By Grant Lawrence
Huey Long (the Kingfish) was a populist and popular governor and then Senator from the state of Louisiana during the 1920s and 30s . He was a champion of the poor and a real life crime fighter against corporate evil. He was accused of corruption by the big corporations that he fought against. He was set to make a move for the Presidency but was conveniently shot by a supposed political enemy that was not armed. Political assassinations are evidently not something that arose with the Kennedys and Dr. King but have been around since the days of Caesar and likely many centuries before that.
But Long had a message that hasn't died and that is the idea that a person should not have hundreds of millions or even billions when there are those with little or nothing. This idea of treating others the way you would want to be treated used to be preached as part of Christian doctrine. But now that message is lost to fundamentalist and many traditionalist Christians that see their salvation not in Jesus or the message of Jesus but in Social Darwinism. That is the glories of unregulated and raw capitalism and the survival of the fittest as the rule of human interactions and behavior.
However Long, who was born on a farm in the poorest part of poor Louisiana, must have learned something from his Bible and the message of Jesus. He had a strong sense of compassion for the poor, abused, and neglected. That is why his message needs to be considered today and is likely a message that will need to be acted on at sometime in the future.
The people demand justice and they also appreciate a man of the people. Long was a man of the people and for that he was killed.
Share Our Wealth--Source Huey Long.com
In a national radio address in February 1934, Huey Long unveiled a plan called “Share Our Wealth”, a program designed to provide a decent standard of living to all Americans by spreading the nation’s wealth among the people. Long proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million (roughly $750 million in today's dollars) through a restructured federal tax code and sharing the resulting revenue with the public through government benefits.
Share Our Wealth Proposal
- Cap personal fortunes at $50 million (equivalent to about $750 million today)
- Limit annual income to one million dollars each (about $12 million today)
- Limit inheritances to five million dollars each (about $60 million today)
- Guarantee every family an annual income of $2,000 (or one-third the national average)
- Free college education and vocational training
- Old-age pensions for all persons over 60
- Veterans benefits and healthcare
- A 30 hour work week
- A four week vacation for every worker
Long advocated free higher education and vocational training, pensions for the elderly, veterans benefits and health care, and a yearly stipend for all families earning less than one-third the national average income – enough for a home, an automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences. Long also proposed shortening the workweek and giving employees a month vacation to boost employment, along with greater government regulation of economic activity and production controls.
Long charged that the nation’s economic collapse was the result of the vast disparity between the super-rich and everyone else. A recovery was impossible while 95% of the nation’s wealth was held by only 15% of the population. In Long’s view, this concentration of money among a handful of wealthy bankers and industrialists restricted its availability for average citizens, who were already struggling with debt and the effects of a shrinking economy. Because no one could afford to buy goods and services, businesses were forced to cut their workforces, thus deepening the economic crisis through a devastating ripple effect.
“We do not propose to say there shall be no rich men,” Long told an audience of millions. “We do not ask to divide the wealth. We only propose that, when one man gets more than he and his children and children’s children can spend or use in their lifetimes, that then we shall say that such person has his share.”
Long believed that it was morally wrong for the government to allow millions of Americans to suffer in abject poverty when there existed a surplus of food, clothing, and shelter. He blamed the mass suffering on a capitalist system run amok and feared that impending civil unrest threatened the democracy.
A Roadmap for the Future
Huey Long never received credit for the government reforms that resulted from his Share Our Wealth movement. The Great Depression persisted for six years after Long’s death, and the federal government gradually adopted policies to regulate the economy and provide for the public good. Many of today’s federal programs address causes first championed by Huey Long:
- Social Security
- Veterans Benefits
- College Financial Aid
- Works Progress Administration
- Medicare and Medicaid
- Food Stamps
- Housing Assistance
- Graduated Income Tax and Inheritance Tax
“Greed, avarice and selfishness of the money masters have seized the control of all these good things,” he charged. “They let the food rot because the hungry cannot buy it; they let the clothes fall to pieces because the naked cannot buy them; they let the walls fall from the inside of the houses because they had rather have people walking the streets than to have their greed curbed. So in this land of plenty, the decay of humanity is at hand because we have too much.”
To build grassroots support for his program, Long announced the formation of the Share Our Wealth Society, and he encouraged the public to write to him to learn more. Long’s message struck a chord with a public desperate for relief. By April 1935, his Senate office received an average of 60,000 letters a week.
To organize a network of Share Our Wealth clubs around the country, Long enlisted the help of Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, a charismatic minister from Shreveport with a gift for public speaking. Smith traveled the nation, drawing huge crowds in support of Long’s program, and by the end of 1934, the movement had three million members.
By the summer of 1935, there were more than 27,000 Share Our Wealth clubs with a membership of more than 7.5 million. Loyal followers met every week to discuss Long’s ideas and spread the message. There were no dues, just fellowship and discussion, and membership was open to all races. White supremacists charged that Long was attempting to organize blacks to vote. Long countered that Share Our Wealth was meant to help all poor people, and black people were welcome to participate since they were the poorest people in the country – a radical inclusion for a deeply segregated society.
Meanwhile, the conservative national media dismissed Long’s program, lampooning Long as a ‘hick’, ‘buffoon’, ‘communist’, 'socialist' and ‘fascist dictator’. Long countered that the national newspapers were the pawns of the wealthy Wall Street financiers who were threatened by his program. Rumors swirled the capital that a public relations firm was hired by Wall Street to plant negative stories about Long in the media.
Long by-passed the negative press by distributing his own newspaper, The American Progress, and he spoke directly to a national audience through radio speeches and speaking engagements. After addressing a crowd of 15,000 in Pittsburgh, a local official estimated that Long could easily win 250,000 votes in his district if he ran for President. By 1935, Long was the third-most photographed man in America, after President Roosevelt and celebrity aviator Charles Lindburgh.
Long’s rapid rise in national popularity is credited with Roosevelt’s Second New Deal of 1935, a more liberal version of his New Deal agenda, which included proposals for Social Security and the Works Progress Administration. A political poll by the Roosevelt re-election team, the first national poll of its kind, revealed that Long was siphoning key Democratic support from FDR's campaign. According to aides, Roosevelt hoped to “steal Long’s thunder”.