“Limit fortunes and spread the wealth.” Extracts from the 1933 autobiography of populist Louisiana maverick politician Huey P. Long
Unlike some of the more obscure figures covered on this blog, Huey Long does not require much of an introduction. Despite his short career in the US Senate, Long is one of the few congressional politicians from his era who still has a level of international name recognition, even if his modern reputation is not always universally positive. Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, then Senator for the state from 1932 until his assassination in 1935, Long in his day was hailed by some as a progressive hero and reviled by others as a demagogic, incipient fascist. The occasional comparisons one sees made today between Long and Donald Trump are accurate enough on one level, in that both have been widely and fervently compared to Mussolini and Hitler, while at the same time being praised (not always by different people) for their populist stances and for their alleged understanding for the needs of the ‘little man’. There are also significant differences between the two, of course. Unlike Trump, Long was a career politician without much direct experience in private enterprise. His style and his outlook were also far removed from New York, being heavily shaped by Louisiana’s faction-driven political culture, which was tangled up in a complex web of class enmities, nepotism, machine politics, and regional hostilities. Long furthermore was a self-identified man of the Left, something which Trump has never been, even during the latter’s brief, now long-past flirtations with the Democratic Party. All of these various factors help provide some context for Long’s political worldview, which was heavily centered around the interventionist power of the state – Long was one of the few mainstream (i.e. non-Communist) figures in US politics to publicly criticize President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation for not going far enough, and his 1934 Share Our Wealth program was notorious for its stated ambition of using legislative authority to radically redistribute the wealth of American society. The text below, an excerpt of three chapters from Long’s 1933 autobiography Every Man a King, provides an overview of Long’s political outlook and of some of the practical proposals which he made to alleviate the suffering caused by the Great Depression. These chapters constitute an effective summation of the aims of the ‘Long Plan’, the series of bills introduced in 1932-33 (all rejected) which would later serve as the ideological springboard for Long’s famous Share Our Wealth movement.
The Effort to Spread the Wealth Among the Masses
I had come to the United States Senate with only one project in mind, which was that by every means of action and persuasion I might do something to spread the wealth of the land among all of the people.1
I foresaw the depression in 1929. In letters reproduced in this volume, I had predicted all of the consequences many years before they occurred.
The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men. The people were not buying because they had nothing with which to buy. The big business interests were not selling, because there was nobody they could sell to.
One per cent of the people could not eat any more than any other one per cent; they could not live in any more houses than any other one per cent. So, in 1929, when the fortune-holders of America grew powerful enough that one per cent of the people owned nearly everything, ninety-nine per cent of the people owned practically nothing, not even enough to pay their debts, a collapse was at hand.
God Almighty had warned against this condition. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and every religious teacher known to this earth had declaimed against it. So it was no new matter, as it was termed, when I propounded the line of thought with the first crash of 1929, that the eventful day had arrived when accumulation at the top by the few had produced a stagnation by which the vast multitude of the people were impoverished at the bottom. Continue reading