Reading of Huey Long’s “Every Man a King” speech

September 9, 2022

Emanuel Pastreich

Comments on Huey Long’s
“Every Man a King” speech

Huey Long was the main political challenger to the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration after it failed to deliver its promised relief to Americans in the first years of the administration (which Long had initially supported). Long launched his “Share Our Wealth Society” as governor of (and later senator from) Louisiana. He transformed that backwards state into a space for remarkable social and economic innovation aimed at the working man and he made efforts to address racial discrimination that others (like Roosevelt) dared not.

Long delivered a series of powerful speeches in 1934 and 1935 that moved the nation as he prepared to run for president as an independent, not dependent on the Democratic or Republican Parties.

Long was assassinated on September 10,1935, just as he started to achieve significant political impact. That murky incident was most likely planned and carried out by those representing global finance in New York and London who feared his calls to redistribute the wealth, not as a communist ideological movement, but in accord with the teachings of the New Testament and the principles of the Constitution. That argument had such a broad appeal, and had such a convincing internal logic, that it spread like wildfire across the country.

Although I most certainly do not support all of Long’s policies, he offers much that we cannot ignore.

I feel that Long’s critiques are essential for us to consider as we try to understand how today’s crisis is a product of the failures of the New Deal.

Roosevelt was forced to address social injustice directly because of the powerful criticisms he received from Huey Long and from Charles Coughlin through his social justice movement.

Roosevelt also received justified criticism from the American Communist Party which cited examples from the Soviet Union of how that country had avoided the worst of the depression through the use of a planned economy and the creation of a collectivist economy.

These three powerful critiques pushed Roosevelt away from his Harvard pals and wealthy patrons and made him truly a “traitor to his class” for the purpose of his political survival.

Moreover, it was the failure of the New Deal to address the contradictions of the Federal Reserve that led us to where we are today. If we do not look at the proposals of Long and Coughlin, we cannot solve the problems we face today.

Dismissing them as fascists is simply not accurate or productive.

————————————–

Huey P. Long

“Every Man a King”

February 23, 1934

I contend, my friends, that we have no difficult problem to solve in America, and that is the view of nearly everyone with whom I have discussed the matter here in Washington and elsewhere throughout the United States—that we have no very difficult problem to solve.

It is not the difficulty of the problem which we have; it is the fact that the rich people of this country—and by the rich people I mean the super-rich—will not allow us to solve the problem, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.

How many of you remember the first thing that the Declaration of Independence said? It said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that there are certain inalienable rights for the people, and among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” and it said, further, “We hold the view that all men are created equal.”

Now, what did they mean by that? Did they mean, my friends, to say that all men were created equal and that means that any one man was born to inherit $10 billion and that another child was to be born to inherit nothing?

Did that mean, my friends, that someone would come into this world without having had an opportunity to have one lick of work, that another should be born with more than what all of his children and his children’s children could ever dispose of, but that another man would have to be born into a life of starvation?

That was not the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that all men are created equal.

Nor was it the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that they held that there were certain rights that were inalienable—the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Do we have that right of life, my friends, when the young children of this country are being reared into a sphere which is more owned by 12 men than it is by 120 million people?

Is that, my friends, giving them a fair shake of the dice, or anything like the inalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or anything resembling all people created equal; when we have today in America thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and millions of children on the verge of starvation in a land that is overflowing with too much to eat and too much to wear?

I do not think you will contend that, and I do not think for a moment, that they will contend it.

Now let us see if we return this government to the Declaration of Independence and see if we can do anything about it.  Why should we hesitate, or why should we quibble, or why should we quarrel with one another to find out what the difficulty is, when we know the Lord told us what the difficulty is, and Moses wrote it out so a blind man could see it, and then Jesus told us all about it, and it was later written up in the Book of James, so everyone could read it.

I refer to the Scriptures, now, my friends, and give you what it says not for the purpose of convincing you of my wisdom, not for the purpose of, ladies and gentlemen, of convincing you that by quoting the Scripture I am to be more believed than someone else; no, I quote you the Scripture, or rather refer you to the Scripture, because whatever you see there you may rely upon.      

The Scripture says, ladies and gentlemen, that for a country to survive it is necessary that we keep the wealth scattered among the people, that nothing should be held permanently by any one person., and that fifty years should be the year of jubilee in which all property is scattered about and returned to the sources from which it originally came, and every seventh year, the debt shall be remitted.

We have in America today more wealth, more goods, more food, more clothing, more houses than we have ever had. We have everything in abundance here.

We have the farm problem, my friends, because we have too much cotton, because we have too much wheat, and have too much corn, and too many potatoes.

We have a home-loan problem because we have too many houses, and yet nobody can buy them or live in them.

We have trouble, my friends, in the country because we have too much money owing; this is the greatest indebtedness that has ever been given to civilization.

It has been shown that we are incapable of distributing actual things because the people do not have money enough to purchase them, and because the greed of a few men is such that they think it necessary to own everything.

Their pleasure consists in the starvation of the masses, and in possessing things they cannot use, and that their children cannot use. Still they bask in the splendor of sunlight and wealth, casting darkness and despair, and impressing that image on everyone else.

I am going to tell you what the wise men of all ages and all times, down even to the present day, have all said: that you must keep the wealth of the country scattered, and you must limit the amount that any one man can own.

You cannot let any man own $300 billion or $400 billion. If you do, one man can own all of the wealth that the United States has in it.

Now, my friends, if you were off on an island where there were one hundred lunches, you could not let one man eat up the hundred lunches, or take the hundred lunches and not let anybody else eat any of them. If you did, there would not be anything left for most people to consume.

So, we have in America today, my friends, a condition wherein ten men dominate the means in at least 85 percent of your activities. They either own directly everything, or they have got mortgage on it, excepting a very small percentage.

They own the banks, they own the steel mills, they own the railroads, they own the bonds, they own the mortgages, they own the stores, and they have chained the country from one end to the other until there is not any business that a small, independent man could go into today and make the money to buy an automobile with.

They have finally, gradually and steadily, eliminated everybody from the fields in which there is a living to be made, and still they want to get even more business out of it.

If you reduce a man to the point where he is starving to death, bleeding and dying, how do you expect that man to get hold of any money to spend? It is not possible.

How do you expect people to live, when the wherewithall cannot be had?

If I were in their place tonight, the place where millions are, I hope that I would have the fortitude to praise and to honor my government here in this land with too much to eat and too much to wear. But many starve in order that a handful of men can have more that they can ever eat, or they can ever wear.

Now, we have organized a society, and we call it the “Share Our Wealth Society,” a society with the motto, “Every man a king.”

Every man a king means that there will be no such thing as a man or woman who does not have the necessities of life, that no one will be dependent upon the whims and caprices of the financial giants for a living.

What do we propose by this society?

We propose to limit the wealth of big men in the country.

(redacted version of the speech)

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