President Huey Long

 

I’m for the poor man — all poor men, black and white, they all gotta have a chance. They gotta have a home, a job, and a decent education for their children. ‘Every man a king’ — that’s my slogan.

Huey Long

 

 

 

The great demagogue of American history, Long might have been president if history had been more kind to him and less kind to FDR.  Let us postulate that Long was not assassinated in 1935, and that instead of dying in 1945, FDR had died in 1935 during his first term.  If Roosevelt had died, his Vice President John Nance Garner of Texas would have taken over.  Cactus Jack was a colorful character, but he was also enough of a politician to have realized that he would never get the nomination in 1936.  He was too conservative and too Southern.  Plenty of Northern liberals would have thrown their hats into the ring, along with Huey Long.  Long had already written a book, My First Days in the White House, and he was going to run come what may.  Before Roosevelt’s death he erroneously predicted that FDR would lose in 1936, and doubtless he planned to help bring that about, and the death of FDR would have eliminated what he thought was his main obstacle to the White House.

 

Long would have had on his side his oratorical skills, which were among the best in the nation, a pleasing buffoonish persona hiding a very sharp intellect and his economic radicalism, popular among a public which had lost confidence in capitalism.  On the con side his dictatorial rule in Louisiana had earned him many ardent foes around the nation.  Would he have gained the nomination?  Probably not, but his fight for it would have set him up for a third party run.

Judging how poorly Alf Landon did in 1936, I doubt if the nation was ready for a return to GOP rule.  I give Long a decent shot of victory in 1936, judging from the popularity of his Share the Wealth campaign before his assassination.  His strongest regions would have been in the South and the West.  Pick off a handful of the big industrial states and Long would have achieved his life’s ambition.

 

 

On its face, his economic program would have been DOA in Congress:

He proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million and repeated his call to limit annual income to $1 million and inheritances to $5 million. (He also suggested reducing the cap on personal fortunes to $10 million–$15 million per individual, if necessary, and later lowered the cap to $5 million–$8 million in printed materials.) The resulting funds would be used to guarantee every family a basic household grant, or “household estate” as Long called it, of $5,000 and a minimum annual income of $2,000–3,000, or one-third of the average family homestead value and income. Long supplemented his plan with proposals for free college education, with admission based on an IQ test,[10] and vocational training for all able students, veterans’ benefits, federal assistance to farmers, public works projects, greater federal regulation of economic activity, a $30 monthly pension for those over the age of 65, a month’s vacation for every worker, World War I veteran’s adjusted Compensation certificates due in 1945 would be issued immediately, and limiting the work week to thirty hours to boost employment.[10][11] He proposed a $10 billion land reclamation project to end the Dust Bowl. Long promised free medical service and what he called a “war on disease” led by the Mayo brothers.[10] These reforms, Long claimed, would end the Great Depression.[12]

These are all proposals that Long made prior to his death in 1935 and which were widely attacked by economists at the time.  However, a President Long would doubtless have used the new power of radio inspired popular opinion to ram through his program.  As Governor of Louisiana Long made wide use of patronage, and more unsavory means, to deal with a hostile legislature.  It is reasonable to assume that on a national scale he would have adopted the same tactics with Congress.  I can imagine him attempting to implement most of his policies by emergency decrees, justified by the Great Depression.  The legality of such decrees would have been nil, but in Louisiana Long had shown a penchant for strong arming courts.

With Long as President, it is easy to predict that he would have roused great support and great resistance, and a very divided US would have faced the world as World War II began.  Perhaps a nation on the verge of civil war, as Louisiana was at the end of Long’s reign.   Better that this alternate history was forestalled from reality by Long’s death in 1935.

 

Published in: on August 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on President Huey Long  
Tags: , ,