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The Long, Long Trail
The members of Huey’s Louisiana clan who tried to follow his footsteps to the land of their dreams never quite matched his bumptious stride or dictatorial power—but they grew into a thriving political dynasty
August 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 5
It was also charged by the Constitutional League, an anti-Long reform group, that Huey had appointed twenty-three relatives to the state payroll. The Kingfish dubbed his attacker “the Constipational League.” Considering the number of cousins he had, Huey told reporters, the percentage working for the state was pretty low. “Of course, I gave my wife’s brother a job. I have to live with his sister! You would do it too.”
The Constitutional League disbanded the day after the senatorial primary. Huey was now governor and senator-elect, and would soon also become Democratic national committeeman and Democratic slate chairman. There was no longer any doubt of who was Louisiana’s Kingfish.
Having been attacked by the good-government element for doing too much for his family, Huey was now to be publicly attacked by his family for not doing enough. He had appointed brother Earl as inheritancetax collector of New Orleans, a post that could pay-as much as $15,000 in good years. (Earlier Huey had promised to abolish the job and use the money to build a new hospital for tuberculars on Lake Pontchartrain; now a newspaper printed a picture of Earl captioned, “New Lakefront TB Hospital.”) In 1932 Earl felt it was his turn to hold higher office. Huey argued that it would be politically disastrous to have brother succeed brother. But Earl disregarded the warning and filed for lieutenant governor. A tall, lean scrapper, he had sunk his teeth so deeply into the neck of a state representative during the impeachment fight that the legislator had taken a shot of lockjaw serum.
The Long family, the sisters and the eldest brother, Julius, rushed to Earl’s support. In the 1932 campaign Julius attacked Huey across the state. (“I swear that I do not know of a man, any human being, that has less feeling for his family than Huey P. Long has.”) Huey answered with silence; he had the votes. O. K. Alien was elected governor, and Earl Long was badly defeated for lieutenant governor.
The year 1932 also marked Huey’s entrance on the national scene. At the presidential convention the Kingfish whipped Arkansas and Mississippi into line for F. D. R. Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana said, “Roosevelt would never have won the Democratic nomination in 1932, in my opinion, but for Huey Long.” Boss Flynn of the Bronx agreed.
In the Senate, however, the Kingfish was considerably less effective. But the people were still fascinated by him. Alice Roosevelt Longworth described the scene in the galleries as Huey entered the Senate chamber. “All heads are immediately turned in his direction, and a veritable hum becomes audible. As he moves across the floor at his curious, rolling, loose-jointed gait, every eye follows him with an expression made up of interest, amusement and expectancy.” Observed the sharp-tongued Princess Alice, “I have seen the same sort of look in the eyes of children as they pore over the comic strip following the adventures of the mischievous cartoon kids and their puppy dogs, goats, and other attractively uncouth animals.”
The spectators didn’t go away disappointed. Huey conducted massive one-man filibusters (one lasting more than fifteen hours); he dictated recipes for fried oysters and Roquefort dressing; he announced, “I will accommodate any senator tonight on any point on which he needs advice”; he proposed to enact a law making it mandatory to play the Jew’s harp with outward instead of inward strokes. And when he sat down, the galleries emptied. “Yes, you can go now!” Vice President Garner once called to the departing spectators. “The show’s over!” In short, Huey broke every treasured rule of Senate decorum, leading Tennessee’s Kenneth McKellar to say, “I don’t believe he could get the Lord’s Prayer endorsed in this body.”
The Kingfish was off the Roosevelt bandwagon almost before he had climbed aboard. The split between F. D. R. and Huey was inevitable: one occupied the White House, the other wanted to. The junior senator from Louisiana now turned his scathing invective on the President and those around him. Long dubbed Roosevelt “Prince Franklin, Knight of the Nourmahal ” (after Vincent Astor’s yacht); New Dealers Henry Wallace, Harold Ickes, and Hugh Johnson he called respectively, “Lord Corn,” “the Chicago Chinch Bug,” and “Sitting Bull.” Johnson’s National Recovery Administration—the NRA—was renamed “Nuts Running America.” Only Ickes could match Huey’s colorful abuse: the Secretary of the Interior shot back, “The emperor of Louisiana has halitosis of the intellect.”