William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun
Louisiana Senator Huey Long said “God don’t let me die, I have so much to do” in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 1934, shortly before he passed away.
The night before, Long had been shot in the state capitol building in Baton Rouge, La. by Dr. Carl Weiss, who was the son-in-law of one of Long’s political enemies. Weiss was later shot dead by Long’s bodyguards.
Long, who had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1928 after serving as Louisiana’s governor, had developed a national political following with his calls for “sharing the wealth” and was preparing to run for president against Franklin Roosevelt whom he believed had not done enough to assist the less fortunate in American society. Long had initially been an ally of FDR and as detailed in “The Huey Long Murder Case” by Herman B. Deutsch, he had campaigned for Roosevelt in 1932 in the Midwest.
And as a result of Long’s efforts, some of the states in that region had voted Democratic in a Presidential election for the first time in a generation. Long had voted for much of the legislation in the U.S. Senate that created the New Deal, but he had concluded that more radical action had to be taken to address the affects of the Great Depression.
By 1934, FDR was privately describing Huey Long as “the most dangerous man in America.” The Louisianan advocated for a system in which the amount of money any individual could inherit would be $5 million and that estates larger than that would go to the U.S. Treasury. Those funds would be used to insure that all Americans had a guaranteed income of $2,500. He also advocated a 30-hour work week as a way to decrease unemployment. Long had founded the “Share the Wealth” club with that program and at the time of his death it had thousands of members across the country.
“Every man a king, but no man wears the crown” was a phrase first uttered by William Jennings Bryan that Long, who was a gifted orator, repeated as he spoke to enthusiastic crowds around the nation. And unlike most other southern politicians of that era, Long did not pander to the racial prejudice and he indicated that he wanted to improve the lives of African Americans as well as underprivileged whites .
Long, who was born in Winn Parish, La. in 1893, had been elected that state’s governor in 1925 on a platform that included raising the taxes of the oil companies in the state and building schools, roads, and hospitals.
As documented by Long’s biographer, T. Harry Williams, he had made good on those promises, but in doing so he rode roughshod over the other branches of Louisiana’s government and ruthlessly silenced his critic.
A young professor of English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Robert Penn Warren wrote a novel entitled “All the King’s Men” about a politician who uses his power to destroy those who oppose him that was based on Huey Long.
As documented by Williams, Long had extensive ties to Oklahoma. His older brother, Julius Long was a dentist for a time in Shawnee who later moved to Tulsa and was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives from that community.
Huey Long attended Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee for a time, and later spent several semesters at OU Law School. While at OU, Long founded the “Young Democrats,” an organization that would later produce many of Oklahoma’s political leaders.
After Long’s death, the “Share the Wealth” club gradually faded from the political landscape.
But it is possible that future historians may conclude that Long and his ideas as to what role the national government should play in providing for the less fortunate in American society were ahead of their times.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.