Study Guide

Paul N. Cyr in Every Man a King

By Huey Long

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Paul N. Cyr

Huey Long made plenty of enemies in his political career, none more personally motivated than Paul N. Cyr.

Cyr was a dentist.

What more do we need to say, right?

All anti-dentite jokes aside, Cyr was a highly esteemed man: he'd been named President of the Louisiana Dental Examining Board from 1916 to 1917. Not content with the lucrative and sadistic business of dentistry (we know, we know), he expanded into the oil industry as a surface geologist for Humble Oil Co., a Texas-based oil company and one of the powerful external oil interests interested in acquiring Louisiana oil at the time. Surely a nominee for Most Ironic Corporate Name.

It was through this oil connection that Long and Cyr began to travel in the same circles, and the large deposits of oil on the LA-TX border became powerful tools in the 1928 gubernatorial election. The small oil companies that Long had protected from Big Oil (like Standard Oil and Humble Oil Co.) donated generously to Long and Cyr's campaign, and then somehow found themselves with the rights to extract oil from the western border. Imagine that.

Long and Cyr formed an intra-party ticket for the gubernatorial election in 1928 and beat all their competitors soundly. It was a partnership that lasted only slightly longer than your average middle school relationship. Within the first months of their respective terms, they went from victorious partners to bitter rivals. The breach started over petty things: in a murder investigation Long favored a harsh penalty and Cyr sued for a more merciful outcome.

Cyr didn't get his way. The two defendants were hanged, one of whom had the dubious honor of being the first white woman ever hanged in Louisiana. So at least she had that going for her.

It was the little things that formed the initial break between Long and Cyr, but their rivalry blew up once Long won his seat in the U.S. Senate. The way Cyr saw it, this meant Long would vacate his position as governor and Cyr would be free to undo all that Long had accomplished (not because he genuinely disagreed with all of it, or even most of it: just because he hated Long's guts). Long of course disagreed, and announced he had every intention of serving out his term in order to prevent just that.

Bring Out the Troops

Thus began one of the most incredible inter-executive conflicts in Louisiana history.

Cyr declared Long's simultaneous positions as unconstitutional. He went to a Shreveport judge to be sworn in to his office as governor. Meanwhile, Long was back in Baton Rouge living in the governor's mansion and passing bills down to OK Allen in the state senate. When Cyr finally came calling on Long, Long called in the National Guard with orders to bar Cyr from entry under any circumstances. (Source)

After a few tense days when both men were armed at all times and accompanied by armed guards, the National Guard dispersed and was replaced by state troopers. Cyr, unable to compete with the muscle that Long produced, retreated back to Jeanerette to plot his next move.

Long responded by declaring Cyr no longer Lieutenant Governor and striking him from the state payroll. What would a political rivalry be without illegal use of authority?

Keep On Keepin' On

The truly incredible part is that Cyr tried again. He took up residence in a hotel in Baton Rouge and swore a second oath of office, all despite the ongoing gubernatorial elections in which Cyr wasn't even remotely involved. Long finally told the hotel manager to simply evict Cyr, forcing Cyr to again retreat back to Jeanerette in shame and outrage.

It gets better: Cyr then declared himself the legitimate governor, despite holding no office and having been ousted from the lieutenant governor position. Long had appointed Alvin O. King to serve out the rest of the lieutenant governor term. The courts agreed with Long that Cyr had vacated his office and had no real claim to being acting Lieutenant Governor, and thus no claim to the governorship in the slightest.

We imagine Cyr's ear's started blowing out steam at this point, but the historical record is spotty about what happened next. A pro-Long newspaper/propaganda machine famously quipped that Cyr had "about as much a chance being installed or elected governor of Louisiana as a Texas billy-goat had of making a nonstop jump to the planet Mars" (source).

When the kerfuffle was over and the governorship finally settled, Long went off to Washington and OK Allen took up his post as the official benchwarmer for him. Cyr wasn't finished, and he had only grown more angry and embittered over his humiliation at the hands of Long. He made numerous speeches against the tyranny of Long and his supporters and often compared him to a hillbilly charlatan masquerading as a politician.

It's surprising that Cyr would throw his weight behind Long in the first place. He was a man who came from wealth and supported the wealthy, though he himself was from a small town in southern Louisiana. Cyr had deep connections with the wealthy elites of the state, serving as Director of the First National Bank of Jeanerette, a member of the fraternity the Knights of Pythias, the Woodmen of the World (another secretive fraternal organization), and the Elks Club (another secretive fraternal organization).

Ultimately, Cyr would've been more than happy being the same kind of tyrant he accused Long of being, but his many embarrassments at the hands of Long forced him into the anti-Long camp.

Even his parents must have known what he would grow up to be; why else would they give him a middle name like Narcisse? You're just asking your kid to have a major personality disorder when you tempt fate like that.

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