Huey Pierce Long, Jr. (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935), nicknamed The Kingfish, served as the 40th Governor of Louisiana from 1928–1932 and as a U.S. Senator from 1932 to 1935. A Democrat, he was noted for his radical populist policies. Though a backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, Long split with Roosevelt in June 1933 and planned to mount his own presidential bid for 1936.
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 homelessness endemic nationwide during the Great Depression. To stimulate the economy , Long advocated federal spending on public works, schools and colleges, and old age pensions. He was an ardent critic of the Federal Reserve System's policies. Charismatic and immensely popular for his 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.
A leftist populist who fought the rich, he was preparing to challenge FDR's reelection in 1936 in alliance with radio's influential Catholic priest Charles Coughlin, or run for president in 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt was expected to retire. However, Long was assassinated in 1935; his national movement faded, while his state organization continued in Louisiana.
Long expanded state highways, hospitals and educational institutions. His governance has had critics and supporters, debating whether he was a dictator, demagogue or populist.
Early life and legal career
Long was born on August 30, 1893, in Winnfield, the seat of Winn Parish, a small town 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). Long was a descendant of William Tison and Sarah Vince Tison, daughter of American Revolutionary War soldier Richard Vince. He was the seventh of nine surviving children in a farm-owning middle-class family. He was home-schooled as a young child and later attended local schools, where he was an excellent student and was said to have a photographic memory. In 1908, upon completing the eleventh grade, Long circulated a petition protesting the addition of a 12th-grade graduation requirement, which resulted in his expulsion.
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, 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 (1918–2003) (later a seven-term U.S. Senator) and Palmer (1921–2010) (a Shreveport oilman).
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 Schoolin New Orleans. In 1915 after only a year at Tulane, he convinced a board to let him take the state bar exam. He passed and began private practice in Winnfield. Later, in Shreveport, he spent ten 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 25 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 powerful 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 among his base 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 Democraticpresidential 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" or "the Ring." They controlled the state through alliances with sheriffs and other local officials. At the time, the rural poor comprised 60 percent of the state's population. The entire state had roughly 300 miles of paved roads and only three major bridges. The literacy rate was the lowest in the nation (75 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. (Of the 2 million residents, only 300,000 could afford to register to vote.) 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 the Democratic Primary election on January 17, 1928, with less than a majority of the vote, 43.9 percent (126,842 votes), as his opponents split the anti-Long vote with Riley J. Wilson earning 28.3 percent (81,747) and Oramel H. Simpson garnering 27.8 percent (80,326). At the time, Long's margin was the largest in state history, and neither opponent chose to face him in a run-off election. He won the General Election on April 17, 1928, with 96.1 percent (92,941) of the vote.
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 won the hearts and votes of the farmers and other 'small people' and created a countervailing power combination."
At least one statewide official bucked the Long trend. Percy Saint of St. Mary Parish was reelected to a second term as attorney general independent of Long and several times ruled against Long during the gubernatorial term.
Long as Governor, 1928–1932
Once in office as governor on May 21, 1928, 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 at election time directly into Long's political war-chest, which raised $50,000 to $75,000 each election cycle. 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 (which taught 100,000 adults to read by the end of his term), 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, wealthy citizens, and the corporate-controlled 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 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 it 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 from providing roads, books and other programs to develop the state and help the poor. TheHouse referred many charges to the Senate. Impeachment required a two-thirds majority, but Long produced a "Round Robin" statement signed by 15 senators pledging to vote "not guilty" no matter what the evidence. They said the trial was illegal, and even if proved, the charges did not warrant impeachment. The impeachment 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.
1930: Defeat in the Legislature, campaign for U.S. Senate
In the 1930 legislative session, Long proposed another major road-building initiative as well as construction of a new capitol building in Baton Rouge. The State Legislaturedefeated the bond issue necessary to build the roads, and his other initiatives failed as well.
Long responded by suddenly announcing his intention to run for the U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary of September 9, 1930. He portrayed his campaign as a referendum on his programs: if he won he would take it as a sign that the public supported his programs over the opposition of the legislature, and if he lost he promised to resign. Long defeated incumbent Senator Joseph E. Ransdell, an Alexandria native from Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish, by 149,640 (57.3 percent) to 111,451 (42.7 percent).
Although his Senate term began on March 4, 1931, Long completed the remainder of his four-year term as governor. Leaving the seat vacant for so long, he said, would not hurt Louisiana; "with Ransdell as Senator, the seat was vacant anyway." By not leaving the governor's mansion until January 25, 1932, Long prevented Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr, a former ally, from succeeding to the office. A dentist from Jeanerette in Iberia Parish, Cyr had subsequently broken with Long and been threatening to roll back his reforms if he succeeded to the governorship.
1930–1932: Renewed strength
Having won the overwhelming support of the Louisiana electorate, Long returned to pushing his legislative program with renewed strength. Bargaining from an advantageous position, Long entered an agreement with his longtime New Orleans rivals, the Regular Democratic Organization and their leader, New Orleans mayor T. Semmes Walmsley. They would support his legislation and candidates in future elections in return for his support of the building of a bridge over the Mississippi River, an airport for New Orleans, and infrastructure improvements in the city. Support from the Old Regulars enabled Long to pass an increase in the gasoline tax to finance road construction projects, new school spending, a construction of a new Louisiana State Capitol, and a $75 million bond for road construction. Including the Airline Highway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Long's road network gave Louisiana some of the most modern roads in the country and formed the state's highway system. Long's opponents charged that he had become virtual dictator of the state.
Long retained New Orleans architect Leon C. Weiss to design the state capitol, a new governor's mansion, the Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and many Louisiana State University and other college buildings throughout the state.
As governor, Long was not popular among the "old families" of Baton Rouge society. He instead held gatherings of his leaders and friends from across the state. At these gatherings, Long and his group liked to listen to the popular radio show "Amos 'n' Andy". One of Long's followers dubbed him "the Kingfish" after the master of the Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge to which the fictional Amos and Andy belonged. The nickname stuck—with Long's encouragement.
As governor, Long became an ardent supporter of the state's primary public university, Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. He greatly increased LSU's state funding and expanded its enrollment from study programs that enabled poor students to attend LSU and he established the LSU Medical School in New Orleans. He also intervened in the university's affairs, choosing its president. To generate excitement for the university, he quadrupled the size of the LSU band and co-wrote some of the music that is still played during football games, including "Touchdown for LSU". Once, he had the football team run a play he created. He also chartered trains to take LSU students to out-of-state football games.
In October 1931, Lieutenant Governor Cyr, by then Long's avowed enemy, argued that the Senator-elect could no longer remain governor. Cyr declared himself the state's legitimate governor. In response, Long ordered state National Guard troops to surround the State Capitol and fended off Cyr's proposed "coup d'état".
Long then went to the Louisiana Supreme Court to have Cyr ousted as lieutenant governor. He argued that the office of lieutenant-governor was vacant because Cyr had resigned when he attempted to assume the governorship. His suit was successful. Under the state constitution, Senate president and Long ally Alvin Olin King became lieutenant-governor.
Long chose his childhood friend, Oscar Kelly Allen, to succeed him in the election of 1932 on a "Complete the Work" ticket. With the support of Long's voter base and the Old Regular machine, Allen won easily, permitting Long to resign as governor and take his seat in the U.S. Senate in January 1932 with his chosen successor already ensconced in the state house.
Long in the Senate (1932–1935)
Long's three-year term in the Senate overlapped an important time in American history as Herbert Hoover and then FDRattempted to deal with the Great Depression. Long often attempted to upstage FDR and the congressional leadership by mounting populist appeals of his own, most notably his "Share Our Wealth" program.
Long arrived in Washington, D.C., to take his seat in the United States Senate in January 1932, although he was absent for more than half the days in the 1932 session. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, he made characteristically fiery speeches which denounced the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. He also criticized the leaders of both parties for failing to address the crisis adequately, most notably attacking conservative Senate Democratic Leader Joseph Robinson of Arkansas for his apparent closeness with President Herbert Hoover and ties to big business. Robinson had been the vice-presidential candidate in 1928 on the Democratic ticket opposite Hoover.
Long had now earned a reputation, as Williams reports, as "a leading member of the progressive bloc in the Senate." In thepresidential election of 1932, Long became a vocal supporter of the candidacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He believed Roosevelt to be the only candidate willing and able to carry out the drastic redistribution of wealth that Long believed was necessary to end the Great Depression. At the Democratic National Convention, Long was instrumental in keeping the delegations of several wavering states in the Roosevelt camp. Long expected to be featured prominently in Roosevelt's campaign, but he was disappointed with a speaking tour limited to four Midwestern states.
Long managed to find other venues for his populist message. He campaigned to elect Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, the underdog candidate in a crowded field, to her first full term in the Senate by conducting a whirlwind, seven-day tour of that state. (Caraway had been appointed to the seat after her husband's death.) He raised his national prominence and defeated by a landslide the candidate backed by Senator Robinson. With Long's help, Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Caraway told Long, however, that she would continue to use independent judgment and not allow him to dictate how she would vote on Senate bills. She also insisted that he stop attacking Robinson while he was in Arkansas.
In the critical 100 days in spring 1933 Long was generally a strong supporter of the New Deal, but differed with the president on patronage. Roosevelt wanted control of the patronage and the two men broke in late 1933. Aware that Roosevelt had no intention to radically redistribute the country's wealth, Long became one of the few national politicians to oppose Roosevelt's New Deal policies from the left. He considered them inadequate in the face of the escalating economic crisis. Long sometimes supported Roosevelt's programs in the Senate, saying that "[W]henever this administration has gone to the left I have voted with it, and whenever it has gone to the right I have voted against it." He opposed the National Recovery Act, calling it a sellout to big business. In 1933, he was a leader of a three-week Senate filibuster against the Glass banking bill for favoring the interests of national banks over state banks. He later supported the Glass–Steagall Act after provisions were made to extend government deposit insurance to state banks as well as national banks.
Roosevelt later compared Long's meteoric rise in popularity to that of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. In June 1933, in an effort to undermine Long's political dominance, Roosevelt cut Long out of consultation on the distribution of federal funds or patronage in Louisiana and placed Long's opponents in charge of federal programs in the state. Roosevelt also supported a Senate inquiry into the election of Long ally John H. Overton to the Senate in 1932. The Long machine was charged with election fraud and voter intimidation; however, the inquiry came up empty, and Overton was seated.
To discredit Long and damage his support base, in 1934 Roosevelt had Long's finances investigated by the Internal Revenue Service. Though they failed to link Long to any illegality, some of Long's lieutenants were charged with income tax evasion, but only one had been convicted by the time of Long's death.
Long's radical populist rhetoric and his aggressive tactics did little to endear him to his fellow senators. Not one of his proposed bills, resolutions or motions was passed during his three years in the Senate despite an overwhelming Democratic majority. During one debate, another senator told Long, "I do not believe you could get the Lord's Prayer endorsed in this body."
In terms of foreign policy, Long was a firm isolationist. He argued that America's involvement in the Spanish-American War and the First World War had been deadly mistakes conducted on behalf of Wall Street. He also opposed American entry into the World Court.
Share Our Wealth
Long was a staunch opponent of the Federal Reserve Bank. Together with a group of Congressmen and Senators, Long believed the Federal Reserve's policies to be the true cause of the Great Depression. Long made speeches denouncing the large banking houses of Morgan and Rockefeller centered in New York which owned stock in theFederal Reserve System. He believed that they manipulated the monetary system to their own benefit, instead of the general public's benefit.
As an alternative, Long proposed federal legislation capping personal fortunes, income and inheritances. He used radio broadcasts and founded a national newspaper, theAmerican Progress, to promote his ideas and accomplishments before a national audience. In 1934, he unveiled an economic plan he called Share Our Wealth. Long argued there was enough wealth in the country for every individual to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, but that it was unfairly concentrated in the hands of a few millionaire bankers, businessmen and industrialists.
In March 1933, Long offered a series of bills collectively known as "the Long plan" for the redistribution of wealth. The first bill proposed a new progressive tax code designed to cap personal fortunes at $100 million. Fortunes above $1 million would be taxed at 1 percent; fortunes above $2 million would be taxed at 2 percent, and so forth, up to a 100 percent tax on fortunes greater than $100 million. The second bill limited annual income to $1 million, and the third bill capped individual inheritances at $5 million.
In February 1934, Long introduced his Share Our Wealth plan over a nationwide radio broadcast. He proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million and repeated his call to limit annual income to $1 million and inheritances to $5 million. (He also suggested reducing the cap on personal fortunes to $10 million–$15 million per individual, if necessary, and later lowered the cap to $5 million–$8 million in printed materials.) The resulting funds would be used to guarantee every family a basic household grant of $5,000 and a minimum annual income of $2,000–3,000, or one-third of the average family homestead value and income. Long supplemented his plan with proposals for free college education and vocational training for all able students, old-age pensions, veterans' benefits, federal assistance to farmers, public works projects, greater federal regulation of economic activity, a month's vacation for every worker and limiting the work week to thirty hours to boost employment.
Denying that his program was socialist, Long stated that his ideological inspiration for the plan came not from Karl Marx but from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. "Communism? Hell no!" he said, "This plan is the only defense this country's got against communism." In 1934, Long held a public debate with Norman Thomas, the leader of the Socialist Party of America, on the merits of Share Our Wealth versus socialism.
Long believed that ending the Great Depression and staving off violent revolution required a radical restructuring of the national economy and elimination of disparities of wealth, retaining the essential features of the capitalist system. After the Senate rejected one of his wealth redistribution bills, Long told them, "[A] mob is coming to hang the other ninety-five of you damn scoundrels and I'm undecided whether to stick here with you or go out and lead them."
With the Senate unwilling to support his proposals, in February 1934 Long formed a national political organization, the Share Our Wealth Society. A network of local clubs led by national organizer Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, the Share Our Wealth Society was intended to operate outside of and in opposition to the Democratic Party and the Roosevelt administration. By 1935, the society had over 7.5 million members in 27,000 clubs across the country. Long's Senate office received an average of 60,000 letters a week. Some historians believe that pressure from Long and his organization contributed to Roosevelt's "turn to the left" in 1935. He enacted the Second New Deal, including the Social Security Act, the Works Progress Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, Aid to Dependent Children, the National Youth Administration, and the Wealth Tax Act of 1935. In private, Roosevelt candidly admitted to trying to "steal Long's thunder."
Continued control over Louisiana (1932–1935)
Long continued to maintain effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator, blurring the boundary between federal and state politics. Though he had no constitutional authority to do so, Long continued to draft and press bills through the Louisiana State Legislature, which remained in the hands of his allies. He made frequent trips toBaton Rouge to pressure the Legislature into enacting his legislation. The program included new consumer taxes, elimination of the poll tax, a homestead tax exemption, and increases in the number of state employees. While physically in Louisiana, Long customarily stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, where he was fond of the Sazerac Bar (see Peychaud's Bitters). According to Thomas M. Mahne in the Times-Picayune, Long had a personal interest in seeing to the quick construction of Airline Highway (US 61) between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as the new road cut 40 miles from the trip.
Long's loyal lieutenant, Governor Oscar K. Allen, dutifully enacted Long's policies. Long berated the governor in public and took over the governor's office in the State Capitol when visiting Baton Rouge. On occasion, he even entered the legislative chambers, going so far as to sit on representatives' and senators' desks and sternly lecture them on his positions. He also retaliated against those who voted against him and used patronage and state funding (especially highways) to maneuver Louisiana toward what opponents called a Long "dictatorship". Having broken with the Old Regulars and T. Semmes Walmsley in the fall of 1933, Long inserted himself into the New Orleans mayoral election of 1934 and began a dramatic public feud with the city's government that lasted for two years.
In 1934, Long and James A. Noe, an independent oilman and member of the Louisiana Senate, formed the controversial Win or Lose Oil Company. The firm was established to obtain leases on state-owned lands so that its directors might collect bonuses and sublease the mineral rights to the major oil companies. Although ruled legal, these activities were done in secret and the stockholders were unknown to the public. Long made a profit on the bonuses and the resale of those state leases, using the funds primarily for political purposes.
By 1934, Long began a reorganization of the state government that reduced the authority of local governments in anti-Long strongholds New Orleans, Baton Rouge, andAlexandria. It further gave the governor the power to appoint all state employees. Long passed what he called "a tax on lying" and a 2 percent tax on newspaper advertising revenue. He created the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a special force of plainclothes police answerable only to the governor. He also had the legislature enact the same tax on refined oil that in 1929 had nearly led to his impeachment, which he used as a bargaining chip to promote oil drilling in Louisiana. After Standard Oil agreed that 80 percent of the oil sent to its refineries would be drilled in Louisiana, Long's government refunded most of these tax revenues.
1935: Long's final year
In his final year, Long was preoccupied with his presidential ambitions and attempted to limit the influence of his Louisiana opponents. After his assassination, his political machine broke up into factions, although it has remained a strong force in the state's politics into the 21st century.
Even during his days as a traveling salesman, Long had confided to his wife that his planned career trajectory would begin with election to a minor state office, then governor, then senator, and ultimately election as President of the United States. In his final months, Long followed up his earlier autobiography, "Every Man a King", with a second book entitled My First Days in the White House, laying out his plans for the presidency after the election of 1936. The book was published posthumously.
Long biographers T. Harry Williams and William Ivy Hair speculated that the senator never intended to run for the presidency in 1936. Long instead planned to challenge Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination in 1936, knowing he would lose the nomination but gain valuable publicity in the process. Then he would break from the Democrats and form a third party using the Share Our Wealth plan as its basis. He also hoped to have the public support of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest and populist talk radio personality from Royal Oak, Michigan; Iowa agrarian radical Milo Reno; and other dissidents. The new party would run someone else as its 1936 candidate, but Long would be the primary campaigner. This candidate would split the progressive vote with Roosevelt, causing the election of a Republican but proving the electoral appeal of Share Our Wealth. Long would then run for president as a Democrat in 1940. In the spring of 1935, Long undertook a national speaking tour and regular radio appearances, attracting large crowds and increasing his stature.
Increased tensions in Louisiana
By 1935, Long's most recent consolidation of personal power led to talk of armed opposition from his enemies. Opponents increasingly invoked the memory of the Battle of Liberty Place of 1874, in which the white supremacist White League staged an uprising against Louisiana's Reconstruction-era government. In January 1935, an anti-Long paramilitary organization called the Square Deal Association was formed. Its members included former governors John M. Parker and Ruffin G. Pleasant and New Orleans Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley. On January 25, 200 armed Square Dealers took over the courthouse of East Baton Rouge Parish. Long had Governor Allen call out theNational Guard, declare martial law, ban public gatherings of two or more persons, and forbid the publication of criticism of state officials. The Square Dealers left the courthouse, but there was a brief armed skirmish at the Baton Rouge Airport. Tear gas and live ammunition were fired; one person was wounded but there were no fatalities.
In the summer of 1935, Long called for two more special sessions of the legislature; bills were passed in rapid-fire succession without being read or discussed. The new laws further centralized Long's control over the state by creating several new Long-appointed state agencies: a state bond and tax board holding sole authority to approve all loans to parish and municipal governments, a new state printing board which could withhold "official printer" status from uncooperative newspapers, a new board of election supervisors which would appoint all poll watchers, and a State Board of Censors. They also stripped away the remaining lucrative powers of the mayor of New Orleans to cripple the entrenched opposition. Long boasted that he had "taken over every board and commission in New Orleans except the Community Chest and the Red Cross."
Long quarreled with former State Senator Henry E. Hardtner of La Salle Parish. While proceeding to Baton Rouge in August 1935 to confront the state government over a tax matter relating to his Urania Lumber Company, based in Urania, Hardtner, known as "the father of forestry in the South," was killed in a car-train accident.
On the day of his assassination, September 8, 1935, Long was at the State Capitol attempting to oust a long-time opponent, Judge Henry Pavey. "House Bill Number One", a re-districting plan, was Long's top priority. If it passed, Judge Pavey would be removed from the bench. At 9 p.m., the session was still going strong. Judge Pavey's son-in-law, Dr. Carl Weiss, had been at the State Capitol waiting to speak to Long. He tried to see him three times to talk to him but was brushed off each time in the hallway by Long and his bodyguards. At 9:20 p.m., Dr. Weiss approached Long for the third time and, according to the generally accepted version of events, fired a handgun at Long from four feet away, striking him in the abdomen. Long's bodyguards returned fire, hitting Weiss 62 times and killing him. Long was rushed to the hospital but died two days later.
Edgar Hull, a founding faculty member of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, was among those called upon to treat Long for his wounds. In 1983, after nearly a half-century, Hull published his memoirs, This I Remember: An Informal History of the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans. Unlike LSU historian T. Harry Williams, who claimed Long's death was preventable, Hull said that Long could not have survived the shooting. He denied that Long had died from medical or surgical incompetence. Hull also criticized his own conduct; though he had called for an autopsy, Hull had not been persistent enough and allowed himself to be overruled in the swarm of events.
Long's body was dressed in a tuxedo and his open copper-lined casket was placed in the State Capitol rotunda. An estimated 200,000 people flooded Baton Rouge to witness the event. Tens of thousands of Louisianans crowded in front of the Capitol on September 10, 1935, for the 4 p.m. funeral handled by Merle Welsh of Rabenhorst Funeral Home. Welsh was later a member of the Louisiana State Board of Education. Welsh remembered that flowers came from all over the world and extended from the House of Representatives to the Senate chamber. Airline Highway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was jammed bumper-to-bumper. The minister at the funeral service was Gerald L. K. Smith, co-founder of Share Our Wealth and subsequently of the America First Party, and the founder of the "Christ of the Ozarks" passion play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Newsreel cameras clicked while airplanes circled overhead to record the service for posterity. Long was buried on the grounds of the new State Capitol, which he championed as governor, where a statue at his gravesite now depicts his achievements. Within the Capitol, a plaque still marks the site of the assassination in the hallway near what is now the Speaker's office and what was then the Governor's office. Also, a bronze statue of Long is located inStatuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.