times the $400 billion, because a free, circulating wealth is worth many times more than wealth congested and frozen into a few hands as is America’s wealth. But, figuring only on the basis of wealth as valued when frozen into a few hands, there is the average of $15,000 to the family. We say that we will limit poverty of the deserving people. One third of the average wealth to the family, or $5,000, is a fair limit to the depths we will allow any one man’s family to fall. None too poor, none too rich.
2. To limit fortunes:
The wealth of this land is tied up in a few hands. It makes no difference how many years the laborer has worked, nor does it make any difference how many dreary rows the farmer has plowed, the wealth he has created is in the hands of manipulators. They have not worked any more than many other people who have nothing. Now we do not propose to hurt these very rich persons. We simply say that when they reach the place of millionaires they have everything they can use and they ought to let somebody else have something. As it is, 0.1 of 1 percent of the bank depositors nearly half of the money in the banks, leaving 99.9 of bank depositors owning the balance. Then two thirds of the people do not even have a bank account. The lowest estimate is that 4 percent of the people own 85 percent of our wealth. The people cannot ever come to light unless we share our wealth, hence the society to do it.
3. Old-age pensions:
Everyone has begun to realize something must be done for our old people who work out their lives, feed and clothe children and are left penniless in their declining years. They should be made to look forward to their mature years for comfort rather than fear. We propose that, at the age of 60, every person should begin to draw a pension from our Government of $30 per month, unless the person of 60 or over has an income of over $1,000 per year or is worth $10,000, which is two thirds of the average wealth in America, even figured on a basis of it being frozen into a few hands. Such a pension would retire from labor those persons who keep the rising generations from finding employment.
4. To limit the hours of work:
This applies to all industry. The longer hours the human family can rest from work, the more it can consume. It makes no difference how many labor-saving devices we may invent, just as long as we keep cutting down the hours and sharing what those machines produce, the better we become. Machines can never produce too much if everybody is allowed his share, and if it ever got to the point that the human family could work only 15 hours per week and still produce enough for everybody, then praised be the name of the Lord. Heaven would be coming nearer to earth. All of us could return to school a few months every year to learn some things they have found out since we were there: All could be gentlemen: Every man a king.
5. To balance agricultural production with consumption:
About the easiest of all things to do when financial masters and market manipulators step aside and let work the law of the Lord. When we have a supply of anything that is more than we can use for a year or two, just stop planting that particular crop for a year either in all the country or in a part of it. Let the Government take over and store the surplus for the next year. If there is not something else for the farmers to plant or some other work for them to do to live on for the year when the crop is banned, then let that be the year for the public works to be done in the section where the farmers need work. There is plenty of it to do and taxes of the big fortunes at the top will supply plenty of money without hurting anybody. In time we would have the people not struggling to raise so much when all were well fed and clothed. Distribution of wealth almost solves the whole problem without further trouble.
6. To care for the veterans of our wars: A restoration of all rights taken from them by recent laws and further, a complete care of any disabled veteran for any ailment, who has no means of support
Taxation is to be levied first at the top for the Governments support and expenses. Swollen fortunes should be reduced principally through taxation. The Government should be run through revenues it derives after allowing persons to become well above millionaires and no more. In this manner the fortunes will be kept down to reasonable size and at the same time all the works of the Government kept on a sound basis, without debts. (Source: www.socialsecurity.gov)
Source: Social Security History
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Long, H. (1934). “The Share Our Wealth Society.” Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/long-huey/