Huey Long: The Kingfish Huey Long, a man who had a vision for America? Or a self-serving gangster and political thug? A man of the people? Or a ruthless egomaniac of unlimited ambition. Opinion remains divided to this day. Huey Pierce Long, was born in Winnfield, Louisiana, on 30 August, 1893, one of nine children. His family were poor but Huey certainly did not consider this a handicap and was determined to secure a future for himself. Still a child he told his sister of his ambition to rise to the top in politics, first locally and then nationally. He certainly worked hard, first at school, and then when leaving home at 16 to become a travelling salesman. In 1913, he enrolled at University in New Orleans where he completed a three year course to become a lawyer, in just 8 months. From the start he prided himself on being a champion of the people interested only in defending those who were unable to defend themselves. He also became heavily involved in local politics early establishing himself in the State's Democratic Party machine. In 1918, he was elected as a State Railroad Commissioner, and his star continued to rise. By 1921, he was Chairman of the Public Services Commission where he continued to champion the cause of the common man by lowering telephone, gas and electricity rates and reducing streetcar and railway fares. His popularity amongst the common folk of Louisiana was immense and growing. In 1928, he ran for the office of Governor of the State of Louisiana. A natural orator (an art possibly learned during his time as a salesman) and highly charismatic figure, he never blanched at taking his arguments directly to the people. Campaigning on the issue of education (Louisiana's illiteracy rate at the time stood at 22% the highest in the United States) and against the rich parasites who marginalised the poor, he won the greatest landslide victory in the States history, polling 92,941 votes more than his nearest rival. His campaign slogan "Every man a King but no one wears a crown", would soon become famous throughout the nation. From the moment of his victory, Long showed that having achieved power he was determined to hold onto it. Firing hundreds of civil servants he filled the various State Municipal Boards and political hierarchy with his own supporters. These placemen he expected to contribute to his personal political war chest. He also ensured that his own newspaper, the Louisiana Progress was available for purchase from all Civic Offices. He also began a long struggle to wrest control of the State Democratic Party machine. Despite the overweening interest in cementing his own power he continued to reform Louisiana embarking upon a series of massive capital projects; he effectively created the State's infrastructure, building bridges, roads, aqueducts, and employing thousands of workers in the process. He also increased the number of schools (it should be noted, for white children) and introduced free reading classes for illiterates. To pay for these reforms he taxed local corporations. When he tried to tax the oil industry his opponents in the State Legislator fought back. In 1929, they impeached him for misappropriation of State funds. Long managed to derail the impeachment proceedings but only by 2 votes. It was said that he had threatened and bribed a number of his opponents into supporting him. In 1930, Long ran for and won a seat in the US Senate. He was now a politician on the national stage. Even so, he was determined to remain in control of Louisiana. In October, 1931, the Lieutenant Governor Paul Cyr, a virulent opponent of Long's, announced that Long as Senator, had relinquished control of the State and that he was taking over. Long responded immediately by calling out the National Guard and surrounding the Capitol Building. Cyr was forced to resign. Long then appointed Alvin King, an old political ally and acolyte as interim Governor. Long plunged into national politics with gusto. A severe critic of the hapless President Hoover he campaigned on behalf of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Presidential election of 1932. He soon became disenchanted with Roosevelt however, believing his New Deal did not go far enough. He famously told the Senate that "It had every fault of socialism with none of its virtues". Critical of Roosevelt's failure to redistribute wealth he devised his own "Share Our Wealth Society".
Share Our Wealth He launched his campaign in February, 1934, with a speech in which he stated "Unless we provide for redistribution of wealth in this country the country is doomed". In a radio address he pronounced to the American people - come to my feast! Long planned to levy a tax on all incomes over $1 million. The tax would increase incrementally. On all incomes over $8 million the tax would be 100%. All inheritances over $1 million would be confiscated by the State. This money would be used to provide a subsistence income for every family in America. It would also be used to provide old age pensions, free education for the poorest, and a public works programme that would provide employment for the jobless. Long took his campaign on the road establishing Share Our Wealth Clubs throughout the country. By 1935, there were 27,000 clubs with 4,684,000 members. But despite his popularity with the people, or maybe because of it, he was attacked from across the political divide; accused of being a communist, he was criticised by the far left; accused of being a fascist, he was criticised by the far right. Yet he also had many prominent supporters who believed that his plan would end the Great Depression. He was encouraged to use his campaign as a platform for a run at the Presidency in 1936. Long, may not have been the most loved politician in America but he was by now the most feared. His opponents now launched a campaign of their own - to smear Long in the eye's of the public. He was accused of being a drunk and a philanderer. His sexuality was questioned. He was unpatriotic. Roosevelt considered him a demagogue and one of the two most dangerous men in America, the other was General Douglas MacArthur. He had the Internal Revenue Service investigate Long's personal finances. Louisiana's State finances were also investigated for fraud and corruption. Even though some of his political associates were arrested and charged no wrong-doing could be found on the part of Long himself. In the summer of 1935, the FBI uncovered a plot to assassinate Long. Fearing for his own safety he now began to surround himself with bodyguards. In August, 1935, he announced his candidacy for the Presidency. In the meantime he continued to secure his hold on Louisiana; he outlawed interference in State politics by the Courts, created his own private police force, and took control of the State Militia. Throughout his career, Louisiana Judge, Benjamin Pavy, had been a thorn in Huey Long's side. Frustrated at being unable to remove Pavy from office, Long, instead had his two daughters fired from their teaching posts. He then cautioned Pavy that if he did not desist with his criticisms he would let it be known that his family had coffee-blood, or were effectively half-caste. This was no small thing in the rigidly segregated, highly racist, deep south of the 1930's. When Pavy refused to remain silent the rumour was spread that Pavy's father-in-law had fathered children by a black mistress. Enraged by the accusation that his wife was the daughter of a black man, Judge Pavy's son-in-law Carl Weiss, decided to confront Long. Waiting outside in the corridor of the Capitol Building in Baton Rouge for Long to emerge from the Governor's office, Weiss appeared nervous and agitated. As Long was leaving the office surrounded by six bodyguards, Weiss rushed forward, pulled out a .32 automatic and shot Long in the abdomen. In the shootout that followed Weiss was killed but a bullet fired by one of the bodyguards ricocheted and hit Long in the spine. Even so Long's injuries were not believed to be life threatening. Unfortunately, the surgeons who operated on him failed to spot that a bullet had punctured his kidneys until it was too late. Huey Long died on 10 September, 1935. His last words were, " Please God, don't let me die. I have so much to do". Not surprisingly, given the circumstances and the convenient time at which it occurred, conspiracy theories abound surrounding his death.