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They Called Him Kingfish

I love it when a novel teaches me something.

For example, I’m learning a lot about history from All The King’s Men–a novel based on the life of Huey Long (nicknamed “The Kingfish”). Call me ignorant, but I had never heard of Huey Long before reading this book.

And while All The King’s Men is simply based on Long–and Robert Penn Warren even rejected that notion to some degree–the book still gives such a feel and flavor for southern politics in the 1920s and 1930s. It has opened my eyes up to a subject I haven’t read that much about.

So what of this Huey Long?

This guy was, for lack of a better word, a flaming liberal who shook up politics during the era of The Great Depression.

Long was governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932 through 1935.

He’s famous for his “Share The Wealth” program. With it, he said there was enough wealth in the U.S. for everyone to be able to live comfortably. The problem was, he said, the money was unfairly concentrated with millionaire businessmen and bankers.

According to our always reliable friends at Wikipedia, “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 denied that the plan was socialist, or that it was inspired by Karl Marx. Instead, he said his redistribution of wealth ideas came straight from the Bible.

More than the Share The Wealth program, Long is known for his aggressive bull-headed style. “I used to try to get things done by saying ‘please’,” he famously said. “Now…I dynamite ’em out of my path.”

Long was assassinated in 1935 by Dr. Carl Weiss, the son-in-law of a judge whom Long was planning to remove from the bench.

His life has been depicted in dozens of movies and books. Of course there’s All The King’s Men, but he’s also been depicted in Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and Bruce Sterling’s Distraction. Long is prominently mentioned in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. And, in 1985, Ken Burns made a documentary about Long.

It’s pretty much impossible for me to describe his impact in a 400 word blog post. Maybe the video below about Long will give you a better idea.

I can’t say I agree with Long’s politics or his style or anything related to what he did, but there’s no doubt that he perfected the game of politics and is one of the more memorable politicians the United States has ever seen.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. I never heard of the man, but from what you say his politics are interesting. Most politicians cater to the rich people for the sake of money for their electoral campaigns or other below the table dealings.

    This guy at least seems sincere. And proposing capping personal fortunes at $50 million and repeated his call to limit annual income to $1 million and inheritances to $5 million…that takes a very brave man to suggest that.


    June 11, 2013
  2. He would be disgusted by today’s society of winner take all.


    June 11, 2013
  3. After all your posts about this book, and how much you’re learning from it, I’m going to have to read this book. Srsly.


    June 11, 2013
    • Go for it. I’m getting close to being finished and I really love it. Great read.


      June 11, 2013
  4. Have you seen the movie, Blaze, starring Paul Newman as Earl Long, Huey’s brother? Earl was governor after Huey was assassinated.


    June 12, 2013
  5. The god that is Randy Newman recorded a concept album about The South called Good ol’ Boys. It includes a song about Long’s achievements called Kingfish, and an arrangement of a song written by Long, and used as part of the ‘Share the Wealth’ campaign, called Every Man a King.

    I don’t know if it’s still there, but there was fantastic interactive politics display at the Old Louisiana State House in Baton Rouge when I visited about 10 years ago.


    June 15, 2013

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