Every Man A King
A Review of William Ivy Hair’s The King Fish and His Realm: The Life of Huey P. Long
William Ivy Hair was professor of Southern History at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. A native of Winnsboro, Louisiana, he attended Louisiana State University where he received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. He taught at Louisiana and Florida State University.
BY KEVIN SONG
Huey P. Long, known as the grandiose Louisiana’s Kingfish, started to dominate politics in 1928 after his election to governor of Louisiana. A professional public speaker, Huey Long became a United States senator in 1932 and pursued his dream of becoming the president. In 1934, Long proposed his famous “Share Our Wealth” program with the motto “Every man is a King.”1 Long had been a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt; he eventually split with him and started criticizing Roosevelt’s New Deal programs because he strongly disagreed with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic policies. In his Share Our Wealth program, he proposed to share the nation’s money with everyone by controlling income rates. Unfortunately, his dream of becoming president and sharing the wealth came to an unexpected halt on September 10, 1935.
The author, William Ivy Hair, of The Kingfish and His Realm: The Life and Times of Huey P. Long begins the book with Louisiana’s economic troubles in 1893. Huey Pierce Long, Jr. was born on August 30, 1893 and was the seventh out of nine children. Because populism was popular in his birthplace, Winnfield, Huey Long would become a populist. His parents were Huey Pierce Long, Sr. and Caledonia Tison Long. He was born and raised in a “comfortable, well-built split log house,” and lied to the public that he was born in poverty.2 When Huey Long was young, he was so rebellious that he was expelled from high school when he petitioned to fire the principal. Long graduated from high school two years after one of his brothers convinced him to get a high school diploma. He became a prosperous salesman for a couple of years, until he finally decided to go to Tulane University Law School in order to become a lawyer. In 1915, Lawyer Huey Long, age twenty-one, became the youngest lawyer in Louisiana. Long was extraordinarily smart and had photographic memory. His partnership with his older brother, who was also a lawyer, lasted only five months. With a source of income, Long finally married Rose McConnell after three years since their first meeting and eventually had two daughters and one son.
Huey Long, who was desperate for power, ran for governor of Louisiana in the election of 1924 against rivals Bouanchaud and Fuqua. He was narrowly defeated in the election for governor of Louisiana in 1924, only to win the elections four years later by using radio for campaigning. Huey Long was thirty four years old when he was inaugurated as governor on May 21, 1928. Huey attacked and sued the Standard Oil Company for promoting unfair business practices. Controlling the 1928 legislature, Huey was able to pass much of his progressive program. His programs included distributing free textbooks for students and building roads, educational institutions, bridges, and hospitals. To pay for these progressive programs, Long told the legislature to raise severance taxes on oil, lumber, and other natural products. In 1928, Huey succeeded “in pressuring the legislature to pass laws giving him control of all major state agencies, including the Board of Health, the Department of Conservation, Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and New Orleans Levee Board.”4 Long’s increased activism led to intensified hatred from his enemies. The Dynamite Squad, anti-Long activists, submitted nineteen impeachment charges against him. On April 27, 1929, Huey Long was summoned to appear before the senate for trial on eight charges of impeachment. Long used promises and threats against the senators to avoid impeachment and continued in his endeavor of dominating politics.
Huey Long defeated Tamsdell in the 1930 senatorial primary. 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 Legislature defeated the bond issue necessary to build the roads. 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 poll 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, if he lost he promised to resign. Huey Long did not take his seat until January, 1932, after he had assured the succession as governor of one of his own supporters. Huey Long appointed the docile Alice Lee Grosjean as secretary of state.
January 25, 1932 was Huey Long’s first day as a United States senator. After “Senator Robinson accused Long not only of a comic opera performance that does not do justice to dramatic talents,” Huey Long intensified his offensive.6 During 1932, Huey’s popularity in Louisiana was at its peak. Huey Long’s supporter, Allen, would take Long’s place as governor and follow his policies. Long, with his newfound position, continued to oppose Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal because the plan did not include distributing the nation’s wealth with the lower class. Long believed that the New Deal was insufficient to deal with the increasing economic crisis. He disliked the Emergency Banking Act because it did little to help small, local banks and bitterly attacked the National Recovery Act for the system of wage and price codes it established. Now a presidential candidate, Long had a steadily increasing national following; in 1934, he introduced his plan for national socioeconomic reform, the “Share-Our-Wealth” program. It proposed a guaranteed family annual income and a homestead allowance for every family. He was vigorous in his efforts to try to combat the damages of the Great Depression. By 1934, he began a reorganization of the state that all but abolished local government and gave himself the power to appoint all state employees. Long’s political power continued to rise, yet little did Long know that it was also his downfall. In September 10, 1935, on a trip to the state, Long was unexpectedly shot in his abdomen. The assassin, Dr. Carl A. Weiss, was instantly killed by Long’s bodyguards. Dr. Carl A. Weiss killed Long because he did not want those he loved stained by racial disgrace by Huey Long’s accusation of his wife’s taint of black ancestry. Long’s political machine flourished for several years after his death, and the Long family remained important in the state of Louisiana.
William Ivy Hair’s main purpose of doing a biography of Huey Long seemed like he wanted to show readers about the unique life of Huey Long. Huey Long’s lies, family background, important events, and personality are shown in detail. William Ivy Hair does not explore too profoundly on the specific politics of Long’s time, instead he focuses on Huey Long’s ambition and action in politics. William Ivy Hair is “more fascinated with Long’s life than his times.”7 The author fails to discuss important topics and views in some of the events in Huey Long’s lifetime. Also, Hair does not cover much about how Huey Long protested against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. William Ivy Hair focuses too much on Huey Long’s personal life, instead of the political and economical issues in the 1930s.
William Ivy Hair’s point of view on Huey Long is more negative than positive. Hair depicts Huey Long making a ridiculous gesture on the front of the book cover. Also, Hair accuses Huey Long of lying about his family, and stated that the “Longs were impoverished farmers eking out a hard-scrabble on barren ground,” a false statement because the Longs were fairly wealthy in Winnfield.8 He writes descriptions of Huey Long as corrupted, chubby, power-hungry, unsociable, and different. Although Long was corrupted to an extent, he did have some positive qualities that Hair fails to mention. For example, Huey Long donated a lot of money to colleges and wanted to share the nation’s wealth with everyone; however, this friendly act caused many to accuse Long of being a socialist. However, Long was far from being socialist and claimed that his reforms were the protection of socialism. He also argued and disagreed with socialists, which evidently shows that Long was not a socialist. Long believed that ending the Great Depression and stopping a brutal revolution required a radical reformation of the national economy and removal of huge gaps of wealth, while keeping the necessary ideals of the capitalist system in America.
The historiography of this book does not correspond to the times of Huey Long because William Ivy Hair was around the latter twentieth century while the times of Huey Long was the first half of the twentieth century. The biography of Huey Long might have been different if William Ivy Hair was writing in the first half of the twentieth century. The historiography makes a huge difference. Some of the information provided by Hair might be false because Hair was not actually present when Huey Long was still alive. For example, Hair wrote that “his achievements are strongly reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s,” which is clearly an exaggeration.9 Although Long was similar to Hitler, he was not known for killing people.
William Ivy Hair left many questions unanswered and did not make an attempt to answer any of them. For example, he did not answer “what exactly was the role and power of Standard Oil in the state” and those of the New Orleans political machine?10 Hair did not explore the political and economic structures and offer any specifics on Huey Long’s viewpoints. Hair is biased partly because he is a professor of history at Georgia College in Milledgeville. He did not write about Huey Long’s legacy after his death, which leaves many questions on whether Huey Long did something beneficial for United States. Hair’s biography was too short to give all the specific and essential information on Huey Long. The ending of the biography was surprisingly abrupt.
This biography lacked specific informative details such as the definition of the Share Our Wealth program. The lack of details made Hair’s biography hard to understand. One excellent aspect of this biography is that it illustrated plenty about Huey Long’s personal life. This biography had bad organization of each event and the beginning of the biography about the Louisiana conditions in the 1920s was unnecessary for a biography of Huey Long. The author failed to include Huey Long’s last words and legacy. Some of the information provided in the biography was random and needless. For example, random information was “Mr. Harris was drunk.”11 Such statements were trivial and needed more specific explanation.
Huey Long’s political involvements significantly impacted the political, economical, and cultural history of the United States. He transformed Louisiana’s politics and improved lives of millions with his direct actions. Long founded Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine and expanded public education by distributing free textbooks and scholarships. Huey knew the importance of academics and provided “better teachers, more classrooms, and increased enrollment.”12 Long provided free night school courses for adult, who could not read. He created roads, bridges, buildings, public works, and one airport in New Orleans, which in turn led to more jobs for everyone. Huey Long’s political machine stayed strong until the 1960s and influenced many of the state politics in Louisiana. Long’s policy of sharing the nation’s wealth challenged economic previous practices, where the rich leached of the poor. Long showed unique ways in changing long-held policies and practices. Long was a strong adversary of the Federal Reserve Bank. With an assembly of Congressmen, and Senators, Long believed the Federal Reserve’s policies to be the true cause of the Great Depression. Huey Long strongly disapproved the big banking monopolies of Morgan and Rockefeller, which owned stock in the Federal Reserve System. Long believed that the big business owners monopolized companies for their own benefit, not for the public’s benefit. He founded the American Progress to spread his ideas and accomplishments in order to raise his popularity. Long also used the radio to get an advantage over his opponents. Long argued that “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 his Share Our Wealth program. Long’s older son, Russell B. Long, became one of Louisiana’s senators for thirty-eight years. Louisiana Public Service Commissioner, Foster Campbell, attempted to follow Huey Long’s methods but failed. Rose McConnell Long, Long’s wife, was chosen to substitute her husband in the Senate, and her son Russell B. Long was nominated to the Senate in 1948. George S. Long, Huey’s older brother, was appointed to Congress in 1952, but did not have nearly as much fame as his younger brother. Other relatives of Huey Long, including Gillis William Long and Speedy O. Long were selected to Congress. Jimmy D. Long, Long’s relative, served for the Democratic Party in the Louisiana House for several years. Jimmy Long’s younger brother, Gerald Long, maintains the honor of being the only present Long in public office and the first Republican amongst the Long Democratic family. Floyd W. Smith, Jr. served as the mayor of Pineville for four years. Although Floyd was not an authentic Long, he considered himself a part of the Long family. One Long’s many bodyguards, Elliot D. Coleman became a delegate of the 1921 Constitutional Convention. Huey Long’s amazing legacy continued on for two decades and influenced thousands of people.
Huey Long’s extraordinary life provided many opportunities for others and transformed politics. Although egotistical and dishonest, Long was passionate and hard-working for power in politics. His persistent zeal for supremacy left a mark on history. His last words were, “God, don’t let me die, I have so much left to do.”13
1: Hair, William Ivy. The Kingfish and His Realm: The Life and Times of Huey P. Long. Louisiana State University Press, 1991. 275.
Kevin Song was born in Los Angeles and lived there for nine years, until he finally moved to Irvine, California. He likes to play the computer, sleep, work out, and play sports like tennis and basketball. He wants to be admitted to West Point Military Academy and join the Green Beret.
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