America’s most colorful politician may have also been the most dangerous in history
If nothing else, Huey Long was a fascinating character and one of the most unique politicians in American history. Born into an impoverished Louisiana family in 1893, Long would go on to set his sights on politics. After nicknaming himself the “Kingfish,” he took a far left-wing stance on the redistribution of wealth and ran on the slogan, “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.”
While he managed to win both the office of governor and eventually a seat in the United States Senate, Long was mostly known for his flamboyant style and questionable political methods. His ambition didn’t end there, however, and he even wrote a book entitled My First Days In The White House.
Throughout its pages, he outlined his vision for winning the Presidential campaign of 1936. But in 1935, he would be assassinated before ever getting the chance to live out his dream.
From poverty to power
Long grew up in the Winn Parish of Louisiana, where he was initially homeschooled, due to the lack of schools in the area. He finally managed to enroll in a public school in the fourth grade and was such a smooth talker than he managed to talk his teachers into letting him skip the seventh grade altogether.
After working as a traveling salesman for a few years, he was able to enroll in Tulane University Law School for a semester in 1914. There he put his smooth-talking skills to use once again and convinced his teachers to let him take the bar after only one year. More impressively, he actually passed.
By 1928, Long had gained enough attention to win the office of the governor of Louisiana by a landslide. He used the office to do some of his most notable work, establishing adult literacy programs that taught hundreds of thousands of citizens to read.
He also had thousands of miles of road paved, built nearly 100 bridges, and heavily taxed the oil industry to fund social programs for the poor. Though he gave Louisiana a head-start on Depression-era programs, he wasn’t without his issues. The state debt also began to grow while economic growth remained at a standstill.
Long is drawn to the sketchy side
Throughout his political career, Long became known for his shifty tactics. His leadership was once described as running “the closest thing to a dictatorship that America has ever known.” He wasn’t a massive fan of the democratic process, at least when it applied to himself.
If a political opponent got in his way, he would have them removed and replaced with others more loyal to his cause. He was rumored to go as far as to hire armed thugs to chance votes and ultimately inspired an impeachment hearing for charges ranging from corruption to incompetence.
True to his old methods, he arranged to have a loyal legislator fake the votes to have the impeachment hearing adjourned. Furious, Long’s critics ended up attacking his loyalists, resulting in a riot known as “Bloody Monday.” Regardless of his sketchy reputation, Long still managed to win a seat in the U.S. Senate in the early 1930s.
“It’s all very well for us to laugh over Huey, but he really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Though Long began as a fan of President Roosevelt, he was very vocal about his opinion that the President wasn’t doing enough to redistribute wealth among the American public. Roosevelt, in turn, was wise enough to keep a close eye on Long and his ambitions.
Long eventually decided that it would be up to him to get America back on track by running for President in 1936, but his old ways came back to haunt him before he got the chance. In 1935, he presided over a state legislature session designed to remove a judge who hadn’t gained his favor from office. When he was successful, the Judge’s son-in-law responded by assassinating him with a shotgun.
A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:
Historical precedents for impeachment I History 101
Learn more about other politicians whose methods landed them in hot water.
July 18, 1940: FDR received his third presidential nomination I History 101
Find out more about one of America’s most iconic and longest-serving presidents.