Huey Long: Biography, 'Share Our Wealth,' & Assassination

Instructor: Jason McCollom
Examine the life of the 'Kingfish,' Huey Long, former governor and Senator from Louisiana during the 1920s and 1930s. Then you can test your knowledge of Long, his career, and his assassination with a quiz.

Introduction

Sometimes it seems as if politicians of the past were much more colorful characters than those today. Huey Long of Louisiana was definitely one of those characters. Considered by some a genuine man of the people and by others a demagogue, Long certainly made his mark in Louisiana as governor and across the country as U.S. Senator in the 1930s. An assassin's bullet cut his life short in 1935, but his antics and legacy live on.

The Rise of Huey Long

Huey Long was born in 1893 in Winn Parish in the north central uplands of Louisiana. By most accounts he was a good student and eventually became a lawyer. In that capacity, Long fought against what he saw as the exploitation of Louisiana by large oil and gas companies, especially Standard Oil. He gained statewide fame in representing poor clients against the oil and gas behemoths, and came to be seen as a champion of the common man.

Long's foray into politics began in 1918 when, at the age of twenty-five, he was elected as state railroad commissioner. In that position he continued to show off his credentials as an enemy of big corporations and a man of the people. He campaigned for governor of Louisiana in 1928, promising voters he would make the oil and gas corporations pay back what they owed the people of the state. Huey Long kept that promise.

As governor, he increased the taxes on the oil and gas producers and used the revenue to benefit Louisiana. The tax money went to provide free school textbooks for children, for instance, and the construction of new hospitals and other infrastructure improvement. These measures made Governor Long very popular among Louisianans--the common people loved him.

Here is Huey Long during a speech. You can see what a charismatic speaker he was.
Huey Long gesturing

Huey Long on the National Stage

In 1929, the worst economic downturn to date settled in across the U.S. and around the globe. To say that times were hard for people would be an understatement. After years of hardship, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was elected President of the United States in 1932. Roosevelt promised a 'New Deal' for the American people, which essentially meant government activism and expenditures to assist suffering people in the midst of the Great Depression.

Huey Long, at first, supported the Roosevelt and the New Deal. But as Long tightened his grip on political power in Louisiana, he turned against the President and positioned himself as a significant challenger to Roosevelt leading up to the 1936 presidential election.

First, Long became one of Louisiana's senators in 1930. However, he refused to vacate the governorship of the state. Crazy as it might sound, it's not an exaggeration to say that Long basically became dictator of Louisiana, wielding an immense amount of political power. Through his widespread support in the state, Long amassed a significant amount of money, and strode onto the national political scene as a proud 'hillbilly hero.'

Long was asked why he was attacking FDR, and he famously replied, 'All I care is what the boys at the forks of the creek think of me.' Long wore white silk suits and pink silk ties in the halls of the capitol, and womanized and drank whiskey all across Washington, D.C. He utilized his charismatic speaking style and promoted his ideas through the radio, a relatively novel technique in the early 1930s.

Huey Long became a national sensation.
Huey Long TIME mag cover

The 'Share Our Wealth' Program and Long's Assassination

Long accused President Roosevelt of supporting big businesses and banks. He positioned himself to run for president in 1936 as a representative of the average American, while FDR called him 'one of the most dangerous men in the country.' Long hooked up with another Roosevelt critic, Catholic priest Father Charles Coughlin. Coughlin had formed the National Union for Social Justice, a political third party, in 1934. He declared that the Republican and Democratic parties 'are all but dead and should relinquish the skeletons of their putrefying carcasses to the halls of a historical museum.' Long was expected to join Coughlin's party on a platform of Long's 'Share Our Wealth' program.

Father Charles Coughlin
Father Charles Coughlin

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