The Most Dangerous Man in America

Huey Long, FDR’s Worst Nightmare

Franklin Roosevelt called him “one of the most dangerous men in America.”

Huey Long, governor and then senator from Louisiana, was a champion of the poor at precisely the right time. The Great Depression had most of the country out of work and hungry. He advocated a massive redistribution of wealth, capping fortunes at $10 million and incomes at $1 million per year. It included a $5000 grant to every household. It sounded pretty good to the starving masses, and Long used his brilliance and oratory to develop a national following. He planned a candidacy to challenge FDR in 1936, and his chances of pulling millions of votes away from FDR were good. This would split the Democratic vote and hand the White House to the Republicans.

But his methods were dictatorial. When governor, he ruled Louisiana like a crime lord, using violence against his opponents and plush government patronage for his supporters. Unable to succeed himself as governor, he won a Senate seat, handpicking his childhood friend, the appropriately nicknamed “O.K.” Allen to succeed him. Governor Allen was so agreeable, it was said, that one day a leaf blew in the window and landed on his desk so he obligingly signed it.

Even as Senator, with no state authority, Long continued to push bills through the Louisiana legislature. Whenever Long came to Baton Rouge, the governor would give Long his office and use his secretary’s desk. Okay, O.K.

At one point, pro-Long and anti-Long supporters engaged in armed conflict in the state capital.

In September, 1935, Long was shot by the son-in-law of a judge he had forcibly removed from office and died two days later.

His death helped pave the way for FDR’s landslide victory in 1936.

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There are many historical figures who seemed to have everything going for them — Aaron Burr, George McClellan, Herbert Hoover, Douglas MacArthur, and more — but lost out to people who had been relative nobodies. History’s Trainwrecks tries to figure out what happened…

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Host of the History’s Trainwrecks Podcast — this is the stuff they never taught us in history class.