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Our focus this week is the Great Depression of the 1930s. After the American Civil War, the Depression was the gravest existential crisis the United States has faced. This assignment explores the economic plans put forward by Huey P. Long, governor and senator from Louisiana, to save the nation from its economic perils. We will also consider the relevance of his ideas toward resolving America’s contemporary economic inequalities.
Long was a bombastic, ruthless politician, and he was shot dead in the Louisiana state capitol building because of it. As US Senator from Louisiana, Long spent 1934 and 1935 rolling out his economic ideas in speeches titled “Every Man a King,” and “Share Our Wealth.” Brief extracts of these speeches, primary historical sources, are the focus of Source Analysis 4.
Since the founding of the American Republic, the issue of economic inequality has been part of the nation’s political discourse. The conversation frequently questions the role of the federal government in ensuring an equitable distribution of income and wealth among the people.
This issue became the focus of American politics in the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression. Historical data indicates “between 1929 and 1932 an average of 100,000 people lost their jobs every week until 13 million American were jobless. At least one worker in four could find no work at all” (Davidson 485).
The impact of “hard times” was wide and cruel. For example, fearing the financial burden of welfare assistance, cities such as Los Angeles, with federal support, launched a series of deportations of Mexicans back to Mexico. Thousands of Mexican American men, women, and children who by law were citizens of the United States were included in this “repatriation” (image below). The Great Depression also led to an astonishing surge in black unemployment. By 1932 it reached fifty percent, twice the national level (image below). “The Negro was born in the depression; it only became official when it hit the white man” opined one African American (Davidson 489-90).
Hard times proved fertile ground for radical economic proposals proposed by populist politicians and civic leaders. The most famous of these was Huey P. Long, governor and senator from Louisiana. A skillful politician, Long “championed an aggressive program of public spending and wealth redistribution. Critics denounced Long, who served as both governor and a senator from Louisiana, as a corrupt demagogue. Long appealed to impoverished Louisianans and Americans wracked by joblessness and resentful of American economic inequality. He was assassinated before he could mount his independent bid for the White House in 1936” (Locke).
One historian described Huey Long this way: “Long strode into the national arena in the role of the hillbilly hero and played it with gusto. He wore white silk suits and pink silk ties, womanized openly, swilled whiskey in the finest bars, swaggered his way around Washington, and breathed defiance into the teeth of his critics. The New York Times called him ‘a man with a front of brass and lungs of leather.’ Long’s flamboyant ways and populist style made him into one of the best-known senators in the nation” (Kennedy 237).
On September 8, 1935, Long was at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge to facilitate the ouster of a long-time political opponent. His task completed, Long proceeded to the capitol building’s elegant elevator lobby. At that moment, a relative of the man Long had just politically ruined approached Long and shot him in the torso with a handgun from four feet away. Long’s bodyguards responded by firing at the shooter, killing him; an autopsy found the assailant had been shot more than sixty times. Long died on September 10.
The famous 1939 painting by John McCrady (image above) helps to imagine the assassination. A bullet hole caused by the shooting may still be found in the marbled lobby. Long is buried on the grounds of the capitol, his grave marked by a life-size statue (image below).
Throughout 1934 and 1935, as the nation struggled to break the chains imposed by the greatest economic calamity in US history, Senator Long delivered various versions of two speeches that outlined his political plans for economic recovery. The speeches were titled “Every Man a King,” and “Share Our Wealth.” Brief extracts of both speeches are available through The American Yawp Reader, a documentary companion to The American Yawp online textbook. These speeches embodied Long’s controversial plans for lifting Americans out of poverty and ending the Great Depression.
Clearly, economic inequality among the American people is an issue even today. One recent economic journal reported that “Income inequality in the U.S., which has steadily been increasing since the 1980s, has reached levels last seen in the years just before the Great Depression, according to a recent economic analysis” (Kelleher).
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
Please proceed with Source Analysis 4 in this way:
When responding, give examples to support your statements (“for example” is always good for me to see). Though I am asking YOU to summarize and asking YOU your opinion in this essay, your essay should be entirely in third person as has been the case throughout the semester. Doing so in these last two essays will be very healthy for your grade. Online resources (and of course me, through email) are available to assist you with this issue and many others relevant to earning a good grade. Please access them. The Source Analysis 4 upload portal becomes available to you Wednesday, April 3. The assignment is due Friday, April 5 at 11:59 pm
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