The Early Years
Huey Pierce Long was born in Winnifield Louisiana on August 30th, 1893. Winnifield was located in one of the poorest parishes (a parish is like a county) in the state, but Long’s parents, who were farmers that had livestock, were fairly well off. Long was the seventh child in the family.
Long had numerous chances to attend university but decided on a different path instead. When he was in high school, Long won a scholarship to Louisiana State University after winning a debate competition but decided to become a travelling salesman instead. Long’s older brother George paid for Long to attend Oklahoma Baptist University, but long never even showed up to register. After that, George gave Huey money to study at University of Oklahoma Law School, but Huey lost this money gambling.
Rose McConnell Long
In 1910, Long went to Shreveport in Louisiana to attend a baking competition that he had organized in order to promote a shortening that he was selling in his job of traveling salesman. Long ended up giving the top two prizes to Rose McConnell and her mother. Two years later, Long went back to Shreveport to ask Rose to marry him. In spite of Huey being arrested for creating a disturbance at a local brothel at the end of 1912, he and Rose were married in 1913.
In 1914, Long enrolled at Tulane University Law School. He focused on his studies and received special permission to take the state bar exam, which he passed, in 1914. He was 21 years old.
Louisiana Railroad Commission
Four years later, Long was voted to a seat on the state’s railroad commission. He used his position to fight against what people believed monopolies and he also advocated for lower utility rates. Long gained a reputation as being an ally to the working class. In 1922, Long became commissioner of the Louisiana Public Service Commission and he sued the telephone company for raising rates. This made him even more popular with the working class. However, as Long made allies among the workers, he also made enemies among established businesses. Some of Long’s confrontations even broke out in violence; he was even attacked with a knife at one time.
When he was 30, Long ran for governor of Louisiana. He campaigned as an enemy of Standard Oil, which he claimed controlled much of New Orleans’ corrupt political system. Long ended up losing by around 7,000 votes, coming in 3rd place. He blamed his election loss for a downpour of rain that kept voters in rural areas from turning up to vote.
Although Long promoted his reputation of being an enemy of big business, he was being financed by competitors of Standard Oil. Many of his attacks on the company were in fact efforts to promote the competitors that were paying for his campaign.
The Kingfish Takes Over the Governor’s Mansion
Four years later, Long ran for governor once again. This time, he ran on the slogan of “every man [is] a king” and he soon gained the nickname “Kingfish.” Long won by a large margin this time around, and he made good on his nickname by getting rid of the supposedly corrupt politicians of the state establishment. Of course, Long put his own allies and cronies in their place, creating his own establishment within Louisiana politics.
As governor, Long signed various bills that centralized power within the governorship, and he pressured the legislature to give him control of various state agencies. These moves caused many to accuse Long of trying to become a dictator.
These accusations only became louder when the governor signed a bill that allowed police to make arrests without a warrant, along with other bills that centralized investigative power to the governor. However, Long became popular among the people as he increased spending on education, infrastructure, and energy. He became a very divisive figure in the Louisiana political scene, and was threatened with impeachment by his political enemies, which he narrowly escaped. Death threats followed the impeachment attempt, forcing Long to hire bodyguards to keep himself and his family safe.
In spite of Long’s reputation as a reformer, his effort to reform did not extend to the black community. He signed a bill that train segregation to buses and he gave speeches warning of “Negro domination.” Long often attacked his political opponents by claiming they were of black descent.
Senator Huey Long and Share Our Wealth
Long ran for and won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1930. However, his seat in the U.S. Capitol remained vacant as Long stayed in Louisiana to consolidate his power. He put his cronies in state agencies and the governor’s office and passed 44 bills that further consolidated power for the governorship. Long left for Washington D.C. with even more power in Louisiana then he had as governor.
When the Great Depression hit the U.S. in the 1930’s, Long proposed his “Share the Wealth” program. This program promoted an income cap of $50 million and would also re-distribute wealth from the rich to the middle and lower classes. Long was labelled as a Socialist by both the Democrats and the Republicans and was attacked on both sides. He began his own newspaper, called American Progress, which was intended to spread his ideas.
Share Our Wealth political clubs sprang up all over the United States, with an estimated membership of 7 million people in 27,000 clubs. Long allowed blacks to participate in Share Our Wealth, but only in segregated clubs.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt incorporated some of Long’s Share Our Wealth initiatives in his New Deal, but mainly as a way to undermine Senator Long, who was becoming a powerful political enemy.
Long was becoming so powerful in fact, that he wrote a work of fiction entitled My First Days in the White House, which was an account of Long’s first 100 days as president of the United States. Long was clearly hoping to make this work of fiction a reality.
The Square Deal Association
Meanwhile, back in Long’s home state of Louisiana, a group of the Senator’s was forming in order to stop Long’s rise to power. This group called itself The Square Deal Association and it took to armed violence in an effort to oppose Long’s cronies.
In January 1935, a group of 300 armed men from the Square Deal Association raided the East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse where they fought with police. Governor Oscar K. Allen called the militia (similar to the National Guard on a state level) and the fighting moved to the Baton Rouge Airport where there was a brief armed altercation.
On September 8, 1935, Long arrived in Baton Rouge to participate in a special legislative session. He was approached by Dr. Carl Weiss, who was the son-in-law of Judge Benjamin Pavy. Pavy was an enemy of Long’s and Long had tried to discredit Weiss professionally by starting a rumor that there were black children in the Pavy family.
Weiss shot long at close range while Long’s bodyguards shot back at Weiss, killing him on the spot. Long was rushed to the hospital, where he died two days later at the age of 44.
Huey Long’s Legacy
While Long was admired by some as a reformer who helped break the traditional corruption of state and local politics, he was also seen by many others as a demagogue who was corrupt in his own way and who circumvented traditional political processes in order to gain control.
Huey Long Fun Facts
- Long wasn’t afraid to fight. He was known for getting into more than a few physical confrontations
- FDR was once said to have called Long “the most dangerous man in the country”
- Long’s relatives continued to win seats in Louisiana politics even after Long was assassinated. His brother Earl Kemp Long served as governor for three terms