35th Governor of Louisiana
May 28, 1928 – January 25, 1932
|Lieutenant(s)||Paul Narcisse Cyr|
|Preceded by||Oramel H. Simpson|
|Succeeded by||Alvin Olin King|
United States Senator
January 25, 1932 – August 30, 1935
|Preceded by||Joseph E. Ransdell|
|Succeeded by||Rose McConnell Long|
|Born||August 30, 1893
|Died||September 10, 1935 (aged 42)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
|Spouse||Rose McConnell Long|
|Profession||Lawyer, U.S. Senator, Governor|
Huey Pierce Long, Jr. (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935), nicknamed The Kingfish, was an American politician from the U.S. state of Louisiana. A Democrat, he was noted for his radical populist policies. He served as Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a U.S. senator from 1932 to 1935. Though a backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, Long split with Roosevelt in June 1933 and allegedly planned to mount his own presidential bid.
Long created the Share Our Wealth program in 1934, with the motto "Every Man a King," proposing new wealth redistribution measures in the form of a net asset tax on large corporations and individuals of great wealth to curb the poverty and crime resulting from the Great Depression. He was an ardent critic of the Federal Reserve System.
Charismatic and immensely popular for his social reform programs and willingness to take forceful action, Long was accused by his opponents of dictatorial tendencies for his near-total control of the state government. At the height of his popularity, the colorful and flamboyant Long was shot on September 8, 1935, at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge; he died two days later at the age of 42. His last words were reportedly, "God, don't let me die. I have so much to do."
Long was born on August 30, 1893, in Winnfield, the seat of Winn Parish, a rural community in the north-central part of the state. He was the son of Huey Pierce Long, Sr. (1852-1937), and the former Caledonia Palestine Tison (1860-1913) of French descent. He was the seventh of nine children in a farm-owning middle-class family. He attended local schools, where he was an excellent student and was said to have a photographic memory. In 1910, Long was expelled from school for distributing a petition against adding a twelfth year of schooling as a graduation requirement. After World War II, the twelve grades became standard in education.
Long won a debating scholarship to Louisiana State University, but he was unable to afford the textbooks required for attendance. Instead, he spent the next four years as a traveling salesman, selling books, canned goods, and patent medicines, as well as working as an auctioneer.
In 1913, Huey Long married the former Rose McConnell. She was a stenographer who had won a baking contest that he promoted to sell "Cottolene," one of the most popular of the early vegetable shortenings to come on the market. It should also be noted that Huey was suspected of rigging the contest in McConnell's favor. The Longs had a daughter, also named Rose, and two sons, Russell and Palmer.
When sales jobs grew scarce during World War I, Long attended seminary classes at Oklahoma Baptist University at the urging of his mother, a devout Baptist. However, he concluded he was not suited to preaching.
Long briefly attended the University of Oklahoma School of Law in Norman, Oklahoma, and later Tulane University Law School in New Orleans. In 1915, he convinced a board to let him take the bar exam after only a year at Tulane. He passed and began private practice in Winnfield and later in Shreveport, where he spent 10 years representing small plaintiffs against large businesses, including workers' compensation cases. He often said proudly that he never took a case against a poor man.
He won fame by taking on the powerful Standard Oil Company, which he sued for unfair business practices. Over the course of his career, Long continued to challenge Standard Oil's influence in state politics and charged the company with exploiting the state's vast oil and gas resources. He stood for the little man, and felt that large and increasingly powerful companies exploited him in pursuit of gaining ever greater profits.
Long was elected to the Louisiana Railroad Commission in 1918 at the age of twenty-five on an anti-Standard Oil platform. (The commission was renamed the Louisiana Public Service Commission in 1921.) His campaign for the Railroad Commission used techniques he would perfect later in his political career: Heavy use of printed circulars and posters, an exhausting schedule of personal campaign stops throughout rural Louisiana, and vehement attacks on his opponents. He used his position on the commission to enhance his populist reputation as an opponent of large oil and utility companies, fighting against rate increases and pipeline monopolies. In the gubernatorial election of 1920, he campaigned prominently for John M. Parker, but later became his vocal opponent after the new governor proved to be insufficiently committed to reform; Long called Parker the “chattel” of the corporations.
As chairman of the commission in 1922, Long won a lawsuit against the Cumberland Telephone Company for unfair rate increases, resulting in cash refunds of $440,000 to 80,000 overcharged customers. Long successfully argued the case on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, prompting Chief Justice William Howard Taft to describe Long as one of the best legal minds he had ever encountered.
Long ran for governor of Louisiana in the election of 1924, attacking Parker, Standard Oil and the established political hierarchy both local and state-wide. In that campaign he became one of the first Southern politicians to use radio addresses and sound trucks in a campaign. Around this time, he also began wearing a distinctive white linen suit. He came in third, due perhaps in part to his unwillingness to take a stand either for or against the Ku Klux Klan, whose prominence in Louisiana had become the primary issue of the campaign. Long cited rain on election day as suppressing voter turnout in rural north Louisiana, where voters were unable to reach the polls on dirt roads that had turned to mud. Instead, he was reelected to the Public Service Commission.
Long spent the intervening four years building his reputation and his political organization, meanwhile supporting Catholic candidates in an effort to build support in Catholic southern Louisiana. In 1928 he again ran for governor, campaigning with the slogan, "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown," a phrase adopted from populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.  Long's attacks on the utilities industry and corporate privileges were enormously popular, as was his depiction of the wealthy as "parasites" who grabbed more than their fair share of the public wealth while marginalizing the poor.
Long crisscrossed the state, campaigning in rural areas disenfranchised by the New Orleans-based political establishment, known as the "Old Regulars," who controlled the state through alliances with sheriffs and other local officials. At the time, the entire state had roughly 500 km (300 miles) of paved roads and only three major bridges. The illiteracy rate was the highest in the nation (25 percent), as most families could not afford to purchase the textbooks required for their children to attend school. A poll tax hindered the poor from voting.
Long won by tapping into the class resentment of rural Louisianians and by giving them hope for a better future in the form of government services long ignored by Louisiana's traditional political leaders. He won by the largest margin in Louisiana history, 126,842 votes compared with 81,747 for Riley J. Wilson and 80,326 for Oramel H. Simpson. Long's support bridged the traditional north-south, Protestant-Catholic divide of Louisiana politics, and replaced it with a class-based schism between poor farmers and the wealthy planters, businessmen and machine politicians who supported his opponents.
As governor, Long inherited a dysfunctional system of government tainted by influence peddling. Corporations often wrote the laws governing their practices and rewarded part-time legislators and other officials with jobs and bribes. Long moved quickly to consolidate his power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy, at all ranks from cabinet-level heads of departments and board members to rank-and-file civil servants and state road workers. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters. Every state employee who depended on Long for a job was expected to pay a portion of his or her salary directly into Long’s political war-chest; these funds were kept in a famous locked “deduct box” to be used at his discretion for political purposes.
Once his control over the state’s political apparatus was strengthened, Long pushed a number of bills through the 1928 session of the Louisiana State Legislature fulfilling some of his campaign promises, including a free textbook program for schoolchildren, an idea advanced by John Sparks Patton, the Claiborne Parish school superintendent. He also supported night courses for adult literacy and a supply of cheap natural gas for the city of New Orleans. Long began an unprecedented building program of roads, bridges, hospitals and educational institutions. His bills met opposition from many legislators and the media, but Long used aggressive tactics to ensure passage of the legislation he favored. He would show up unannounced on the floor of both the House and Senate or in House committees, corralling reluctant representatives and state senators and bullying opponents. These tactics were unprecedented, but they resulted in the passage of most of Long’s legislative agenda. By delivering on his campaign promises, Long achieved hero status among the state's majority rural poor population. He was full of vigor and not at all passive when it came to asserting his views on the best policies for governing his state.
When Long secured passage of his free textbook program, the school board of Caddo Parish (home of conservative Shreveport), sued to prevent the books from being distributed, saying they would not accept "charity" from the state. Long responded by withholding authorization for the location of a nearby Air Force base [(sic)Army Base] until the parish accepted the books.
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, in order to help fund his social programs. The bill met with a storm of opposition from the state’s oil interests, and opponents in the legislature, led by freshman Cecil Morgan of Shreveport, moved to impeach Long on charges ranging from blasphemy to corruption, bribery, and misuse of state funds. Long tried to cut the session short, but after an infamous brawl that spilled across the State Legislature known as "Bloody Monday," the Legislature voted to remain in session and proceed with the impeachment. Long took his case to the people, using his trademark printed circulars and a speaking tour around the state to argue that the impeachment was an attempt by Standard Oil and other corporate interests to prevent his social programs from being carried out. Several of the charges passed in the House, but once the trial began in the Senate, Long produced the “Round Robin,” a document signed by over one-third of the state senators, stating that they would vote "not guilty" no matter what the evidence, because the charges did not merit removal from office and they considered the trial to be unconstitutional. With a two-thirds majority required to convict now impossible, Long’s opponents halted the proceedings. The Round Robin signers were later rewarded with state jobs or other favors; some were alleged to have been paid in cash or awarded lavish gifts.
Following the failed impeachment attempt in the Senate, Long became ruthless when dealing with his enemies, firing their relatives from state jobs and supporting candidates to defeat them in elections. "I used to get things done by saying please," said Long. "Now I dynamite them out of my path." With all of the state’s newspapers financed by his opposition, in March 1930, Long founded his own: The Louisiana Progress, which he used to broadcast his achievements and denounce his enemies. In order to receive lucrative state contracts, companies were first expected to buy advertisements in Long's newspaper. He also attempted to pass laws placing a surtax on newspapers and forbidding the publishing of “slanderous material,” but these efforts were defeated. After impeachment, Long received death threats and began to fear for his personal safety, surrounding himself with armed bodyguards at all times.
In the 1930 legislative session, Long planned another major road-building initiative, as well as the construction of a new capitol building in Baton Rouge. The State Legislature defeated the bond issue necessary to build the roads, and his other initiatives failed as well. Long responded by suddenly announcing his intention to run for the federal U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary of September 9, 1930. He portrayed his campaign as a referendum on his programs: If he won he would take it as a sign that the public supported his programs over the opposition of the legislature, and if he lost he promised to resign. Long defeated incumbent Senator Joseph E. Ransdell 149,640 (57.3 percent) to 111,451 (42.7 percent).
Despite having been elected to the Senate for the 1931 session, Long intended to fill out his term as governor until 1932. Leaving the seat vacant for so long would not hurt Louisiana, Long said; "with Ransdell as Senator, the seat was vacant anyway." By delaying his resignation as governor, Long kept Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr, a dentist from Jeanerette in Iberia Parish, an early ally with whom Long had since feuded, from succeeding to the top position.
Having won the overwhelming support of the Louisiana electorate, Long returned to pushing his program with renewed strength. Bargaining from an advantageous position, Long entered an agreement with his longtime New Orleans rivals, the Regular Democratic Organization and their leader, New Orleans mayor T. Semmes Walmsley; they would support his legislation and his candidates in future elections in return for a bridge over the Mississippi River, a Lakefront Airport for New Orleans, and money for infrastructure improvements in the city. Support from the Old Regulars allowed him to pass an increase in the gasoline tax used to pay for his programs, new school spending, a bill to finance the construction of a new Louisiana State Capitol and a $75 million bond for road construction. Long's road network, including the Airline Highway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, gave Louisiana some of the most modern roads in the country and helped form the state's highway system. Long's opponents charged that Long had concentrated political power in his own hands to the point where he had become a virtual dictator of the state.
Long retained the architect Leon C. Weiss of New Orleans to design the capitol, a new governor's mansion, Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and many Louisiana State University and other college buildings throughout the state.
As governor, Long was not popular among the "old families" of Baton Rouge society. He instead held gatherings of his leaders and friends from across the state. At these gatherings, Long and his group liked to listen to the popular radio show Amos 'n' Andy. One of Long's followers dubbed him the "Kingfish," the leader of the Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge to which Amos and Andy belonged. Other accounts claim Long gave the nickname to himself. During an argument, Long shouted down everyone by yelling, "Shut up, you sons of bitches, shut up! This is the Kingfish talking!"
As governor, Long became an ardent supporter of LSU in Baton Rouge, the state's primary public university. He greatly increased LSU funding and expanded its enrollment from 1,600 to 4,000. Long instituted work scholarship programs that enabled poor students to attend LSU, and he established the LSU Medical School in New Orleans. But he intervened directly in its affairs, choosing its president, infringing on the academic freedom of students and faculty, and even sometimes trying to coach the LSU football team himself.
In October 1931, Lieutenant Governor Cyr, by then an avowed enemy of Long, argued that the senator-elect could no longer remain governor. Cyr declared himself to be the legitimate governor. Long surrounded the State Capitol with state National Guard troops and fended off the illegal "coup d'etat." Long then went to the Louisiana Supreme Court in order to have Cyr ousted as lieutenant governor. He argued that the office of lieutenant-governor was vacant because Cyr had resigned his office when he attempted to assume the governorship. The suit was successful, and under the state constitution, Senate president and Long ally Alvin Olin King became lieutenant-governor. Long chose his childhood friend Oscar Kelly Allen as the candidate to succeed him in the election of 1932 on a “Complete the Work” ticket. With the support of Long's own voter base and the Old Regular machine, Allen won easily. With his loyal succession assured, Long finally resigned as governor and took his seat in the U.S. Senate in January 1932.
Long arrived in Washington, D.C., to take his seat in the U.S. Senate in January 1932, although he was absent for more than half the days in the 1932 session, having to commute to and from Louisiana. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, he made characteristically fiery speeches which denounced the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. He also criticized the leaders of both parties for failing to adequately address the crisis, most notably attacking Senate Democratic leader Joseph Robinson of Arkansas for his apparent closeness with President Herbert Hoover. Ironically, Robinson was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1928 on the ticket opposite Hoover and his running-mate, Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas.
In the presidential election of 1932, Long became a vocal supporter of the candidacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, believing him to be the only candidate willing and able to carry out the drastic redistribution of wealth that Long felt was necessary to end the Great Depression. At the Democratic National Convention, Long was instrumental in keeping the delegations of several wavering states in the Roosevelt camp. Long expected to be featured prominently in Roosevelt's campaign, but was disappointed with a speaking tour limited to four Midwestern states.
Long managed to find other venues for his populist message. He campaigned to elect underdog candidate Hattie Caraway of Arkansas to her first full term in the Senate by conducting a whirlwind, seven-day tour of that state, raising his national prominence (and defeating the candidate backed by Senator Robinson). With Long's help, Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Carraway told Long, however, that she would continue to use independent judgment and not allow him to dictate how she would vote on Senate bills. She also insisted that he stop attacking Robinson while he was in Arkansas.
After Roosevelt's election, Long soon broke with the new President. Increasingly aware that Roosevelt had no intention of introducing a radical redistribution of the country's wealth, Long became one of the only national politicians to oppose Roosevelt's New Deal policies from the left, considering them inadequate in the face of the escalating economic crisis. Long sometimes supported Roosevelt's programs in the Senate, saying that "whenever this administration has gone to the left I have voted with it, and whenever it has gone to the right I have voted against it." He opposed the National Recovery Act, calling it a sellout to big business. In 1933, he was a leader of a three-week Senate filibuster against the Glass-Steagall Banking Act.
Roosevelt considered Long a radical demagogue. The president privately said of Long that along with General Douglas MacArthur, "he was one of the two most dangerous men in America." Roosevelt later compared Long to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. In June 1933, in an effort to undermine Long's political dominance of the state, Roosevelt cut Long off from any consultation on the distribution of federal funds or patronage in Louisiana. Roosevelt also supported a Senate inquiry into the election of Long ally John H. Overton to the Senate in 1932, charging the Long machine with election fraud and voter intimidation; however, the inquiry came up empty, and Overton was seated.
In an effort to discredit Long and damage his support base, Roosevelt had Long’s finances investigated by the Internal Revenue Service in 1934. Though they failed to link Long to any illegality, some of Long’s lieutenants were charged with income tax evasion, but only one had been convicted by the time of Long’s death.
Long’s radical rhetoric and his aggressive tactics did little to endear him to his fellow senators. Not one of his proposed bills, resolutions or motions was passed during his three years in the Senate. During one debate, another senator told Long that “I do not believe you could get the Lord’s Prayer endorsed in this body.”
In terms of foreign policy, Long was a firm isolationist, arguing that America’s involvement in the Spanish-American War and the First World War had been deadly mistakes conducted on behalf of Wall Street. He also opposed American entry into the World Court.
As an alternative to what he called the conservatism of the New Deal, 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 who exploited the poor in an attempt to get wealthier.
Long proposed a new tax code which would limit personal fortunes to $5 million, annual income to $1 million (or 300 times the income of the average family), and inheritances to $5 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 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 socialistic, 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 only a radical restructuring of the national economy and elimination of disparities of wealth, while retaining the essential features of the capitalist system, would end the Great Depression and stave off violent revolution. 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."
After the Senate proved unwilling to take his ideas seriously, Long, in February 1934, 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, and Long's Senate office was receiving an average of 60,000 letters a week. Pressure from Long and his organization is considered by some historians as responsible for Roosevelt's "turn to the left" in 1935, when he enacted the Second New Deal, including the Works Progress Administration and Social Security; in private, Roosevelt candidly admitted to trying to “steal Long’s thunder.”
Long continued to maintain effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator. Though he had no constitutional authority to do so and grossly blurred his involvement in federal and state politics, he continued to draft and press bills through the Louisiana State Legislature, which remained in the hands of his allies. He made frequent trips back to Baton Rouge to pressure the Legislature into continuing to enact his legislation, including new consumer taxes, elimination of the poll tax, a homestead exemption and increases in the number of state employees. His loyal lieutenant, Governor Oscar K. Allen, dutifully followed Long’s policy proposals, though Long was known to frequently berate the governor in public and take over the governor’s office in the State Capitol when he was visiting Baton Rouge. Having broken with the Old Regulars and T. Semmes Walmsley in the fall of 1933, Long inserted himself into the New Orleans mayoral election of 1934 and began a dramatic public feud with the city’s government that lasted for two years.
Huey Long and James A. Noe, an independent oilman and member of the Louisiana Senate, formed the controversial Win or Lose Oil Company. The firm was established to obtain leases on state-owned lands so that the 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, using the funds primarily for political purposes.
By 1934 Long began a reorganization of the state government that all but abolished local governments in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Alexandria, and gave the governor the power to appoint all state employees. Long passed what he called “a tax on lying” and a 2 percent tax on newspaper advertising revenue, and he created the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a special force of plainclothes police answerable only to the governor. He also had the legislature enact the same tax on refined oil that had nearly gotten him impeached in 1929, but he refunded most of the money after Standard Oil agreed that 80 percent of the oil sent to its refineries would be drilled in Louisiana.
Even during his days as a traveling salesman, Long confided to his wife that his planned career trajectory would begin with election to a minor state office, then governor, then senator, and ultimately election as President of the United States. In his final months, Long wrote a second book entitled My First Days in the White House, laying out his plans for the presidency after victory in the election of 1936. The book was published posthumously.
According to Long biographers T. Harry Williams and William Ivy Hair, the senator had never, in fact, intended to run for the presidency in 1936. Long instead had 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 a basis for its program, along with Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest and populist talk radio personality from Royal Oak, Michigan, Iowa agrarian radical Milo Reno, and other dissidents. The new party would run someone else as its 1936 candidate, but Long would be the primary campaigner. This candidate would split the liberal vote with Roosevelt, thereby electing a Republican as president but proving the electoral appeal of Share Our Wealth. Long would then wait four years and run for president as a Democrat in 1940. Long undertook a national speaking tour and regular radio appearances in the spring of 1935, attracting large crowds and further increasing his stature.
By 1935, Long’s most recent consolidation of personal power led to talk of armed opposition from his enemies. Opponents increasingly invoked the memory of the Battle of Liberty Place of 1874, in which the white supremacist White League staged an uprising against Louisiana’s Reconstruction-era government. In January 1935, an anti-Long paramilitary organization called the Square Deal Association was formed; its members included former governors John M. Parker and Ruffin G. Pleasant and New Orleans Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley. On January 25, two hundred armed Square Dealers took over the courthouse of East Baton Rouge Parish. Long had Governor Allen call out the National Guard, declare martial law, ban public gatherings of two or more persons, and forbid the publication of criticism of state officials. The Square Dealers left the courthouse, but there was a brief armed skirmish at the Baton Rouge Airport. Tear gas and live ammunition were fired; one person was wounded but there were no fatalities.
In the summer of 1935, Long called for two more special sessions of the legislature; bills were passed in rapid-fire succession without being read or discussed. The new laws further centralized Long’s control over the state by creating several new Long-appointed state agencies: a state bond and tax board holding sole authority to approve all loans to parish and municipal governments, a new state printing board which could withhold "official printer" status from uncooperative newspapers, a new board of election supervisors which would appoint all poll watchers, and a State Board of Censors. They also stripped away the remaining 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."
Two months prior to his death, in July 1935, Long claimed that he had uncovered a plot to assassinate him, which had been discussed in a meeting at New Orleans’s DeSoto Hotel. According to Long, four U.S. representatives, Mayor Walmsley, and former governors Parker and Sanders had been present. Long read what he claimed was a transcript of a recording of this meeting on the floor of the Senate.
Long had called for a third special session of the Louisiana State Legislature to begin in September 1935, and he traveled from Washington to Baton Rouge to oversee its progress. Although accounts of the September 8, 1935, murder differ, most believe that Long was shot once or twice by medical doctor Carl Austin Weiss in the Capitol building at Baton Rouge. Weiss was immediately shot some thirty times by Long's bodyguards and police on the scene. The 28-year-old Dr. Weiss was the son-in-law of Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy, who, according to Pavy's only surviving child, Ida Catherine Pavy Boudreaux (born 1922) of Opelousas, had been gerrymandered out of his Sixteenth Judicial District because of his opposition to Long. Long died two days after the shooting of internal bleeding following an attempt to close the wounds by Dr. Arthur Vidrine. Visitors to the capitol building will find a plaque marking the site of the assassination in the hallway near what is now the Speaker's office and what was then the Governor's office. It is on the main floor hall, behind the elevators. There are several small cavities in the marble wall near the plaque which are, erroneously, believed to be bullet holes; they were actually caused by careless marble movers.
An alternative theory suggests that Weiss was actually unarmed, and had punched Long, not shot him. Instead, the senator was struck by a stray bullet from his bodyguards, who shot Weiss because they mistakenly believed that Weiss was going to shoot Long. One who takes this view is former Louisiana state police superintendent Francis Grevemberg.
Long was buried on the grounds of the new State Capitol that he championed as governor, where a statue depicts his achievements. More than 100,000 Louisianians attended his funeral at the Capitol. The minister at the funeral service Gerald L. K. Smith, co-founder of Share Our Wealth and subsequently of the America First Party, later claimed that Long's assassination was ordered by "the Roosevelt gang, supported by the New York Jew machine."
In his four-year term as governor, Long increased the mileage of paved highways in Louisiana from 331 to 2,301, plus an additional 2,816 miles of gravel roads. By 1936, the infrastructure program begun by Long had completed some 9,000 miles of new roads, doubling the state's road system. He built 111 bridges, and started construction on the first bridge over the lower Mississippi, the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish, near New Orleans. He built the new Louisiana State Capitol, at the time the tallest building in the South. All of these construction projects provided thousands of much-needed jobs during the Great Depression. (Long, however, disapproved of welfare and unemployment payments; any such programs in Louisiana during his tenure were federal in origin.)
Long's free textbooks, school-building program, and free busing improved and expanded the public education system, and his night schools taught 100,000 adults to read. He greatly expanded funding for LSU, lowered tuition, established scholarships for poor students, and founded the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also doubled funding for the public Charity Hospital System, built a new Charity Hospital building for New Orleans, and reformed and increased funding for the state's mental institutions. His administration funded the piping of natural gas to New Orleans and other cities and built the 11-kilometer (seven-mile) Lake Pontchartrain seawall and New Orleans airport. Long slashed personal property taxes and reduced utility rates. His repeal of the poll tax in 1935 increased voter registration by 76 percent in one year.
After Long’s death, the political machine he had built up was weakened, but it remained a powerful force in state politics until the election of 1960. Likewise, the Long platform of social programs and populist rhetoric created the state’s main political division; in every state election until 1960, the main factions were organized along pro-Long and anti-Long lines. Even today in Louisiana, opinions on Long are sharply divided. Some remember Long as a popular folk hero, while others revile him as an unscrupulous demagogue and dictator. For several decades after his death, Long’s personal political style inspired imitation among Louisiana politicians who borrowed his colorful speaking style, vicious verbal attacks on opponents, and promises of social programs. His brother Earl Long later inherited Long’s political machine as well as his platform and rhetorical style and was elected governor of Louisiana on three occasions. After Earl Long’s death, many saw John McKeithen and Edwin Edwards as heirs to the Long tradition. Most recently, Claude "Buddy" Leach ran a populist campaign in the Louisiana gubernatorial election of 2003 that was compared to Huey Long’s by some observers.
Huey Long’s death did not end the political strength of the Long family. In addition to his brother Earl Long becoming governor three times, another brother, George S. Long, was elected to Congress in 1952. 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 and stayed there until 1987. Other more distant relatives, including the late Gillis William Long and the late Speedy O. Long, were elected to Congress. Jimmy D. Long of Natchitoches Parish served for years in the Legislature. Floyd W. Smith, Jr., is a self-described "half Long" who is a former mayor of Pineville. In California Richard Nixon was compared to Huey Long in his 1946 race for the U.S. House of Representatives by Jerry Voorhis; Nixon also described Huey Long as an American folk hero in one of his conversations with H.R. Haldeman.
Two bridges crossing the Mississippi River are named for Long: Huey P. Long Bridge (Baton Rouge) and Huey P. Long Bridge (Jefferson Parish). There is also a Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville.
Long's first autobiography, Every Man a King, was published in 1933. Affordably priced to allow it to be read by poor Americans, it laid out his plan to redistribute the nation's wealth. 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. The life of Long continued to be of interest long after his death, giving rise to the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams in 1970, a 1985 Ken Burns documentary film, as well as two made-for-tv docudramas; The Life and Assassination of the Kingfish (1977) and Kingfish (1995, TNT). (Ed Asner played Long in the former, with John Goodman starring in the latter).
The career of Long has left its mark also in popular culture with Long's life serving as a template for various fictional politicians. Sometimes this is as an example of a made-in-America dictator as in Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here where Buzz Windrip ("The Chief") becomes president on a strongly populist platform that quickly turns into home-grown American fascism. (Windrip is often assumed to be based on either Long or Gerald B. Winrod.) This is also the case in Bruce Sterling's Distraction featuring a colorful and dictatorial Louisiana governor named "Green Huey" and in Harry Turtledove's American Empire trilogy, where parallels are drawn between Confederate President Jake Featherston's populist, dictatorial style of rule and Huey Long's governorship of Louisiana. Long is ultimately assassinated on orders from Featherston when he refuses to side with the Confederate ruling party (though several years later than in real life).
In the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren charts the ultimate corruption of an idealist politician, Willie Stark, who is often assumed to be based on Long. (Warren disassociated himself from the comparison, however, stating to interviewer Charles Bohner in 1964, "Willie Stark was not Huey Long. Willie was only himself, whatever that self turned out to be.") It has in turn been the basis of two motion pictures: an Oscar-winning 1949 film and a more recent 2006 film.
All links retrieved January 17, 2018.
Oramel H. Simpson
|Governor of Louisiana
Alvin Olin King
Joseph E. Ransdell
|US Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
Rose McConnell Long
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