Huey Long rose from modest origins to serve the state of Louisiana as a railroad commissioner, governor, and U.S. senator. Known for his flamboyant dress, fiery oratory, political genius, and profound corruption, Long rekindled the nineteenth-century Populist tradition and carried it well into the twentieth century. He was assassinated in 1935.
Huey Pierce Long was born on August 30, 1893, in Winn Parish, Louisiana. As a young man Long worked as a traveling salesman before enrolling in Tulane University's law school. He absorbed law so rapidly that within eight months he had passed the bar exam. He entered politics in 1918 and captured the devotion of common people so completely that he was governor by 1928. As governor, Long popularized a vision of government that would work to lift up the poor, improve the state, and keep corporations from running roughshod over the people. Despite his election to the U.S. Senate in 1930, Long was reluctant to give up the powerful governorship and delayed taking his Senate seat until 1932. Senator Long continued to tighten his grip on Louisiana politics as he prepared for a presidential bid. His “Share Our Wealth” program, launched in 1934, proposed confiscating much of the richest Americans’ wealth to finance guaranteed minimum incomes for all Americans and served as the core of his campaign. Although Long's plan was vague, it resonated with many Americans.
Long accomplished so much in part because his political machine's wheels were greased by forced campaign contributions from state employees and by kickbacks from those who wished to do business with the state government. Patronage was distributed to supporters, and enemies found themselves unemployed. Huey Long largely financed public works with taxes on corporations and through the sale of bonds. Taxpayers’ immediate financial contribution thus remained minimal as the public works saddled future generations with enormous debt and as voters accepted corruption and infrastructure improvements without substantive reforms that genuinely raised the standard of living for the poor and the working class. Long produced results but damaged and almost destroyed the democratic process in Louisiana. He died on September 10, 1935, after being shot two days earlier in the Louisiana capitol by Carl Weiss.
See also: New Deal ; Rogers, Will (1879–1935) ; Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882–1945)
Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.
Hair, William Ivy. The Kingfish and His Realm. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.
Williams, T. Harry. Huey Long. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.