Huey Long: Champion of the Poor

When he was eight years old, Huey Long saw a neighbor lose his farm at a sheriff’s auction.  The farmer owed money to a store, and once the farm was sold, the farmer and his family were homeless.  Huey remembered, “The poor farmer was out. I was horrified. I could not understand. It seemed criminal.”

The memory of that day stayed with Huey during his political career as Governor of Louisiana and later as a U.S. Senator. He made few friends in politics, particularly during his time in the Senate from 1930-1933. Huey thought that government in general was too concerned with the interests of Wall Street and thought Roosevelt’s New Deal programs did not do enough for the poor. Though his time in the Senate was short, he made the most of it by speaking out for the underprivileged.

He introduced his program Share Our Wealth to Congress. Instead of letting the majority of the nation’s money reside with a lucky few, Huey wanted a more equal distribution of wealth. The program called for a limit on how much money millionaires could make so that every hard-working American family could have at least $2,000 a year. At the time, that amount of money would be enough for a house and a car. He also wanted every child to have the opportunity to get a good education. As he stated in one of his Senate speeches, “From the worst to the best there would be no limit to opportunity. One might become a millionaire or more. There would be a chance for talent to make a man big, because enough would be floating in the land to give brains a chance to be used.” He emphasized that there was enough education, money, and land in America to make “every man a king.”  

With encouragement from Huey’s speeches and radio addresses, people formed Share the Wealth clubs throughout the U.S. They met to share Long’s ideas with each other. In 1935, more than 7.5 million people were club members. Obviously, the nation still suffered from economic difficulties despite the work of the New Deal.

Although the government did not act immediately on his ideas, many government programs today address issues that concerned Huey Long. These include college financial aid, housing assistance, the Works Progress Administration and food stamps among others.

 

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