Share Our Wealth Society

Huey P. Long supported the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. However, he was highly critical of some aspects of the New Deal. He disliked the Emergency Banking Act because it did little to help small, local banks. Long bitterly attacked the National Recovery Act for the system of wage and price codes it established. He correctly forecasted that the codes would be written by the leaders of the industries involved and would result in price-fixing. Long told the Senate: "Every fault of socialism is found is this bill, without one of its virtues."

Long claimed that Roosevelt had done little to redistribute wealth. When Roosevelt refused to introduce legislation to place ceilings on personal incomes, private fortunes and inheritances, Long launched his Share Our Wealth Society. In February 1934 Long announced a scheme to rectify the existing maldistribution of wealth in the United States. He told the Senate: "Unless we provide for redistribution of wealth in this country, the country is doomed." He added the nation faced a choice, it could limit large fortunes and provide a decent standard of life for its citizens, or it could wait for the inevitable revolution.

Long quoted research that suggested "2% of the people owned 60% of the wealth". In one radio broadcast he told the listeners: "God called: 'Come to my feast.' But what had happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120,000,000 people and left only enough for 5,000,000 for all the other 125,000,000 to eat. And so many millions must go hungry."

Long's plan involved taxing all incomes over a million dollars. On the second million the capital levy tax would be one per cent. On the third, two per cent, on the fourth, four per cent; and so on. Once a personal fortune exceeded $8 million, the tax would become 100 per cent. Under his plan, the government would confiscate all inheritances of more than one million dollars.

This large fund would then enable the government to guarantee subsistence for everyone in America. Each family would receive a basic household estate of $5,000. There would also be a minimum annual income of $2,000 per year. Other aspects of his Share Our Wealth Plan involved government support for education, old-age pensions, benefits for war veterans and public-works projects.

Long employed Gerald L. K. Smith, a Louisiana preacher, to travel throughout the South to recruit members for the Share our Wealth Clubs. The campaign was a great success and by 1935 there was 27,000 clubs with a membership of 4,684,000 and a mailing list of over 7,500,000.

Some critics pointed out that all wealth was not in the form of money. Most of America's richest people had their wealth in land, buildings, stocks and bonds. It would be very difficult to evaluate and liquidate this wealth. When this was put to Long he replied: "I am going to have to call in some great minds to help me."

Leaders of the Communist Party and Socialist Party also attacked Long's plan. Alex Bittelman, a communist in New York wrote: "Long says he wants to do away with concentration of wealth without doing away with capitalism. This is humbug. This is fascist demagogy." Norman Thomas claimed that Long's Share Our Wealth scheme was an insufficient and dangerous delusion. He added that it was the "sort of talk that Hitler fed the Germans and in my opinion it is positively dangerous because it fools the people."

Huey P. Long admitted that certain aspects of his scheme was socialistic. He said to a reporter from The Nation: Will you please tell me what sense there is running on a socialist ticket in America today? What's the use of being right only to be defeated? On another occasion he argued: "We haven't a Communist or Socialist in Louisiana. Huey P. Long is the greatest enemy that the Communists and Socialists have to deal with."

Some economists claimed that if the Share Our Wealth plan was implemented it would bring and end to the Great Depression. They pointed out that one of the major causes of the economic downturn was the insufficient distribution of purchasing power among the population. If poor families had their incomes increased they would spend this extra money on goods being produced by American industry and agriculture and would therefore stimulate the economy and create more jobs.

In May 1935 Long began having talks with Charles Coughlin, Francis Townsend, Gerald L. K. Smith, Milo Reno and Floyd B. Olson about a joint campaign to take on President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential elections. Two months later Long announced that his police had discovered a plot to kill him. He now surrounded himself with six armed bodyguards.

On the 8th September, 1935, Carl Weiss, a physician and the son-in-law of Benjamin Pavy, shot Huey P. Long while he was in the state senate. Long's bodyguards immediately killed Weiss. At first it was thought that Long was not seriously wounded and an operation was carried out to repair the wound. However, the surgeons had failed to detect a bullet had hit his kidney. By the time this was discovered Long was to weak to endure another operation. Huey Long died on 10th September, 1935. According to his sister, Lucille Long, his last words were: "Don't let me die, I have got so much to do."

Primary Sources

(1) Huey P. Long, Share Our Wealth pamphlet (1934)

For 20 years I have been in the battle to provide that, so long as America has, or can produce, an abundance of the things which make life comfortable and happy, that none should own so much of the things which he does not need and cannot use as to deprive the balance of the people of a reasonable proportion of the necessities and conveniences of life. The whole line of my political thought has always been that America must face the time when the whole country would shoulder the obligation which it owes to every child born on earth - that is, a fair chance to life, liberty, and happiness.

Here is what I ask the officers and members and well-wishers of all the Share Our Wealth Societies to do:

First. If you have a Share Our Wealth Society in your neighborhood or, if you have not one, organize one - meet regularly, and let all members, men and women, go to work as quickly and as hard as they can to get every person in the neighborhood to become a member and to go out with them to get more members for the society. If members do not want to go into the society already organized in their community, let them organize another society. We must have them as members in the movement, so that, by having their cooperation, on short notice we can all act as one person for the one object and purpose of providing that in the land of plenty there shall be comfort for all. The organized 600 families who control the wealth of America have been able to keep the 125,000,000 people in bondage because they have never once known how to effectually strike for their fair demands.

Second. Get a number of members of the Share Our Wealth Society to immediately go into all other neighborhoods of your county and into the neighborhoods of the adjoining counties, so as to get the people in the other communities and in the other counties to organize more Share Our Wealth Societies there; that will mean we can soon get about the work of perfecting a complete, unified organization that will not only hear promises but will compel the fulfillment of pledges made to the people.

It is impossible for the United States to preserve itself as a republic or as a democracy when 600 families own more of this Nation's wealth - in fact, twice as much - as all the balance of the people put together. Ninety-six percent of our people live below the poverty line, while 4 percent own 87 percent of the wealth. America can have enough for all to live in comfort and still permit millionaires to own more than they can ever spend and to have more than they can ever use; but America cannot allow the multimillionaires and the billionaires, a mere handful of them, to own everything unless we are willing to inflict starvation upon 125,000,000 people.

Here is the whole sum and substance of the share-our-wealth movement:

1. Every family to be furnished by the Government a homestead allowance, free of debt, of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country, which means, at the lowest, that every family shall have the reasonable comforts of life up to a value of from $5,000 to $6,000. No person to have a fortune of more than 100 to 300 times the average family fortune, which means that the limit to fortunes is between $1,500,000 and $5,000,000, with annual capital-levy, taxes imposed on all above $1,000,000.

2. The yearly income of every family shall be not less than one-third of the average family Income, which means that, according to the estimates of the statisticians of the United States Government and Wall Street, no family's annual income would be less than from $2,000 to $2,500. No yearly income shall be allowed to any person larger than from 100 to 300 times the size of the average family income, which means; that no person would be allowed to earn in any year more than from $600,000 to $1,800,000, all to be subject to present income-tax laws.

3. To limit or regulate the hours of work to such an extent as to prevent overproduction; the most modern and efficient machinery would be encouraged, so that as much would be produced as possible so as to satisfy all demands of the people, but to also allow the maximum time to the workers for recreation, convenience, education, and luxuries of life.

4. An old-age pension to the persons of 60.

5. To balance agricultural production with what can be consumed according to the laws of God, which includes the preserving and storage of surplus commodities to be paid for and held by the Government for the emergencies when such are needed. Please bear in mind, however, that when the people of America have had money to buy things they needed, we have never had a surplus of any commodity. This plan of God does not call for destroying any of the things raised to eat or wear, nor does it countenance wholesale destruction of hogs, cattle, or milk.

6. To pay the veterans of our wars what we owe them and to care for their disabled.

7. Education and training for all children to be equal in opportunity in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life; to be regulated on the capacity of children to learn, and not on the ability of parents to pay the costs. Training for life's work to be as much universal and thorough for all walks in life as has been the training in the arts of killing.

8. The raising of revenue and taxes for the support of this program to come from the reduction of swollen fortunes from the top, as well as for the support of public works to give employment whenever there may be any slackening necessary in private enterprise.

(2) Huey P. Long, radio broadcast (14th January, 1935)

God invited us all to come and eat and drink all we wanted. He smiled on our land and we grew crops of plenty to eat and wear. He showed us in the earth the iron and other things to make everything we wanted. He unfolded to us the secrets of science so that our work might be easy. God called: "Come to my feast." But what had happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120,000,000 people and left only enough for 5,000,000 for all the other 125,000,000 to eat. And so many millions must go hungry and without these good things God gave us unless we call on them to put some of it back.

(3) Raymond Gram Swing, The Nation (January, 1935)

By November 1934 the "Share Our Wealth" campaign had recruited 3,687,'641 members throughout the country in eight months. (The population of Louisiana is only 2,000,000.) Every member belongs to a society, and Huey has the addresses of those who organized it. To them can go circulars enough for all members. The "Share Our Wealth" organization is first of all a glorified mailing list, already one of the largest in the land, but certain to grow much larger once the Long campaign gets under way. It is the nucleus of a nation-wide political machine. And though the movement is naively simple, its very simplicity is one secret of its success. Anyone can form a society. Its members pay no dues. They send an address to Huey and he supplies them with his literature, including a copy of his autobiography. He urges societies to meet and discuss the redistribution of wealth and the rest of his platform. He promises to furnish answers and arguments needed to silence critics.

I doubt whether Huey and the Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith realize that property as such cannot be redistributed. How, for instance, divide a factory or a railroad among families? Value lies in use, and if the scheme were to be realized, all property would have to be nationalized, and the income from use distributed. The income from $5,000 would not be much for each family, not more than $200 or $300, certainly not enough to make true the dream of a home free of debt, a motor car, an electric refrigerator, and a college education for all the children, which is Huey's way of picturing his millennium. And if property is to be nationalized, why not share it equally? Why give the poor only a third, and decree the scramble for the other two-thirds in the name of capitalism? If Huey were to ask himself this question, he probably would answer that since both he and America believe in capitalism, he must advocate it. But probably he has not thought the platform through. He conceived of it early one morning, summoned his secretary, and had the organization worked out before noon of the same day. It isn't meant to be specific. It is only to convey to the unhappy people that he believes in a new social order in which the minimum of poverty is drastically raised, the rich somehow to foot the bill through a capital levy. It may be as simple as a box of kindergarten blocks, but could he win mass votes, or organize nearly four million people in eight months, by distributing a primer of economics?

(4) Hodding Carter, Huey Long: American Dictator (1949)

In 1934 Long formalized the program which he hoped would eventually win him the Presidency. The hazy concept of a national redistribution of wealth, presented fifteen years before by the obscure state Senator from Winn Parish, took definable shape in a national "Share Our Wealth" organization. No dues were necessary. Huey produced the expense money as easily as the nation disgorged the followers, both by the hundreds of thousands. No matter that the Share Our Wealth program was demonstrably impracticable as presented. It was believable: a limitation of fortunes to $5,000,000; an annual income minimum of $2,000 to $2,500 and a maximum of $1,800,000; a homestead grant of $6,000 for every family; free education from kindergarten through college; bonuses for veterans, old-age pensions, radios, automobiles, an abundance of cheap food through governmental purchase and storage of surpluses.

(5) John T. Flynn, The Roosevelt Myth (1944)

After a tempestuous career as governor of Louisiana, Long was elected to the Senate and, before he took his seat, played a decisive role at a critical moment in the nomination of Roosevelt. Fearing neither God nor man nor the devil, he was not intimidated by the White House or the Senate. At his first meeting with Roosevelt in the White House, he stood over the President with his hat on and emphasized his points with an occasional finger poked into the executive chest. He found very quickly that he could move as brusquely around the Senate floor as he had the lobbies of the state legislature. He strode about the Capitol followed by his bodyguards. He ranted on the Senate floor. He made a fifteen­hour one­man filibustering speech. He made up his mind very soon that the New Deal was a lot of claptrap and proceeded to preach his own gospel of the abundant life.

He cried out: "Distribute our wealth ­ it's all there in God's book. Follow the Lord." This was the prelude to his Share­the­Wealth crusade. Huey proclaimed "Every man a King" with Huey as the Kingfish. He made it plain he was no Communist despoiler. He assured Rockefeller he was not going to take all his millions. He would not take a single luxury from the economic royalists. They would retain their "fish ponds, their estates and their horses for riding to the hounds."

When he began, he had no plan at all. He just had a slogan and worked up from there. But by 1934 he was ready to launch the movement with Gerald L. K. Smith, a former Shreveport preacher, at its head. The program was simple. No income would exceed a million dollars. Everybody would have a minimum income of $2500. The money would be provided by a capital levy which would remove the surplus millions from the rich ­ which revealed that Huey really did not know any more about economics than the President did. There would, of course, be old­age pensions for all, free education right through college for all, an electric refrigerator and an automobile for every family. The government would buy up all the agricultural surpluses against the day of shortages. As a matter of course, there would be short working hours for everyone, and bonuses for veterans. All surplus property would be turned over to the government so that a fellow who needed a bed would get one from the fellow who owned more than one.