Huey Long
Timeline: Two Americas

Huey Long
Portrait of Huey Long

13th President of the Confederate States
March 4, 1933 - September 9, 1935

Predecessor Hugo Black
Successor John N. Garner
Vice President John N. Garner
Born August 30, 1893
Winnfield, Louisiana
Died September 10, 1935
Baton Rouge, Louisana
Political Party Democrat
Profession Lawyer

Huey Pierce Long, Jr. (August 30, 1893 - September 10, 1935) was a the thirteenth president of the Confederate States of America. From one of the largest political families to ever be seen in either of the Americas, he rose to prominence as a lawyer defending the "little man" from the abuses of corporate monopolies in Texas and Louisiana, the chief of which was Standard Oil Company.

A Democrat, he was noted for his radical populist policies. As president Long created the Share Our Wealth program in 1932 with the motto "Every Man a King," proposing new wealth redistribution measures in the form of a net asset tax on corporations and individuals to curb the poverty and crime resulting from the Great Depression. To stimulate the economy, Long advocated federal spending on public works, public education, old age pensions and other social programs. He was an ardent critic of the Federal Reserve System's policies to reduce lending. Charismatic and immensely popular for his social reform programs and willingness to take forceful action, Long was accused by his opponents of dictatorial tendencies in his hands-on control of the federal government.

At the height of his popularity, Long was shot on September 8, 1935 at the Louisiana State Capital in Baton Rouge. He died two days later at the age of 42. It is unclear whether he was assassinated or accidentally killed by bodyguards who believed an assassination attempt was in progress. His last words were reportedly, "God, don't let me die, I have so much left to do."[1]

Early life and legal career

Long was born on August 30, 1893, Winnfield, Louisiana, the seat of Winn Parish, a rural community in the north-central part of the state. He was born in Grant Parish, the son of Huey Pierce Long, Sr. (1852-1937) and the former Caledonia Palestine Tison (1860-1913). Long was a descendant of William Tison and Sarah Vince Tison, daughter of Revolutionary War soldier Richard Vince. He was the seventh of nine children in a farm-owning middle-class family. His oldest brother was U.S. Representative George Shannon "Doc" Long and his younger brother, Earl K. Long, was the three-term governor of Louisiana. He attended local schools, where he was an excellent student and was said to have a photographic memory. In 1908, Long circulated a petition asking that the principal of Winn Parish be fired, which resulted in his expulsion. After Long's mother died, his father remarried.

Long won a debating scholarship to Louisiana State University, but he was unable to afford the textbooks required for attendance. Instead, he spent the next four years as a traveling salesman, selling books, canned goods and patent medicines, as well as working as an auctioneer.

In 1913, Huey Long married Rose McConnell. She was a stenographer who had won a baking contest which he promoted to sell "Cottolene," one of the most popular of the early vegetable shortenings to come on the market. The Longs had a daughter, also named Rose, and two sons, Russell and Palmer.

When sales jobs grew scarce during World War I, Long attended seminary classes at Oklahoma Baptist University at the urging of his mother, a devout Baptist. However, he concluded he was not suited to preaching.

Long briefly attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law in Norman, Oklahoma, and later Tulane University Law School in New Orleans. In 1915, he convinced a board to let him take the bar exam after only a year at Tulane. He passed and began private practice in Winnfield. Later in Shreveport he spent 10 years representing small plaintiffs against large businesses, including workers' compensation cases. He often said proudly that he never took a case against a poor man.

Long won fame by taking on the powerful Standard Oil Company, which he sued for unfair business practices. Over the course of his career, Long continued to challenge Standard Oil's influence in state politics and charged the company with exploiting the state's vast oil and gas resources.

Political career and rise to power

In 1918 Long was elected to the Louisiana Railroad Commission at the age of twenty-five on an anti-Standard Oil platform. (The commission was renamed the Louisiana Public Service Commission in 1921.) His campaign for the Railroad Commission used techniques he would perfect later in his political career: heavy use of printed circulars and posters, an exhausting schedule of personal campaign stops throughout rural Louisiana, and vehement attacks on his opponents. He used his position on the commission to enhance his populist reputation as an opponent of large oil and utility companies, fighting against rate increases and pipeline monopolies. In the gubernatorial election of 1920, he campaigned prominently for John M. Parker, but later became his vocal opponent after the new governor proved to be insufficiently committed to reform; Long called Parker the "chattel" of the corporations.

As chairman of the Public Service Commission in 1922, Long won a lawsuit against the Cumberland Telephone & Telegraph Company for unfair rate increases, resulting in cash refunds of $440,000 to 80,000 overcharged customers. Long successfully argued the case on appeal before the C.S. Supreme Court, prompting the Chief Justice to describe Long as one of the best legal minds he had ever encountered.

Election of 1924

Long ran for governor of Louisiana in the election of 1924, attacking Parker, Standard Oil and the established political hierarchy both local and state-wide. In that campaign, he became one of the first Southern politicians to use radio addresses and sound trucks. Long also began wearing a distinctive white linen suit. He came in third, due perhaps in part to his unwillingness to take a stand either for or against the Ku Klux Klan, whose prominence in Louisiana had become the primary issue of the campaign. Long cited rain on election day as suppressing voter turnout in rural north Louisiana, where voters were unable to reach the polls on dirt roads that had turned to mud. Instead, he was reelected to the Public Service Commission.

Election of 1928

Long spent the intervening four years building his reputation and his political organization, including supporting Catholic candidates to build support in south Louisiana, which was heavily Catholic due to its French and Spanish heritage. In 1928 he again ran for governor, campaigning with the slogan, "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown." Long's attacks on the utilities industry and corporate privileges were enormously popular, as was his depiction of the wealthy as "parasites" who grabbed more than their fair share of the public wealth while marginalizing the poor.

Long crisscrossed the state, campaigning in rural areas disenfranchised by the New Orleans-based political establishment, known as the "Old Regulars" or "the Ring." They controlled the state through alliances with sheriffs and other local officials. At the time, the entire state had roughly 300 miles of paved roads and only three major bridges. The literacy rate was the lowest in the nation (25 percent), as most families could not afford to purchase the textbooks required for their children to attend school. A poll tax kept many poor whites from voting. Together with selective application of literacy and understanding tests, however, blacks had been effectively completely disenfranchised since soon after the state legislature passed the new constitution in 1898.

Long won in 1928 by tapping into the class resentment of rural Louisianans. He proposed government services far more expansive than anything in Louisiana history. Long won with less than a majority of the vote, 43.9% (126,842 votes), as his opponents split the anti-Long vote with Riley J. Wilson earning 28.3% (81,747) and Oramel H. Simpson garnering 27.8% (80,326).

Three LSU scholars contend that until Long, "political power in Louisiana had been nearly a monopoly of the coalition of businessmen and planters, reinforced by the oil and other industrial interests. This situation was changed when Huey P. Long activated the farmers and other 'small people' and created a countervailing power combination."

Long as Governor, 1928-1932

Once in office as governor Long moved quickly to consolidate his power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy, at all ranks from cabinet-level heads of departments and board members to rank-and-file civil servants and state road workers. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters. Every state employee who depended on Long for a job was expected to pay a portion of his or her salary directly into Long’s political war-chest. These funds were kept in a famous locked “deduct box” to be used at Long's discretion for political purposes.

Once his control over the state’s political apparatus was strengthened, Long pushed a number of bills through the 1929 session of the Louisiana State Legislature to fulfill campaign promises. These included a free textbook program for schoolchildren, an idea advanced by John Sparks Patton, the Claiborne Parish school superintendent. Long also supported night courses for adult literacy, and a supply of cheap natural gas for the city of New Orleans.

Long began an unprecedented public works program, building roads, bridges, hospitals, and educational institutions. His bills met opposition from many legislators, citizens, and the media, but Long used aggressive tactics to ensure passage of the legislation he favored. He would show up unannounced on the floor of both the House and Senate or in House committees, corralling reluctant representatives and state senators and bullying opponents. These tactics were unprecedented, but they resulted in the passage of most of Long's legislative agenda. By delivering on his campaign promises, Long achieved hero status among some of the state's rural poor population.

When Long secured passage of his free textbook program, the school board of Caddo Parish (home of conservative Shreveport), sued to prevent the books from being distributed, saying they would not accept "charity" from the state. Long responded by withholding authorization for locating an Army Air Corps base nearby until the parish accepted the books.

Presidency and death - 1933 to 1935

In 1932, Long parlayed his popularity in Louisiana into a national campaign for president of the CS. The 1929 crash of the New York Stock Market had caused the US to go into a deep recession, and the economies of Canada and the Confederacy followed suit. Long had begun pushing for policy of radical redistribution of the wealth of millionaires that made any income over a million dollars a year the property of the government. Since there were not many millionaires, and hardly anyone who had a personal income anywhere near that, his "Share the Wealth" campaign made him incredibly popular.

It was no surprise to the citizens of Louisiana when Long announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Confederacy. It was not to be easy, however, because the opponent in the Democratic primaries was John N. Garner, speaker of the House and thirty-year veteran politician. But using the national media proved as easy as using Louisiana media, and the Long political machine had its fingers in every level of state and federal government. In the end, Garner chose to accept the Vice Presidential nomination. Both men agreed that the economic policies of President Hugo Black were not getting the nation out of the deepening recession. As usual, a win in the primaries was as good as a win in November and the Long-Garner ticket won handily. On taking office, Long was only 39 years old. Garner, on the other hand, turned 66 two weeks after the election.

When he took office in 1933, though, Long found Congress to be resistant to his grand economic plan. Most who had been there for any time knew that the wealth of the richest ten percent of the country is what kept them in office. Economists argued that the wealthy were the ones who actually hired people, providing a built in "share the wealth" program. But he continued to push these policies, vetoing every bill that came to his desk that he felt was "friendly" to the wealthy. As a result, the recession in the Confederacy slipped into a depression.

In November of 1933, Long and some of his cabinet met for a retreat and conference on Jekyll Island, Georgia. A young German immigrant had won an audience with them with word as to the conditions in his homeland. That man was a physicist by the name of Albert Einstein, who had become famous with his theories on the nature of gravity and its relationship with light. Long went back to Richmond profoundly affected by the developing situation in Europe. Einstein sought the relative obscurity as a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The war would have to wait, but Long began an active campaign to build the standing army, and to an extent the navy, foreseeing the rise of hostilities.

While in Richmond, Long pushed federal controls on Standard Oil and other monopolies he had fought as a lawyer and a politician for over a decade. Such controls, though, cost jobs in not only the oil industry but also in many of the supporting industries as well. This began to make the very popular president enemies among the very rich and the unemployed. In his campaigning in the 1934 Congressional elections, he made more enemies among the established party leaders as he tried to get "new blood" into politics. Threats were made against his life, and even organizations arose to actively seek his impeachment on spurious charges.

In July of 1935, federal agents in Baton Rouge, where Long had served as governor, uncovered evidence that there was a conspiracy to assassinate him on his visit to the state later in the year. Immediately appointing a commission to investigate the alleged involvement of several Louisiana politicians, Long went ahead with his plans. As it turned out, though, he had made other enemies as well. On September 9, 1935, he was felled by two shots from a disgruntled politician in the state house in Baton Rouge. His Secret Service detail immediately opened fire on the assailant, Carl Weiss, in a barrage of gunfire not seen since the wild west gun battles. Weiss died on the spot, but Long lived until the next day, after an operation in a local hospital failed to save his life.

John N. Garner, upon being sworn in as president became the oldest man to hold that office in the Confederate states, beginning at the age of 68 years, ten months.