Huey Pierce Long was born in 1893, almost instantly recognised as being energetic, intelligent and with an assured future. For example, he took on a three-year course in Law and passed it in eight months. By the time he was twenty-one he was a practising lawyer.
Perhaps it was all too much too soon: when he became a railway commissioner in the state of Louisiana he proclaimed himself the ‘poor man’s friend’, forcing the railroad companies to reduce their rates. Naturally he made powerful enemies.
In 1927 at the age of thirty-four he ran for Governor riding on the slogan ‘Every man a king but no man wears a crown’ (whatever that could mean). He promised more and higher public spending to be paid for by taxing ‘the rich’. Somehow this does not seem to work, partly because – as Sweden discovered to its shock when the government increased income tax for persons earning more than a certain sum – they left the country. So tax revenue went down not up and promises made to the poor were not fulfilled.
Huey Long was duly elected by the poor because of his promises, and because the majority of voters were poor; Huey instantly put his friends and relatives into positions authority at all levels. Not only that, but his gangs used bribery, threats and actual violence to keep political opponents away from his door. People were imprisoned without even appearing in court, and the judges backed police brutality. There were of course elections, but Huey’s agents supervised them and counted the votes to ensure the right man won. In one country election more votes for Long were counted than there were electors, but the result stood firm.
Huey went from strength to strength; he heavily taxed the railways and the oil companies to pay for his public works and social welfare plans (in order to maintain the workers’ votes). It was the purest Marxism, but neither Congress nor the Senate seemed to notice. On and on it went – he built roads, he improved education, he captured the vote of the poor, both black and white, by banning the tax on smaller properties. He ended the poll tax qualification for the vote.
There were however greater and grander fields to conquer; Huey left Louisiana when he was elected to the US Senate in 1931 and arrived with high and mighty reform proposals. He founded a movement called ‘Share the Wealth’ which promised national minimal pay, old-age pensions and a coast-to-coast confiscation of large properties and estates. This time he had gone too far. He intended to stand against Franklin D. Roosevelt (q.v.) in the presidential election of 1935 but someone killed him in September of that year. Louisiana continued mired in corruption and intimidation, an unhappy legacy, for a long time after Huey’s assassination.