The New Deal & Huey Long

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The New Deal is remembered as a very successful program, but not everyone supported it back in the 1930s. In this lesson, we'll check out one of the most outspoken opponents of the New Deal, and explore his unique reasons for disliking it.

FDR, the New Deal, and Huey Long

In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, the American people voted into the Oval Office one of the most progressive presidents we've ever had. Franklin D. Roosevelt believed in using the power of the federal government to actively fight the Depression. His program, including America's first forms of federal insurance through things like social security, was called the New Deal.

FDR was a popular president amongst the people, but many politicians were concerned. FDR had amassed more power for the executive office than any president in decades. They accused FDR of violating states' rights. Even the Supreme Court declared some of his programs to be unconstitutional. Basically, the worry was that FDR had gone too far. But one man publically criticized FDR for another reason. He believed that FDR hadn't gone far enough. That man was a Louisiana Senator named Huey Long.

The Kingfish

Huey Long was a high-school dropout from Louisiana who made it into law school, studied for only one year before passing the bar exam, and was eventually elected governor of Louisiana. He emerged as a major figure in the populist movement, defined both by the exceptional charisma of powerful leaders who don't like to share power and a deep passion for the plight of the working class. His campaign slogan in 1928 had been borrowed from a previous populist, William Jennings Bryan: ''Every man a king'~`.

Huey Long
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As governor, Long introduced massive reforms to Louisiana. He sponsored free textbooks and night courses, built new schools across the state, paved 3,000 miles of new roads to improve transportation, oversaw the building of a new airport, and encouraged the construction of a new medical school at Louisiana State University. Even more impressively, he did all of this without placing a major tax burden on the average Louisianan. Instead, Long placed the burden on big business, heavily taxing major industries like oil.

His long-term plans were even more progressive, including universal healthcare and universal free education. However, some were wary of Long. He held tightly onto power, bribed others to cooperate, and became a practical dictator over his state. In fact, he was nearly impeached for misconduct, but survived by a margin of 2 votes.

In 1930, Long's rhetoric and reputation got him elected as Louisiana's Great Depression era senator to the United States Congress. Before leaving, he rigged elections in Louisiana to make sure that his handpicked successor became the next governor, letting Long essentially continue to run his state from Washington. It was around this time that he acquired the nickname that history would remember him by: the Kingfish.

Long and the New Deal

Long burst onto the national scene and became instantly popular. The starving poor of the Depression loved his continual slogan of ''every man a king'', as well as his proposed reforms proposals for free education, pension for retirees, and a national minimum wage.

Long quickly became a national figure
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Some of these ideas were also being embraced by FDR. Part of the President's New Deal program involved creating greater long-term security for the average American through things like federal insurance, more affordable housing loans, and wage increases. To Huey Long, however, this wasn't enough. The Kingfish offered an alternate plan: wealth redistribution. In what he called the ''Share Our Wealth'' program, Long proposed that any person who owned over $3 million would have their wealth confiscated and parceled out to families with less than $5,000.

On one hand, Huey Long thought that FDR's New Deal wasn't doing enough for the working class. He also felt that FDR was far too friendly with big business, a group Long famously detested. The truth was, FDR did believe that the government could not fix the Depression alone. He needed business to voluntarily make some changes, like regulating their own spending and investment, increasing wages, and lowering prices. Businesses that complied got to place a blue eagle stamp on their product, letting people know that they were cooperating with the government and working together to end the Depression.

The blue eagle stamp
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