Huey Pierce Long, Jr. (August 30, 1893 - September 10, 1935), nicknamed The Kingfish, was an American politician from the U.S. state of Louisiana. A Democrat, he was noted for his radical populist policies. He served as the Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a U.S. senator from 1932 to 1935. Though a backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, Long split with Roosevelt in June 1933 and allegedly planned to mount his own presidential bid.Long created the Share Our Wealth program in 1934, 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 for his near-total control of the state government. At the height of his popularity, the colorful and flamboyant Long was shot on September 8, 1935, at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge; he died two days later at the age of 42. His last words were reportedly, "God, don't let me die. I have so much left to do."
Long was born on August 30, 1893, in Winnfield, Louisiana, the seat of Winn Parish, a rural community in the north-central part of the state. He was the son of Huey Pierce Long, Sr. (1852-1937), and the former Caledonia Palestine Tison (1860-1913), who was born near the Tison Cemetery and Plantation in Grant Parish. 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. He was then expelled from school. 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 School 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.
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 U.S. Supreme Court (Cumberland Tel & Tel Co. v. Louisiana Public Service Commission, 260 U.S. 212 (1922)), prompting Chief Justice William Howard Taft 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," a phrase adopted from Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. 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." They controlled the state through alliances with sheriffs and other local officials. At the time, the entire state had roughly 500 km (300 miles) of paved roads and only three major bridges. The illiteracy rate was the highest 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 hindered 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 spilt the anti-Long vote with Riley J. Wilson earning 28.3% (81,747) and Oramel H. Simpson garnering 27.8% (80,326).
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.
In 1929, Long called a special session of both houses of the legislature to enact a new five-cent per barrel "occupational license tax" on production of refined oil, to help fund his social programs. The bill met with fierce opposition from the state’s oil interests. Opponents in the legislature, led by freshman Cecil Morgan of Shreveport, moved to impeach Long on charges ranging from blasphemy to corruption, bribery, and misuse of state funds. Long tried to cut the session short, but after an infamous brawl that spilled across the State Legislature on what was known as "Bloody Monday", the Legislature voted to remain in session and proceed with the impeachment.
Long took his case to the people using his characteristic speaking tours. He inundated the state with his trademark circulars. He argued that Standard Oil, corporate interests and the conservative political opposition were conspiring to stop him providing roads, books and other programs to develop the state and help the poor. The House referred many charges to the Senate. Impeachment required a two-thirds majority, but Long produced the “Round Robin”. Fifteen senators had pledged to vote "not guilty" no matter what the evidence. They said the charges were unconstitutional, and even if proved, did not warrant impeachment. The process, now futile, was suspended. It has been alleged that both sides used bribes to buy votes, and that Long later rewarded the Round Robin signers with state jobs or other favors.Following the failed impeachment attempt in the Senate, Long became ruthless when dealing with his enemies. He fired their relatives from state jobs and supported candidates to defeat them in elections. "I used to try to get things done by saying 'please'," said Long. "Now...I dynamite 'em out of my path." Since the state’s newspapers were financed by the opposition, in March 1930 Long founded his own paper, the Louisiana Progress, which he used to broadcast achievements and denounce his enemies. To receive lucrative state contracts, companies were first expected to buy advertisements in Long's newspaper. Long attempted to pass laws placing a surtax on newspapers and forbidding the publishing of “slanderous material,” but these efforts were defeated. After the impeachment attempt, Long received death threats. Fearing for his personal safety, he surrounded himself with armed bodyguards at all times.
In July 1935, two months prior to his death, Long claimed that he had uncovered a plot to assassinate him, which had been discussed in a meeting at New Orleans’s DeSoto Hotel. According to Long, four U.S. representatives, Mayor Walmsley, and former governors Parker and Sanders had been present. Long read what he claimed was a transcript of a recording of this meeting on the floor of the Senate.
Long called for a special session of the Louisiana Legislature to begin in September 1935, and he traveled from Washington to Baton Rouge to oversee its progress. The accounts of the September 8, 1935 murder differ, with many believing that Long was shot once or twice by medical doctor Carl Austin Weiss in the Capitol building at Baton Rouge. Weiss was immediately shot sixty-one times by Long's bodyguards and police on the scene. The 28-year-old Dr. Weiss was the son-in-law of Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy. According to Mrs. Ida Catherine Pavy Boudreaux of Opelousas, Pavy's only surviving child, her father had been gerrymandered out of his Sixteenth Judicial District because of his opposition to Long.
Many believe that Weiss was unarmed and had punched Long in the mouth (he had a swollen lip at the hospital), not shot him. Instead, Senator Long was struck by a stray bullet from his bodyguards, who shot Weiss because they mistakenly believed that Weiss was going to shoot Long. .
An entourage arrived to wait out the last minutes of Long's life. Among those mourners was his staunch Caddo Parish ally Earl Williamson, who remained steadfast with the Longs through the turbulent era of his brother-successor, Earl Long. As times passed though, even allies like Earl Williamson began to exercise independent judgment.
In his four-year term and as governor, Long increased the mileage of paved highways in Louisiana from 331 to 2,301, plus an additional 2,816 miles (4,532 km) of gravel roads. By 1936, the infrastructure program begun by Long had completed some 9,000 miles (14,500 km) of new roads, doubling the size of the state's road system. He built 111 bridges, and started construction on the first bridge over the lower Mississippi, the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish, near New Orleans. He built the new Louisiana State Capitol, at the time the tallest building in the South. All of these public works projects provided thousands of much-needed jobs during the Great Depression. (Long, however, disapproved of welfare and unemployment payments. Such programs in Louisiana during his tenure were Federal in origin.)
Long's free textbooks, school-building program, and free busing improved and expanded the public education system. His night schools taught 100,000 adults to read. He greatly expanded funding for LSU, lowered tuition, established scholarships for low-income students, and founded the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also doubled funding for the public Charity Hospital System, built a new Charity Hospital building for New Orleans, and reformed and increased funding for the state's mental institutions. His administration funded the piping of natural gas to New Orleans and other cities. It built the 11-kilometer (seven-mile) Lake Pontchartrain seawall and New Orleans airport. Long slashed personal property taxes and reduced utility rates. His repeal of the poll tax in 1935 increased voter registration by 76 percent in one year.
After Long’s death, the political machine he had built up was weakened, but it remained a powerful force in state politics until the election of 1960. Pockets of it persisted into the 21st century. The Long platform of social programs and populist rhetoric created the state’s main political division; in every state election until 1960, the main factions were organized along pro-Long and anti-Long lines. Even today in Louisiana, opinions on Long are sharply divided. Some remember Long as a popular folk hero, while others revile him as an unscrupulous demagogue and dictator. For several decades after his death, Long’s personal political style inspired imitation among Louisiana politicians who borrowed his colorful speaking style, vicious verbal attacks on opponents, and promises of social programs. His brother Earl Kemp Long later inherited Long’s political machine. Using his platform and rhetorical style, Long was twice elected governor and served an unexpired term as well.
After Earl Long’s death, John McKeithen and Edwin Edwards appeared as heirs to the Long tradition. Most recently, Claude "Buddy" Leach ran a populist campaign in the Louisiana gubernatorial election of 2003 that some observers compared to Huey Long’s. Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell tried the same approach without success in the 2007 jungle primary.
Huey Long’s death did not end the political strength of the Long family. Huey Long's wife, Rose McConnell Long, was appointed to replace him in the Senate, and his son Russell B. Long was elected to the Senate in 1948, where he was re-elected to office until 1987. In addition to Huey's brother Earl Long's becoming governor, another brother, George S. Long, was elected to Congress in 1952. Long's younger sister, Lucille Long Hunt (1898-1985) of Ruston, was the mother of future Public Service Commissioner John S. Hunt, III (1928-2001), of Monroe.
Other more distant relatives, including Gillis William Long and Speedy O. Long (both now deceased) were elected to Congress. Jimmy D. Long of Natchitoches Parish served for years in the Legislature. As of 2009 Jimmy Long's younger brother Gerald Long holds the distinction of being the only current Long in public office and the first Republican among the Long Democratic dynasty. Floyd W. Smith, Jr., is a self-described "half Long" who is a former mayor of Pineville.
Two bridges crossing the Mississippi River have been named for Long: Huey P. Long Bridge (Baton Rouge) and Huey P. Long Bridge (Jefferson Parish). There is also a Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville across the Red River from Alexandria.