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I believe that was the judgment and the view and the law of the Lord, that we would have to distribute wealth ever so often, in order that there could not be people starving to death in a land of plenty, as there is in America today. (21)
Long frequently referred to the Bible during his speech as a way of giving divine cred to his own policies. People took their Bible very seriously, and who could argue with what the prophets thought about economic justice? People going hungry during a famine is a tragedy; people starving while there's plenty to go around is also epically unjust. That's what bothered Huey Long.
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 are created equal and that that meant that any one man was born to inherit $10,000,000,000 and that another child was to be born to inherit nothing? (6-9)
Long also uses the foundational principles of the U.S. to support his views on inequality. The Declaration of Independence was treated as a holy document in its own right, and its central message about the fundamental equality of all men was a powerful piece of evidence that Long used in his favor. No matter that the founders weren't really thinking about economic equality when they wrote that line; Long just added it to his argument.
We have trouble, my friends, in the country, because we have too much money owing, the greatest indebtedness that has ever been given to civilization, where it has been shown that we are incapable of distributing the actual things that are here, because the people have not money enough to supply themselves with them, and because the greed of a few men is such that they think it is necessary that they own everything, and their pleasure consists in the starvation of the masses, and in their possessing things they cannot use, and their children cannot use, but who bask in the splendor of sunlight and wealth, casting darkness and despair and impressing it on everyone else. (26)
The crushing debt that faced most Americans after the crash of the stock market in 1929 was a measure of inequality that often went ignored in these types of discussions, but Huey Long wasn't one to leave ammunition on the table when he was making an argument. He also points out here that the problem goes beyond a few people having most of the money—it's that those guys almost enjoy seeing everyone else suffer.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, if I may proceed to give you some other words that I think you can understand—I am not going to belabor you by quoting tonight—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 $300,000,000,000 or $400,000,000,000. If you do, one man can own all of the wealth that the United States has in it. (40-42)
Long's argument hinges on this idea that allowing massive concentrations of wealth in a tiny portion of the population is unjust and unsustainable. Long was convinced this would result in economic collapse because the masses, tired of being hungry and shut out from opportunity, would storm the castle and institute a socialist government. For an added bonus, we get the insistence that Long won't make us suffer through any more quotations; we should just take his word for it.
So, we have in America today, my friends, a condition by which about 10 men dominate the means of activity in at least 85 percent of the activities that you own. […] 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 kind of business that a small, independent man could go into today and make a living […]. (47)
Long drives home the fact that this inequality is totally baked in to the current system. This sets up his argument that desperate times call for radical measures. And coincidentally, he's got a few ideas to put out there. You can just see that he's gonna come after those rich guys.
Of course, just because some men are obscenely rich doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else has to remain poor. Long knew that the concentrated wealth was just a symptom of an unfair system designed to rewarded greed, insane consumption, and profit over the welfare of workers and families. Redistributing some of the wealth would just be the beginning of reform. Laws would have to change, and greed would have to be punished, not rewarded.
God told you what the trouble was. The philosophers told you what the trouble was; and when you have a country where one man owns more than 100,000 people, or a million people, and when you have a country where there are four men, as in America, that have got more control over things than all the 120,000,000 people together, you know what the trouble is. (115-116)
Long sums up his trifecta of religion, patriotism, and personal gain. Basically he's saying that anyone with half a brain can see that he's right.
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 that the Lord told us what the difficulty is, and Moses wrote it out so a blind man could see it, then Jesus told us all about it, and it was later written in the Book of James, where everyone could read it? (17)
This boils down to "all the answers can be found in the Bible." Long presents this as the most obvious thing in the world.
I refer to the Scriptures, now, my friends, and give you what it says not for the purpose of convincing you of the wisdom of myself, not for the purpose, ladies and gentlemen, of convincing you of the fact that I am quoting the Scriptures means that I am to be more believed than someone else; but I quote you the Scripture, or rather refer you to the Scripture, because whatever you see there you may rely upon will never be disproved so long as you or your children or anyone may live; and you may further depend upon the fact that not one historical fact that the Bible has ever contained has ever yet been disproved by any scientific discovery or by reason of anything that has been disclosed to man through his own individual mind or through the wisdom of the Lord which the Lord has allowed him to have. (18)
Yep, that's just one sentence. But it's a doozy, and an important one. If Long's going to use the Bible to prove his argument, you know he's going to make sure that nobody can question its infallibility. And, by extension, Huey Long's.
But the Lord gave His law, and in the Book of James they said so, that the rich should weep and howl for the miseries that had come upon them; and, therefore, it was written that when the rich hold goods they could not use and could not consume, you will inflict punishment on them, and nothing but days of woe ahead of them. (54)
Look out, Jeff Bezos. Being rich—it's like the eighth deadly sin, according to Huey Long. Long knew that his audiences knew the Bible. He wasn't telling them anything they hadn't read before, but he was a master at applying it to their own financial realities. In 1934, it wasn't very hard to get poor people riled up about the greedy rich who were controlling all the resources. Long's proposed punishment would be a punishing tax rate on the millionaires.
Why, ladies and gentlemen, let us say that all these labor-saving devices reduce hours down to where you do not have to work but 4 hours a day; that is enough for these people, and then praise be the name of the Lord, if it gets that good. (95)
Long casually drops in the name of the Lord, but it probably wasn't really so casual. He knew his audience and wanted to give credit to God for anything good that might come out of his plan.
God told you what the trouble was. (115)
Once again, Long implies that the problem is so obvious that he shouldn't even have to be discussing it. Everyone knows what it is.
In the beginning I quoted from the Scriptures. I hope you will understand that I am not quoting Scripture to you to convince you of my goodness personally, because that is a thing between me and my Maker; that is something as to how I stand with my Maker and as to how you stand with your Maker. (51-52)
Regardless of Long's insistence that he's not trying to make himself into a saint, that's exactly what he hoped to accomplish with all his Bible-thumping. Psychologists might call this "spontaneous (i.e., unsolicited) denial." Everyone else calls it #humblebrag.
Both of these men, Mr. Hoover and Mr. Roosevelt, came out and said there had to be a decentralization of wealth, but neither one of them did anything about it. But, nevertheless, they recognized the principle. (63-64)
Huey Long goes on to say he isn't criticizing these men. Just pointing out what great big idiots they are for not doing what they promised they would do.
"Every Man a King." Every man to eat when there is something to eat; all to wear something when there is something to wear. That makes us all a sovereign. (105-107)
This is the by-line that served as the face of Huey Long's campaigns in Louisiana, and it's the motto he'd trumpet from every stump and radio station across the country whenever he got the chance. Every candidate needs a slogan, and this was it.
You cannot solve these things through these various and sundry alphabetical codes. You can have the N. R. A. and P. W. A. and C. W. A. and the U. U. G. and G. I. N. and any other kind of dad-gummed lettered code. You can wait until doomsday and see 25 more alphabets, but that is not going to solve this proposition. Why hide? Why quibble? You know what the trouble is. (108-113)
Here's more criticism of the policies of FDR as ineffectual and even detrimental. Sure the country was turning around now, but those greedy few were the ones really benefitting from all this government meddling anyway. And guess who was going to solve all the problems?
This is Huey P. Long talking, United States Senator, Washington, D.C. Write me and let me send you the data on this proposition. (132-133)
Just in case anyone forgot who he was.
If I had the money, and I wish I had the money, I would like to talk to you more often on this line [NBC radio], but I have not got it, and I cannot expect these people to give it to me free except on some rare instance. (145)
Long plays up his "common man" cred by letting everyone know he's too poor to pay for his own airtime. Shmoop doubts that was true, but whatever; he needed to seem relatable to his audience. Politicians today seem to know that having humble beginnings plays well with audiences, even if you're now a senator or Harvard-trained lawyer or rich businessman. You might be one of the elite, but you have to let people know that your parents sure weren't.